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

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11/25/2005

Book Review - Software Piracy Exposed by Paul Craig and Mark Burnett

Category Book Reviews

With all the hype currently being generated about digital piracy, I decided it might be interesting to read Software Piracy Exposed by Paul Craig and Mark Burnett.  There's an interesting subculture there that's unlike anything I've ever known, and it's not quite what I expected...

Craig spent some time working himself into a position of trust with a number of significant players in the piracy scene.  While not participating in the activities himself, he was able to see how cracking and distribution organizations are structured, and what drives the individuals to do what they do.  Surprisingly for software piracy, it's not necessarily being able to have and use the software you crack.  Mainly it's the bragging rights to say you were the first to crack and distribute the package, or that you have the largest collection and distribution network.  I got the distinct impression that most of the hardcore players in this culture don't even have the time to use the software.  Since these groups are competing against each other, minutes can be critical in breaking a package open and getting it out first on a network.  And as soon as one is done, the next one is waiting.  If you spend days cracking something complex and then get beat out by another group by a few minutes, you (and your group) don't get credit for the hack and all the work was wasted.  It seems like music and movies are less intense so far as breaking encryption, but a bigger deal to get it out early.  Morals and ethics aside, it's a rare look into a strange lifestyle...

While the book is pretty good, it did suffer from some bad basic editing.  Acronyms were inconsistently spelled (MP3, Mp3, etc.), and I got tired of seeing the parenthetical description of "warez" showing up time after time.  Explain it once at the beginning, and then move on.  There were even a couple of times when the explanation of the acronym was just plain wrong.  I feel if you're going to publish a technical book, you need to pay attention to these things.  Otherwise, it looks shoddy, unprofessional, and rushed.  While it wasn't enough to make me dislike the book, it did detract somewhat from what would have been a very good volume otherwise.

Editing aside, it's a worthy read in order to understand the mindset and reality of the piracy and cracking subculture.  Software piracy does have a financial effect on copyright owners, but it's not a case of "every copy is a lost sale"...

11/24/2005

Updated my RSS feeds... Added a few names, and dropped one.

Category Blogging

I had some bookmarked Domino blogger links I hadn't yet transferred over to my RSS reader/added to my RSS blogroll.  I also dropped Scoble's blog from my reader again.  I had added him a long time ago and dropped him when I got tired of what seemed to be too much "look at who I know" posts.  Recently someone suggested I start reading him again, and I added him back for a trial run.  I still can't get past the "gossip" posts (who was where and who was talking to who at what seminar) to wait for the few informational gems.  I dunno...  I guess I just don't get the Scoble phenomenon...

11/24/2005

Yes, I'm a Mechanical Turk addict...

Category Everything Else



It used to be when I wanted a break on the home computer, I'd pull up Hearts or Freecell.  Now I tend to call up
Mechanical Turk, Amazon's experiment in having humans do things that computers don't do well (in return for micropayments).  It's not a matter of making three cents every time I pick out a picture that matches the address and business they specify.  It's more the diversion and the interest in seeing small slices of other places.

For instance, I love doing MK tasks for New York.  The small storefront businesses, gratings pulled down, graffiti all over the place...  Seeing these 10 foot storefronts that have probably been in the family for years, and have had generations be born, raised, and buried with the store as the focal point in their lives.  Chicago seems to have some of that same element.  Berkeley in California was more "pseudo-old"...  Storefronts made to look old and quaint, but they probably turn over ever few years.  Other places, like Santa Monica are more like strip malls and mega-malls where you can't see specific businesses...


I find it much easier to make the match for older cities, as the businesses are right on the street and it's easy to identify them.  Newer cities are more "faceless" in nature, and the businesses are further away.


When it first started, Portland (my current location) was one of the cities being covered.  I even ended up with the entry for the consulting company I used to work for (under their former name and former location).  When I forwarded the page (I saved it) to them, they laughed and then asked if I had so much time on my hands could I do some work for them...  :)


I know I won't get rich doing this, and I don't expect to.  But it *does* pay far better than Solitaire, and it's more educational.  :)

11/24/2005

What part of 24/7 did I miss???

Category Everything Else


I make it a habit to call our credit card companies when we go on vacation to have them note that we'll be outside our regular spending areas.  No sense in dealing with rejected card purchases because you're not where you normally are.


Chase card services are great...  I can call two or three days before, the person who answers the call can take the info, no problem.


Bank of America card services are less than wonderful...  Can't place the call until 24 hours before you leave, and they ask me like 20 questions to confirm I know about the card (my current balance, my credit limit, what purchases I'll be making, etc.).  How should I know exactly what purchases I'll make???


But today was the kicker.  I called BofA, waded through the options, went into the hold queue for a few minutes, and then got transferred to a recorded message.  The message was:


Our customer call center is closed for the holidays.  Our call center hours are 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Please call back after the holiday.  Thank you.


What part of 24/7 did I miss there???

11/24/2005

Almost ready to vacation!

Category Everything Else

If postings slow down a bit over the next week, it's because I'm not in my normal rut.  The wife and I are leaving the kids behind and taking off on a cruise to the Western Carribbean.  Don't know quite what the ports of call will be after the hurricanes went through the area, but it's *supposed* to be Rotan(sp?) Honduras, Belieze City, and Cozumel.  Honestly, if we just float around for seven days, I'd still be happy...

The laptop *is* going with me (yes, I'm a geek, but at my wife's request) so we can be contacted by the kids in case of emergency.  Ship-to-shore calling is a magnitude worse than hotel phone charges, so my wife figured that spending the money for the internet wireless access on board the ship was a good idea.  And who was I to object?  :)

So...  There will probably still be postings, but we'll have to see how the access pans out.  

I'm so looking forward to the time away.

11/22/2005

Book Review - Yahoo! Hacks by Paul Bausch

Category Book Reviews

"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."  That quote might apply to Yahoo when you look at all the mindshare that Google has garnered of late.  It's almost as if Yahoo is irrelevant and Google owns the search world.  Not quite, and Paul Bausch's new book Yahoo! Hacks - Tips & Tools for Living on the Web Frontier reminded me of all the good and incredibly valuable things you can do with Yahoo...

Contents:  Search; Services; Communicating; Web Services; Applications; Webmastering; Index

Like all Hacks titles, you have a number of cool tips and tricks that you can do using Yahoo as your technology starting point.  In this case, there's 100 of them that cover a wide range of topics.  For instance, tip #39 - Monitor Your Commute shows how Yahoo can provide updated traffic conditions overlaying a map of your driving commute.  Even better, those traffic updates can be formatted in RSS and put on your My Yahoo page.  I did that one right away.  Tip #83 - Randomize Your Windows Desktop Background shows how, using Yahoo's web services API and some VBA code, you can create a random Windows wallpaper each day.  Just hope you don't choose a search term that isn't "work safe".  :)  The whole Web Services chapter shows how you can access Yahoo's API using a variety of languages such as Perl, PHP, Python and a few others.  Once you get the basic core structure down, you open up a whole universe of possibilities in terms of programmatic integration of Yahoo into your applications.  This is really cool stuff...

I've been just as guilty as the next person of getting all "Google"-y eye'd at other search engines and forgetting the site that opened up a whole world of internet realities.  Many of the things we take for granted now were ground-breaking ideas that Yahoo was pushing in the early days.  Having two strong competitors in the search arena will lead to even more innovative thinking as they play off of each other.  I can see how the Yahoo! Hacks title could go into multiple editions without even trying...

Excellent read with lots of code you can use immediately.  If you've wandered away from Yahoo for other pastures, perhaps it's time to wander back and see what other options are out there.  Yahoo Hacks will expand your thinking as to what you can do with search engines...

11/21/2005

I think Ozzie needs to rethink his definition of blogging...

Category Blogging


A quote from
today's blog:

One of the great things about once again having an active blog is that it enables me to engage in discussion
about concepts I’m excited about, and that I’m working on, before they’re fully-baked and while they could benefit from others’ involvement.


Ray, "discussion" usually denotes an "exchange" of views, not you talking and then turning comments off so no one else can respond...


Ray's making too much news of late for people to care much that they can't respond directly to his musings.  But the "me talk, you listen" will wear thin quickly, and any goodwill he'll build up as a blogger will come crashing down quickly.

11/21/2005

Report on Banks Choosing Windows Over Linux Twists the Facts

Category Linux

From LXer.com:  Report on Banks Choosing Windows Over Linux Twists the Facts

This story isn't necessarily important from a Windows vs. Linux angle.  It is *very* important in that it shows how a tech rag writer can come to conclusions (or slant their conclusions) based on narrow views of the marketplace that don't reflect the wider realities...  The writer who analyzed this article did a great job.

11/20/2005

Book Review - e-Bay: The Missing Manual by Nancy Conner

Category Book Reviews

If there was one book I would suggest to anyone venturing into the waters of eBay, it'd end up being this one...  eBay: The Missing Manual by Nancy Conner.  This one covers it all.

Contents:
Part 1 - Buying on eBay: Ready, Set, Shop!; Bidding, Paying, and Following Up; Finding - and Getting - Bargains; Power Buying Strategies
Part 2 - Selling on eBay: Sell Stuff, Make Money; Honing Your Competitive Edge; Going from Hobby to Business; Specialty Selling; Cool Tools for Sellers
Part 3 - Finding Other eBayers and Getting Help; Finding Help
Part 4 - Appendixes: Where to Learn More; HTML for eBayers; Other Auction Sites; Index

Like all other eBay books, this one covers how to buy and sell on eBay.  The writing's good, but there'd be nothing special if it stopped there.  Where this book earns its keep is when it goes into areas I haven't seen covered in any other book.  I've never seen a book go into any detail on other resources to learn about eBay, such as call-in internet radio shows and newsletters.  I've never seen a book cover HTML in a small number of pages in order to allow the seller to create better auction pages.  There's good coverage on third-party sites that give you more information on how to best price your auctions.  There's even material on how to evolve from buying and selling as a hobby to running a business based on eBay.  Package all this up with clear writing and numerous screen shots, and you really *have* found the missing eBay manual.

To paraphrase eBay's latest ad campaign...  "Whatever you're looking for, you'll find *it* in eBay: The Missing Manual"...

11/19/2005

Book Review - F1 Get The Most Out Of Excel Formulas And Functions By Joseph Rubin

Category Book Reviews

If you spend much time in Excel as part of your daily routine, you probably end up running across things you just don't know how to do.  Joseph Rubin's latest book F1 Get The Most Out Of Excel Formulas And Functions might be a really good resource to bail you out when necessary...

Contents:  Working With Formulas; Text; Date & Time; Lookup; Logical & Errors; Counting; Summing; List; Miscellaneous Calculation & Math; Income Tax & Financial; List of Functions; Index

There are a large number of "how to" items in this volume, formatted with the pattern of "Problem", "Solution", and "Explanation".  Usually each of these are accompanied with a graphic that represents the spreadsheet and/or formula solution.  The writing is tight and to the point, so there's not pages and pages of explanations on any single problem.  It's a quick "get in, get out" type of tip that should point you in the right direction.  I even found a solution to a spreadsheet issue I had (that I wasn't even looking to solve!).  I have a spreadsheet that tracks my Amazon reviewer stats, and a couple of the columns show error statements for the blank lines because there are references to cells that aren't yet filled in.  With one of these tips, I am now able to avoid that problem.  Nice!

If you don't know Excel, then this book isn't going to teach it to you.  But if you've conquered the basics and now want to do real work, this is a nice volume to keep on hand to help you around the minor roadblocks you'll be sure to encounter...

11/19/2005

Book Review - Build The Ultimate Gaming PC by K. R. Bourgoine and Matthew J. Malm

Category Book Reviews

While I'm not a hardcore gamer, I understand the thrill and appeal of having the baddest box on the block.  If that's your goal and you're willing to "roll your own", check out Build The Ultimate Gaming PC by K. R. Bourgoine and Matthew J. Malm.

Contents:  
Part 1 - Spec-ing Out Your Ultimate Gaming PC: Let's Make Some Decisions
Part 2 - Let's Go Shopping For Parts: Selecting the Ultimate Gaming Processor; Selecting the Ultimate Gaming Motherboard; Choosing Your Ultimate Memory; Choosing the Ultimate Video Card; Choosing Your Ultimate Storage Devices; Choosing the Ultimate Sound Card and Speakers; Choosing a Case for Your Ultimate Gaming PC; Selecting the Ultimate Power Supply; Choosing Your Ultimate Monitor; Selecting the Ultimate Gaming Accessories
Part 3 - Bringing Your Ultimate Gaming PC to Life: Assembling Your Ultimate PC; Installing Your Software/OS
Part 4 - Advanced Gaming: Multiplayer Gaming
Index

There are a number of things that make this book stand out.  The authors do a very nice job explaining what each of the components do, how a gamer should view those components, and what options are most important.  For instance, Intel's hyperthreading technology may sound really cool, but most games aren't coded to take full advantage of that.  Therefore, the AMD CPU with a slower clock speed actually outperforms the Intel Pentium 4.  The logical analysis of those types of issues makes the book valuable even if you're *not* necessarily building a gaming system.  I also like how they actually recommend makes and models of components, like CPUs, monitors, and sound cards.  You may not agree with their selection or you may choose a different model based on your specific criteria, but you can see how choices are arrived at, and how best to use that same analysis to make your decision.  Part 3 ties everything together by showing you how to put the PC together, complete with plenty of photos and clear explanations.  Even if you've never built a PC from scratch, you could probably follow along here with little difficulty...

Definitely a strong recommendation for a gamer wanting to build a box that rocks.  I'd also recommend the book to anyone looking to build their own computer by carefully analyzing why they are choosing certain parts.  Either way, it's a good resource...

11/19/2005

Book Review - Java Puzzlers by Joshua Bloch and Neal Gafter

Category Book Reviews

This is the type of book I'd like to see more of in the marketplace...  Java Puzzlers - Traps, Pitfalls, and Corner Cases by Joshua Bloch and Neal Gafter.  Extremely well-done...

Contents:  Introduction; Expressive Puzzlers; Puzzlers with Character; Loopy Puzzlers; Exceptional Puzzlers; Classy Puzzlers; Library Puzzlers; Classier Puzzlers; More Library Puzzlers; Advanced Puzzlers; Catalog of Traps and Pitfalls; Notes on the Illusions; References; Index

What Bloch and Gafter have done here is provide the Java coder with some educational opportunities unlike others.  They've taken code blocks that look like they should do one thing, but actually do something entirely different.  It's the job of the reader to figure out what they *really* do, why they behave that way, and how you'd change the code to get the result you were probably after.  The material covers the gamut of normal Java scenarios, including string concatenation, looping, class definitions, and others.  The code is available for download from a website, so you don't have to type in anything to get started.  And of course, they *do* provide answers...  :)  Couple all this great material with a humorous writing style and fun optical illusions, and you've got a book that works very well.

The reason I like this book so much is that most programming language books stick to the core material.  We all know there are exceptions and quirks, but you normally don't find out about those unless you find a magazine article series that someone has written.  Even then, you're getting one or two gems every month, and it's hard to keep the momentum.  Having 95 of these puzzlers all in one place means that you can dive in and start wracking your brain at your own pace.  I'd like to see this type of book for many other languages...

Most definitely recommended if you're a Java coder with any level of experience.  You'll be forced to question things you've assumed in the past, and you'll come away a much better developer...

11/18/2005

Book Review - Point And Click OpenOffice.org! by Robin "Roblimo" Miller

Category Book Reviews

I recently received a draft manuscript copy of the book Point & Click OpenOffice.org by Robin "Roblimo" Miller.  This is a nice book geared towards helping the non-techie in your life realize that they don't have to dump a ton of money on Microsoft Office...

Contents:  First Things First; OOo Writer: Text Documents with Pizazz; OOo Impress: Slide Shows That Will Impress Almost Anyone; OOo Draw: Documents with Imagination; OOo Calc: Spreadsheets and More; Slick OpenOffice.org Writer Tricks; Draw: Not Your Father's Drawing Board; OOo Impress: Smooth, Sophisticated Slide Shows; Make Calc Spreadsheets Dance for You; OOo Database "Front End": Your Free Pass; Sharing Files Between OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office; OpenOffice.org as a Community Effort; About Firefox and Thunderbird; Light up the World Wide Web with Firefox; Thunderbird Saves the Email Day; About the CDs; OpenOffice.org Resources; Index

The main thing to keep in mind with this book is that it's not meant to be a comprehensive tutorial guide to all the products in the OpenOffice suite.  At 200 pages, you're not going to go very deeply into any one area.  But that's OK.  What this book does is show average users of Office how OpenOffice.org can give them nearly (and in many cases, all) the same capabilities as Office without the huge cost.  In fact, they make a point of the ability to open Microsoft files and save into Microsoft formats, enabling you to interact with your friends who are plugging away with the "other" software.  They also touch on the support for the OpenDocument format which is starting to become a requirement in some organizations.  Since Microsoft doesn't (yet?) support OpenDoc, OpenOffice.org is an easy way to transition over.  The thing that all readers will come away with is the knowledge that if you've worked with Microsoft Office, the learning curve for OpenOffice.org is nearly nonexistent.  If you know one, you can easily adapt to the other...

I'm not sure I would have included the Firefox and Thunderbird material in the book, as it's not directly related to OpenOffice.org.  I understand why they did it, as OpenOffice.org, Thunderbird, and Firefox make up the main alternatives to Microsoft (Office, Outlook, and Internet Explorer) in the typical Windows desktop environment.  Still, it's a bit off-topic.  No harm, just off-topic...

So...  If you have a student who wants something more than Notepad for school reports and who doesn't want to trade running Office for eating Top Ramen for months at college, turn them on to this book.  Same goes for Uncle Joe who wants "that software I use at work" but who doesn't want to pony up hundreds for a legal copy.  The alternatives will be clear, and your student will be able to afford a pizza once in awhile...

11/18/2005

Book Review - Perfect Nightmare by John Saul

Category Book Reviews

John Saul is one of those authors that I enjoy reading, but for whatever reason I don't tend to pick up his latest work right away.  This time I got on the library hold list early for Perfect Nightmare, and proceeded to devour it in less than 24 hours.  It was a pretty good read...  :)

A family is putting their home on the market because the husband is spending too much time commuting into the city for his job.  None of them really want to leave the house, but the parents feel it's a last attempt to save the marriage.  The lone child, Lindsey, is especially upset because it will be her upcoming senior year in high school and she had a chance to be the head cheerleader.  When they have an open house, Lindsey gets pretty spooked at the thought of people going through her stuff.  She's convinced that someone took stuff from her room, but no one believes her.  Until she disappears without a trace...  The police finally believe there's an abduction (not a runaway) when a single mother also disappears after an open house event.  The hard part is trying to find even a single clue to use to start tracking down the abductor...

The pacing of the story was pretty fast, and you just knew there was going to be a wicked plot twist in there somewhere.  Saul kept you guessing as to who the perpetrator might be, and why all the psycho-sexual fantasies were occurring.  A word of caution...  The novel is very, very dark, and it's not necessarily a "feel good at the end" type of story.  As a entertaining psycho-thriller though, it works pretty well...

11/16/2005

Normally I like the Ferris Research blog, but this entry really irritates me...

Category Microsoft

Exchange 12 Will Be 64-Bit Only

The whole issue of Exchange 12 being 64-bit only has been pretty well beat up on many other blogs, so I won't rehash it here.  What irritated me about the blog entry was the ending line:

64-bit support makes great sense and is good for everyone.

I agree that support for 64-bit is great.  Forcing your customer base to potentially upgrade their hardware infrastructure to migrate is not.

I'm willing to venture a guess that when Notes/Domino comes out with 64-bit support, 32-bit support doesn't hit a brick wall.

11/16/2005

Pardon me if I have my doubts...

Category Microsoft

From vnunet.com:  Microsoft claims firms 'hitting a wall' with Linux

Microsoft today released the findings of an independent report claiming that the Windows platform is "more consistent, predictable and easier to manage than Linux".

The study, commissioned by the software giant from Security Innovation, a provider of application security services, claimed that Linux administrators took 68 per cent longer to implement new business requirements than their Windows counterparts.

The emphasis in the above quote is mine...

I don't care how "independent" Microsoft (or IBM or any other software vendor) wants to claim a certain report is.  If you commission it, you set the rules.  If you set the rules, it's not independent.  And if it's not complimentary towards your company, it never sees the light of day.

Come talk to me about "independent" reports when either IBM commissions (and releases) a report saying Exchange is better than Notes, or Microsoft commissions and releases a report saying that Exchange sucks wind compared to ND7 (and 6, and 5, and...)

11/16/2005

Microsoft *still* doesn't get open source...

Category Microsoft

From ZDNet:  Microsoft rejects IBM strategy and open source 'dorks'

They don't get "on demand" either...

"When people are talking about on-demand, I don't know whether they are talking about the crazy, IBM approach — "I'm going to host everybody's mainframe and there is nobody in the market who knows how to run a mainframe, so if we are going to preserve that business we are going to have to run it ourselves," said Fitzgerald. "Then my cable company talks about on-demand when I can video on-demand. It's not a super-useful term for me."

According to Fitzgerald, the real magic of Live "is that it will be a combination of client software, peer-to-peer interactions and cloud-based services so it is not any one of those — it is actually the mix of all those things".

Now I won't necessarily say that I understand exactly what IBM fully means by "on demand", but I don't necessarily think that Microsoft's definition of Microsoft Live is very useful, either.  And notice the definition includes "that it will be".  Not "is", but "will be"...  :)

But the part that really floors me is the following about open source:

Equally, Fitzgerald has no time for open source, which he claimed is not an end-user experience but "is really a developer phenomenon that speaks to infrastructure."

"With Windows Live and Office Live we are talking about customer experiences, whether it is a personal set of services for Windows Live or things that are aimed at helping people grow and manage their businesses," said Fitzgerald. "I doubt if you talk to users of Office Live that they have any interest in dorking around with source code. This is about customer experience rather than developer experience so it's largely irrelevant."

Excuse me, but using open source code isn't about "dorking around with source code".  I use OpenOffice.  I installed it, I didn't compile it.  And I don't have the source anywhere on my machine.  Same with Gaim for instant messaging.  I use it, and I don't even know what the source looks like.  I can get it if I want, but I don't need it.  

Open source is about the freedom to use the software as I see fit, not as another company defines.

11/16/2005

Major milestone reached...

Category Everything Else

A picture named M2

199.8 pounds at this evening's weigh-in...

http://lessduffbert.blogspot.com

11/16/2005

Looks like Ozzie's going to try blogging again...

Category Microsoft

... this time using the company-approved tools...  :)

11/15/2005

Book Review - Internet Forensics by Robert Jones

Category Book Reviews

Ever wanted to track down a spammer or someone sending you annoying emails, but didn't quite know where to start?  Start here...  Internet Forensics by Robert Jones.  This was a really fun read...

Contents:  Introduction; Names and Numbers; Email; Obfuscation; Web Sites; Web Servers; Web Browsers; File Contents; People and Places; Patterns of Activity; Case Studies; Taking Actions; Index

Unlike some of the internet security books I've read and reviewed, this one is actually understandable by those who aren't full-time network administration geeks.  Jones examines the subject of tracking down computer crime (phishing, spam, etc.) by using forensic techniques to narrow down potential culprits.  This isn't to say that there's a "follow these steps and nail the spammer" recipe that can be applied in all cases.  Too many things can be forged, and spammers (in some cases) are pretty adept at hiding their tracks.  But by learning how to read email headers, domain registrations, and patterns, you can learn more than you might expect.  The nice thing about this book is that the information is explained in a clear fashion that doesn't rely on years of experience to follow.  His explanation of mail headers and how to interpret them might be the first time I've ever actually understood what was going on.  He also switches the view on some subjects (like web browsers) to help you understand how to better hide your own tracks to prevent others from finding out information about you.  And if you're trying to track down someone who's abusing your site, hiding your own tracks might be critical in not causing him (or her) to bolt...

Important information, and extremely practical.  I guarantee you'll walk away with a couple things immediately that you can use, and over the long haul the book will more than pay for itself...

11/15/2005

Ooohh... A bright shiny object! Konfabulator...

Category Everything Else

Konfabulator...

I think I'm gonna regret finding out about this.  I had vaguely heard about this software, but always in context of Macs.  I was blissfully ignorant until I read the 43Folders blog and saw reference to a widget that did a countdown.  I clicked on the link, and saw that Konfabulator is cross-platform...  

Guess I know what I'll be doing at work tomorrow morning...  

11/15/2005

Press Release: Forbes "Attack of the Blogs" Article Misleads Readers

Category Blogging

From Dee-Ann LeBlanc:  Press Release: Forbes "Attack of the Blogs" Article Misleads Readers

Couldn't let this one go unnoticed...  :)

In an open letter to Forbes Magazine editor-in-chief Steve Forbes, the Internet Press Guild (IPG) has spoken out against the use of fearmongering and character assassination in financial and technology reporting. With reference to a Forbes article called "Attack of the Blogs," published in the November 14th issue of the magazine and also online, the IPG's letter takes the publication to task for reckless reporting that could prove harmful to the journalist community.

Among other offenses to the intelligent reader, the Forbes article lays out a systematic methodology by which an individual can help destroy the credibility of bloggers who are critical of certain corporate conduct, including legal harassment and launching smear campaigns. The spirit of the article calls to mind the climate of fear and guilt by association that characterized the early 1950s, during the "red scare" when intellectuals who questioned the conduct of civil and corporate organizations were persecuted as "anti-American."

IPG chairman Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols said, "No matter where one stands on the question of journalist vs. blogger, Forbes' approach would work equally well on either a seasoned professional journalist or a newly minted blogger.

11/14/2005

How safe is your Gmail account?

Category Google

From Dave Taylor's site:  Can people hack my Google Gmail account?

Worth reading, and then checking out your account information to make sure it's *your* secondary email address...

11/13/2005

Book Review - Self-Service Linux by Mark Wilding and Dan Behman

Category Book Reviews

If you build software targeted for the Linux operating system, odds are you're going to run into a sticky problem now and then.  You'll need to know how to debug either your program or the Linux kernel to see what's going on.  This book can help you with that chore...  Self-Service Linux - Mastering the Art of Problem Determination by Mark Wilding and Dan Behman.

Contents:  Best Practices and Initial Investigation; strace and System Call Tracing Explained; The /proc Filesystem; Compiling; The Stack; The GNU Debugger (GDB); Linux System Crashes and Hangs; Kernel Debugging with KDB; ELF: Executable and Linking Format; The Toolbox; Data Collection Script; Index

This book has some pretty heavy-duty stuff it covers.  It starts out with a well-thought-out methodology for debugging a system problem.  These first 40 pages are like gold, and they'd be well-applied by *any* system developer, not just a Linux programmer.  You'd think that developers would already know this stuff, but sadly it seems like a lost art all too often.  From that point, things get deep into the different techniques for debugging problems specific to different areas of Linux.  You many not need all the different sections, in that it may just be *your* program, not a problem with the kernel.  But having all the information on debugging techniques in one place should cut down on a lot of research time, and will lead to much quicker system resolutions.

As Linux continues to grow in the market, I see the need for solid debugging skills to also be on the rise.  This book will likely have a long shelf-life...

11/13/2005

Ian's been gone nearly three months, and today was the *first* time that the car...

Category Humor

... has seen the gas station since he left...  :)

11/13/2005

IBM to workers: Blog away!

Category IBM/Lotus

From CNNMoney:  IBM to workers: Blog away!

IBM thinks blogging is the next wave in marketing, and it's preparing its employees to ride that wave, according to a published report.

With an eye on blogging's potential to influence future employees and business partners, the technology bellwether began offering blogging tools to its workers six months ago, according to AdAge.com.

"Other companies have fired people for blogging, but IBM is encouraging it," Christopher Barger, IBM's unofficial "blogger in chief," said in the report.

Yup...  IBM "gets it".

11/13/2005

IBM, Sun team up to support OpenDocument

Category IBM/Lotus

From Computerworld:   IBM, Sun team up to support OpenDocument

IBM and Sun Microsystems are to host a meeting to rally industry support for OpenDocument, a specification for standardising documents that proponents hope will spur adoption of software that competes with Microsoft’s Office productivity suite.

The meeting, which will be held at the IBM Learning Centre in Armonk, New York, is aimed at discussing with other technology companies ways to advance the adoption of OpenDocument, says Todd Martin, an IBM spokesman.

“The meeting is for those industry partners who are interested in implementing and advancing the OpenDocument specification,” Martin says.

Hmmm...  I wonder what software vendor *won't* be there?  :)

11/13/2005

Book Review - XForms - XML Powered Web Forms by T. V. Raman

Category Book Reviews

XForms is one of those technologies that hasn't yet taken off, but could make a substantial impact if it ever does.  I got a copy of XForms - XML Powered Web Forms by T. V. Raman in order to understand a bit more about the subject...

Contents:
Part 1 - Welcome to XForms: XML Powered Web Forms; Standard Building Blocks
Part 2 - XForms Components: XForms User Interface Controls; Creating Complex User Interfaces; XForms Model Properties; XForms Functions; XForms Actions; XForms Events
Part 3 - XForms and the Next Generation Web: Connecting the User to Web Services; Multimodal Access; XForms and Accessibility; Colophon; Bibliography; Index

In some ways, XForms is harder than just regular HTML forms in that there's more data architecture that needs to be considered beforehand.  Conversely, you are able to achieve a much better separation of data and design than possible under the HTML model.  Raman does a pretty good job in explaining the overall conceptual model of XForms, as well as how it hooks into all the other "X" technologies (XPath, XML Schemas, etc.).  Once the groundwork is set in Part 1, Part 2 becomes the reference manual on how to use each XForm feature.  It's not a huge reference manual, but the core information is laid out in such a way that you'd end up using it on a regular basis as you get up to speed.  I found it all pretty easy to follow, and I see how this could become a fundamental part of your personal library if you're using XForms on a regular basis.  Of course, the downside is that XForms isn't yet supported on any widely-available basis...  :)

If I were asked to recommend a title for XForms information, this would probably be the one I'd point someone to...

11/12/2005

Book Review - The eBay Survival Guide by Michael Banks

Category Book Reviews

eBay has truly redefined the landscape for buying and selling.  Now everything you can think of has a market, and it's virtual.  If you haven't tried to buy or sell on eBay before, or if it's just been an occasional thing, you might want to check out The eBay Survival Guide - How To Make Money & Avoid Losing Your Shirt by Michael Banks.

Contents:  
Part 1 - How eBay Works: What You'll Find on eBay; How eBay Auctions Work; Finding Stuff on eBay - The Basics; Finding Stuff on eBay - High-Power Searches; What Is It Worth?
Part 2 - eBay For Sellers: Seller Do's and Don'ts; Figuring Out What to Sell; Sources of Items to Sell; Listing Items - When and How; How to Create Listings That Sell; It Didn't Sell
Part 3 - eBay For Buyers: Buyer Do's and Don'ts; Bid to Win!; How to Turn a Loss into a Win; Paying for and Getting Your Items
Part 4 - How Not To Get Ripped Off And What To Do If You Do: Shills, Sleazes, and Seller Scams; Bogus Products and Moneymaking Scams; How to Investigate Other eBay Members; eBay-Speak - Abbreviations and Acronyms; Index

This is probably one of the most complete books on using eBay that I've had the chance to review.  It's not overly large, so it's not intimidating when you first pick it up.  The progression of information follows a very nice logical flow.  Learn about eBay, learn what to do in both the buyer and seller role, and then learn what to do in the "exception" situations.  Regardless of whether you approach eBay from the buyer or seller role, the necessary information you need to fully utilize eBay is in here.  The author even goes into third-party services that can help you get the most for your money.  Some services track bid pricing and trends so you can figure out the best combination of pricing options for your item.  Other services watch a bid for you in order to place last-second bids to try and win an item you're coveting.  Whether you think stuff like that is fair or not, it's being used and you have to know how it will affect you as a buyer.

Armed with this book, there's no reason why you shouldn't be successful with eBay...  Good stuff.

11/11/2005

Book Review - Core Web Application Development With PHP And MySQL by Marc Wandschneider

Category Book Reviews

I had a blog reader email me today and ask if I knew of any good books on PHP and MySQL.  Being that I'd like to learn more about both of those subjects myself, I recently had requested (and had sitting in my review pile) a copy of Core Web Application Development With PHP And MySQL by Mark Wandschneider.  If you're focused on *application development* (rather than just learning how to create a dynamic page), then this book works pretty well...

Contents:
Part 1 - The Basics of PHP: Getting Started with PHP; The PHP Language; Code Organization and Reuse; Object-Oriented Programming; Working with Arrays; Strings and Characters of the World; Interacting with the Server - Forms
Part 2 - Database Basics: Introduction to Databases; Designing and Creating Your Database; Using Databases - Storing and Retrieving Data; Using Databases - Advanced Data Access; PHP and Data Access
Part 3 - Planning Web Applications: Web Applications and the Internet; Implementing a User Interface; User Management; Securing Your Web Applications - Planning and Code Security; Securing Your Web Applications - Software and Hardware Security
Part 4 - Implementing Your Web Applications: Error Handling and Debugging; Cookies and Sessions; User Authentication; Advanced Output and Output Buffering; Data Validation with Regular Expressions; XML and XHTML; Files and Directories; File Uploading; Working with Dates and Times; XML Web Services and SOAP; Using PEAR; Development and Deployment
Part 5 - Sample Projects and Further Ideas: Strategies for Successful Web Applications; An Appointment Manager; A Blogging Engine; An Ecommerce Application
Appendixes: Installation/Configuration; Database Function Equivalents; Recommended Reading
Index

I differentiated the type of learning at the start of this review on purpose.  It's pretty easy to go into learning a new language focusing solely on the nuts and bolts of the syntax.  That's really not the pattern that's followed with this book.  You don't just learn how to add some PHP code to your page in order to display the time of day to the user.  The goal here is to learn how to build an *application* instead of just a single dynamic page.  The layout and flow of the book supports that goal well.  You start with basic PHP concepts and syntax.  Then you move on to basic database concepts that are used in MySQL (and in fact *any* relational database system).  Once those two basic skill sets are covered, then the blending occurs.  You start learning how to use PHP to read and store data in MySQL, and those concepts are then used to build an end-to-end application.  Throw in the essentials of securing your application and making it bulletproof for users, and you have a pretty encompassing guide for a development professional to use.

If PHP and MySQL were going to be something I used on a regular basis, I'd follow up this book with two specific titles for PHP and MySQL.  Even though this Core title is large, there's no way it can cover all the details on either subject.  And in reality, I don't think you'd want that if this is your first exposure.  A practical volume such as this one will get you thinking correctly as far as design and techniques go, and then you can decide if this is where you want to commit your time and resources.

Nicely done book, and one I'd recommend for your first PHP/MySQL experience.  I'll be revisiting this book myself in 2006 in order to pick up a few more skills...

11/11/2005

Book Review - Painless Performance Evaluations by Marnie E. Green

Category Book Reviews

Performance evaluations in any organization are usually greeted with dread and loathing.  But if done correctly, everyone can benefit.  If you're part of a smaller organization with no formal review policy (or if you're a new supervisor with review responsibilities), you could benefit from reading Painless Performance Evaluations - A Practical Approach to Managing Day-to-Day Employee Performance by Marnie E. Green.

Contents:  Introduction to Performance Management; Navigating the Performance Management Process; Clarifying Performance Expectations and Setting Goals; Documenting Performance Fairly and Legally; Making Performance Management a Priority; Identifying and Addressing Performance Issues; Rating Performance Objectively and Legally; Writing the Performance Evaluation Document; Conducting the Evaluation Meeting; Encouraging Employees to Participate in the Performance Management Process; Important Terms; What Did You Learn? Answer Key and Case Study Responses; Sample Performance Management Tools; Index

If you've been part of a large organization, you've no doubt been involved in a formalized review process (good, bad, or otherwise).  If the company takes it seriously, there may even be classes for management on how to best work with the review process in order to offer fair and useful feedback.  But that doesn't always make it any easier.  Green takes the basics on performance evaluation and presents them in a clear, organized manner.  She's not presenting some "new" formula or methodology on the process.  It's just the core steps and actions you need to be practicing on a regular basis in order to have the material you need come review time.  If you take the time to understand why the review process is an ongoing activity, then the "formal" review is far less painful, both to create and to receive/give.

Even if you're not management, you could find this useful.  If you dread the review process, you'll find that it's really a partnership (or should be) between you and your manager, and you can contribute in such a way that you can actually benefit and learn from it.  It's you're keeping records and track of what's happening, then you can be sure to have the necessary material on hand to show your accomplishments of the year in the best light.  This book can help you figure out how best to do that.

Good for building a formal program (if you don't have one) or for learning what to do personally to be actively involved in the process.  Regardless of your particular role, you'll pick some good tips.

11/10/2005

Book Review - The Non-Designer's Web Book (3rd Edition) by Robin Williams and John Tollett

Category Book Reviews

I've heard that the books authored by Robin Williams (*not* the actor) on design are pretty good.  I got my first taste of that style today when I finished The Non-Designer's Web Book (3rd Edition) by Robin Williams and John Tollett.  I can see why they are so popular, and why she's considered a first-rate teacher...

Contents:  
Part 1 - Using the World Wide Web: What is the Web?; How to Search the Internet
Part 2 - Making Web Pages: What are Web Pages Anyway?; Things to Know Before You Begin Your Site
Part 3 - Design Issues on the Web: Print vs. Web and How it Affects Design; Basic Design Principles for Non-Designers; Designing the Interface & Navigation; How to Recognize Good & Bad Design
Part 4 - Color, Graphics, and Type: Color on the Web; Graphic Definitions You Must Know; How to Prepare Image Files for the Web; Typography on the Web; Advanced Tips & Tricks
Part 5 - You're Done - Now What?: Test & Fix Your Web Site; How to Upload & Update Your Site; How & Why to Register Your Site
The Stuff at the End: Quiz Answers; Index; Colophon

It's probably best to first figure out the target audience for this book.  It's not a book full of HTML syntax and how to code JavaScript routines.  If you're looking for that, move on quickly.  The main focus is learning how to build aesthetically pleasing pages by using solid design techniques, even if you're not a graphic artist.  The assumption is that you're using WYSIWYG-type web page development tools that shield you from hard-core HTML coding.  That assumption frees up the reader to concentrate on images, layout, color, font, and all the various things that can make a page look professional or amateurish.  The writing is extremely conversational (more so than I've seen in nearly any other book) and maintains a humorous tone throughout.  Basically, it's fun to read and the information gets absorbed without much effort.

While it might be tempting to say only beginners should read this book, that might be an undersell.  When the authors get into the technical aspects of graphics, even the regular web developer (who is more focused on code than graphical design) would pick up more than a couple things.  Again, web developers who focus more on code don't tend to have a good eye for graphical layout.  I know I fall squarely in that category.  Even the basic tips presented here should help me make some improvements on a number of sites I'm working on.  And I'm sure this is much to the delight of my user base...

So...  provided you're not picking it up to learn HTML, you should get *something* out of the book.  And if you're not a graphical artist by trade, it's a *sure* bet you'll walk away better equipped to catch attention on the web...

11/10/2005

My favorite "I'm not here" IM message from Ian...

Category Humor

To stay in touch while Ian's "mousekateering" in Florida, he normally has AIM running either on the laptop or on his phone.  And he's usually pretty good about updating his "I'm not here" message when he's away at work.

My favorite one was a couple days ago...

"Working a 12 hour shift...  Can't get much more *magical* than that!"

:)

11/09/2005

Book Review - Core C# And .NET by Stephen C. Perry

Category Book Reviews

Don't panic, people...  I'm not switching sides here.  I just want to know more *about* the other side.  And I figured a review copy of Core C# And .NET by Stephen C. Perry might help.  And it does...

Contents:
Part 1 - Fundamentals Of C# Programming And Introduction To .NET: Introduction To .NET Framework; C# Language Fundamentals; Class Design In C#; Working With Objects In C#
Part 2 - Creating Applications Using The .NET Framework Class Library: C# Text Manipulation And File I/O; Building Windows Forms Applications; Windows Forms Controls; .NET Graphics Using GDI+; Fonts, Text, And Printing; Working With XML In .NET; ADO.NET; Data Binding With Windows Forms Controls
Part 3 - Advanced Use Of C# And The .NET Framework: Asynchronous Programming And Multithreading; Creating Distributed Applications With Remoting; Code Refinement, Security; And Deployment
Part 4 - Programming For The Internet: ASP.NET Web Forms And Controls; The ASP.NET Application Environment; XML Web Services
Appendix A - Features Specific To .NET 2.0 And C# 2.0; Appendix B - DataGridView Events And Delegates; Answers To Chapter Exercises; Index

Part of my plans for professional education next year (personal, not necessarily work-driven) is to become more familiar with life outside of Notes/Domino.  In some cases, it will be a "dig in" experience with a language or a framework.  In other cases, it will be more informational in nature (which might spark an interest to turn it into a "let's dig in").  The C# and .NET interest falls into that second category.  Core C# And .NET does a good job in meeting my needs in that area.  Part 1 of the book gives me the overall background I need, and helped me to understand that C# and .NET bear a remarkable similarity to Java and the JVM.  :)  The rest of the book gets into much more coding detail than I'm ready to tackle at this point, but it's all very practical and useful in everyday coding scenarios.  If someone told me my future is dependant on my ability to code in C# and .NET, I'd feel very comfortable in making this my first book for getting a broad understanding of the subject.  Fortunately, as of right now no one *has* told me that, but this book will be on my shelf "just in case".

If you find yourself in the same boat I'm currently sailing, and if you have a decent amount of programming experience to draw upon, I'm confident in stating that this book would be an OK choice to start down the C#/.NET river.  Microsoft tends to dredge the river and add new twists and bends that don't match existing maps a bit too often for my liking, but you have to start somewhere.  Core C# And .Net is a good river map based on the current water flow...

11/09/2005

As close as I may ever come to getting /.'d...

Category Blogging

A book I reviewed, Writing Portable Code, was featured in a different review that was front page on Slashdot.  There was a link to the book's website.  The lead page of the book's website has a link to *my* site and my review.

Traffic is definitely up a bit today...  :)  Still not my highest day ever, but it's in the top 5.

11/08/2005

Book Review - Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel

Category Book Reviews

Seems like everyone wants to have a open source project these days.  But it's not as easy to run a successful project as you might think.  In order to get started on the right foot and increase your chance of success, I would recommend reading Karl Fogel's Producing Open Source Software - How To Run A Successful Free Software Project.

Contents: Introduction; Getting Started; Technical Infrastructure; Social and Political Infrastructure; Money; Communications; Packaging, Releasing, and Daily Development; Managing Volunteers; Licenses, Copyrights, and Patents; Free Version Control Systems; Free Bug Trackers; Why Should I Care What Color the Bikeshed Is?; Example Instructions for Reporting Bugs; Index

Fogel definitely has the "cred" to write this book.  He's spent five years working on the Subversion open source version control system.  While not (yet?) the default open source version control system out there, it's rapidly gaining traction.  As a result, you figure that Fogel and company must have done a few things right along the way.  He does a very nice job in explaining what makes for a successful open source project in terms of tools, structure, and most importantly, culture.  He identifies open source projects that have successfully created a culture that encourages participation without dictatorial control.  He even addresses how to deal with people issues like monopolizing discussion boards.  Those are items that most techies aren't good at, and having a guide like this is priceless.

At times the book seems to be rather dense, as in a lot of text with little to break it up.  I think it's because there's no real use of graphics or code samples to a large degree.  I wouldn't expect it in a book like this, either.  But still, it's just one of those things that came to mind as I was reading it.  If you have the same nagging feeling and can quickly identify it, then it's easy to deal with the problem.

Very valuable information, all condensed into a single volume for easy reference.  I'd maintain that anyone looking to start an open source project with hopes of long-term viability would do well to read and digest this book before starting.  You'll make fewer false starts and raise your chances of success...

11/08/2005

Book Review - Vanish by Tess Gerritsen

Category Book Reviews


I'm trying to get caught up on a spate of library books that recently showed up, and the latest recreational read was
Vanish by Tess Gerritsen.  That book only lasted about 36 hours, so that should tell you a bit about how much I liked it...  :)

Detective Jane Rizzoli ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time when she goes into the hospital to give birth to her baby.  She ends up in the middle of a hostage crisis where the captors are attracting way too much attention from federal types who are very hush-hush about why they care.  Even after the crisis is ended, Rizzoli can't let the case die as she's having nightmares about the last thing one of the captors said to her.  As she and her husband keep pushing to uncover the mystery, it gets harder and harder to tell who should be trusted and who might be holding back.  And the wrong move could mean you're the next thing to be "dealt with"...


This was a gripping read which kept me turning pages on the bus, at lunch, before bed, etc.  A warning to prospective readers...  The main story deals with underage girls brought in to the US from Russia via Mexico, and subsequently put to work as sex slaves.  Obviously a disturbing situation, and Gerritsen doesn't gloss it over much.  If that is something that you really, truly don't want to read about, steer clear.  But if you can get past that point, you've got a gritty crime thriller that doesn't reveal the truth until the last few pages.  A very well-done read...

11/06/2005

Book Review - The Rise Of The Rogue Executive by Leonard R. Sales and Cynthia J. Smith

Category Book Reviews


Having been part of the Enron experience, I was very interested to read this book:  
The Rise Of The Rogue Executive - How Good Companies Go Bad And How To Stop The Destruction by Leonard R. Sayles and Cynthia J. Smith.  It's amazing how we allowed ourselves to get to this point...

Contents:  The Tipping Point - How Good Companies Go Bad And Executives Become Rogues; American Business At Risk - Picking Up The Pieces And Looking Ahead; The Stock Market And Executive Decision Making; Black Boxes And Big Black Lies; The Shocking Destruction Of Arthur Andersen, Auditing's Gold Standard; Auditing The Public's Auditors; Directors - Why The Weak Oversight; Too Silent Critics - Journalism; Too Silent Critics - Academe; Fees Galore; How We Nearly Lost American Capitalism; The Mythic CEO - Why Real Leaders Became An Endangered Species; Seeking And Valuing Real Leadership; We Can Do Better; Endnotes; From The Authors; Addendum - Supreme Court Overturns Arthur Andersen Conviction; Index


During the mad times of the dot.com era, so many things were considered normal and were not questioned.  Sayles and Smith take a look at some of the elements that led to the rise and fall of companies like Enron and Worldcom.  Obviously Enron serves as a model whipping boy for most (if not nearly all) of the examples, as there was so much going on there.  Rise lays out the abuses in a clear and concise manner, with a myriad of example cases to back them up.  I especially appreciated the chapters on directors and journalism.  I didn't realize that directors were often no more than a glamorous collection of big names put on the board to make the company look good.  It's incredible that people charged with overseeing a company's direction can have so little knowledge and involvement in far too many cases.  And we all know how few dissenting voices existed in the mass media pointing out the flaws of these companies.  Ones that did try and raise objections were too often shut out by others and were quickly drowned out.  If only we as the public had listened and paid attention...


While the book is supposed to offer remedies on how to stop this abuse, it seemed like there was less of that and more emphasis on pointing out the abuses.  To be sure, the first step in stopping an abuse is finding out about it in the first place.  But for whatever reason, I didn't feel a strong "call to action" in terms of a series of proposed changes.  I can't quite put my finger on it, to be truthful.  Maybe I was just too close to one of the meltdowns, or maybe the carnage of the abuse overpowered the rest of the material.


Regardless of that, it's still an important book to read.  I'd like to think that what's happened in the last two or three years has allowed us to turn the corner on these types of situations.  Realistically however, you know it's still happening.  Rise will open your eyes and make you think twice about what's going on in the executive suite...

11/05/2005

Went and saw Chicken Little today with the wife...

Category Everything Else

If what they say is true about Disney possibly buying Pixar and the success of Chicken Little determining how bad they need to make the purchase, then the answer (in my opinion) is that they better pay whatever Jobs asks...  Disney's first foray into CG animation after the death of their hand animation department leaves a bit to be desired.

The technical aspects of the film were OK.  Nothing that I was blown away by, but definitely on par with films like Madagascar.  While I marvelled at some of the stuff that Pixar did with Monsters, Inc., there was nothing in Chicken Little that made me sit up and take notice.  I think the main problem with the film was the story.  There are some funny sight gags, and a number of funny lines of dialogue.  But the story itself really didn't go anywhere.  The first thing I said to Sue when we left the theater was "that movie had no soul".  And this coming from someone who doesn't do "subtle"...

It's a film that kids will like, and they'll probably stay involved the whole 90 minutes.  But if you're going for your own enjoyment, you won't miss much by waiting until it comes out on DVD.  At least then you'll get extra features that may make it a bit more interesting...

11/05/2005

Book Review - Running Blind by Lee Child

Category Book Reviews

Continuing with the Jack Reacher series, I'm up to the 4th installment...  Running Blind by Lee Child.  Still liking the series a lot, and this one had me guessing until the end...

Reacher is coerced into helping out on a case by the FBI.  He happened to be in a restaurant when part of a gang came in looking for protection money.  Jack took matters into his own hands to break it up, but he also stumbled into an FBI stakeout.  Now if he doesn't help solve a potential serial killer, he might end up getting blamed for the deaths.  The women being killed all were ex-military and had filed (and won) harassment cases against superiors.  Reacher knows them, as he was part of the military police presence that was involved at the time.  The women who are dying are all discovered immersed in a bathtub full of camouflage paint, and apparently have gone under voluntarily and without a struggle.  No clues, no reason why, but they're still very dead.  The FBI is relying on psychological profiling to narrow down the killer, but Jack figures that's all a crock.  The struggle is to figure out if they'll listen to him before another victim shows up...

Like the other Reacher novels, you're never quite sure who's the good guy and who's the bad guy.  I figured there would be a plot twist somewhere, but the one I got wasn't the one I was expecting.  Definitely a page turner to see how it's going to unfold.  The subplot at play here is the relationship between Jodie (from the 3rd book) and Jack, and whether his foray into the world of responsibility will send him packing back to his nomadic life once again.  That came to an interesting point at the end, and I'm curious to see how it will play out in installment #5...

Fun read...

11/04/2005

Book Review - Upgrading and Fixing Laptops for Dummies by Corey Sandler

Category Book Reviews

While I may be getting more comfortable with opening up my desktop machine, I'm still less-than-thrilled if the laptop starts acting up.  Upgrading & Fixing Laptops for Dummies by Corey Sandler does a very nice job in covering the hardware components of laptops and how to make sure they keep working when you need them to...

Contents:
Part 1 - Putting a Computer in Your Lap:  A Field Guide to the Common Laptop; How to Treat a Laptop
Part 2 - Explaining What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Things That Go Bump in the Night (or Day); When to Repair and When to Recycle; Surviving Basic Training; Brain Matters: Memory, Microprocessors, and BIOS
Part 3 - Laying Hands on the Major Parts: Easing In to Hard Disks; Floppy Drives: Relics and Memories; Going Round and Around: CD and DVD Drives; Tripping the Keyboard Fantastic; Putting Your Finger on Pointing Devices; Seeing the Light: LCDs and Video
Part 4 - Failing to Communicate: Networks, Gateways, and Routers; Feeling Up in the Air; Modems: The Essential Translators; Breaking Out of the Box: PC Cards, USB, and FireWire
Part 5 - The Software Side of Life: Installing a New Operating System or Migrating Upwards; Adding or Removing Software, for Better or for Worse; Essential Utilities for Laptop Users
Part 6 - The Part of Tens; Ten Quick Solutions; Ten Essential Dos and Dont's; Ten of My Favorite Things
Index

Many of my cohorts in the IT world are long-time laptop users.  They're consultants, they're on the road a lot, and they live and die with their laptops.  The vast majority of these people have probably done most of the things in this book at least once, and there might not be much new information for them.  But take my dad.  He's past retirement age, he travels around, and he got a laptop so he could "check email while they're on the road".  For him, it's all a confusing jumble of technology that doesn't make a lot of sense.  A book like this would allow him to understand the core parts of the laptop, know how they should be maintained, and more importantly know when things aren't working quite right.  For instance, defragging a hard drive is second nature to me.  For him, it's "de-what?".  Clean the screen with Windex?  No, Dad...  Why can't you play a DVD?  Because you have a CD reader...  not a DVD reader.  Things like that...  :)

If you're more at ease with technology, you still might find some benefits here.  I fortunately haven't had many issues with my laptop.  But what if the screen started to fade?  This book would give me a clue as to what was happening and what options I might want to pursue.  Water spill on the keyboard...  repairable?  (The kids did it, and in this case it was.)  While you might not find the exact answer you're looking for here, it will at least reduce your stress level as you figure things out.

Nice book, fun read, and the material just could prevent some problems down the road...

11/04/2005

Book Review - Hacking Digital Cameras by Chieh Cheng and Auri Rahimzadeh

Category Book Reviews

Want to really live on the edge with your digital camera?  Perhaps even void the warranty?  Hacking Digital Cameras by Chieh Cheng and Auri Rahimzadeh might be to your liking if you want to build your own add-ons without spending a bundle...

Contents:
Part 1 - Hacking Cameras: Building Triggers; Adding a Tripod Socket to Your Camera; Accessing Raw Sensor Data; Hacking Power; Controlling Your Digital Camera from Afar; Improving Your Canon EOS Digital Rebel
Part 2 - Hacking Lenses: Using Accessory Lenses; Making an Accessory Lens Adapter; Changing the Lens Magnification; Making Your Own Pinhole Lens; Extending the Lens on Canon EOS Cameras; Making Reverse Macro Adapters; Modifying the Canon EF-S Lens for Use on Canon EF Mounts
Part 3 - Create Photography Hacks: Hacking with Filters; Shooting Infrared Pictures with Your Digital Camera; Eliminating the IR Blocking Filter from Your Digital Camera
Part 4 - Building Fun Camera Tools: Building a Car Camera Mount; Building a Headrest Camera Mount; Building a Spycam Mount for Your Bicycle; Building a Camera Stabilizer; Building a Flash Bracket; Building a Monopod; Making a 500-Watt Home Studio Light
Part 5 - Flash Memory Hacks: Modifying the CF Type I to PC Card Type II Adapter; Removing the 4GB Microdrive from the Creative Nomad MuVo2 MP3 Player; Removing the Microdrive from the Rio Carbon 5GB MP3 Player; Removing the 4GB Microdrive from the Apple iPod Mini
Appendixes: Soldering Basics; Circuit Symbols; Glass Cutting Basics; Photographer's Glossary; Index

If you're the tinkering type that loves to take things apart to see how they work, you'll find stuff here that I haven't seen in other photography books.  I think this is the first book I've seen with a section on taking your camera apart...  literally.  Once apart, you can start adding things like shutter triggers to give you more options than a timed 10 second delay.  I guess you could also just go out and buy something that already does that, but what's the fun in that?  :)  But not everything is quite as adventurous as that.  If you have a camera with no tripod mount, there's a nice hack that shows you how to add one.  You can go big time and actually build a block that you can velcro your camera to, or it can be as simple as gluing on a nut that's the same size as your tripod screw.  Something I wouldn't have thought of...

To be honest, I'm not sure I'd have the guts to try a lot of this stuff.  I'm not good with tools, and prying open my camera would cause bad things to happen.  Maybe not to you, but it would to me.  As such, I'm probably not the intended audience for this book.  But I was surprised to see what you could do with a little ingenuity and a soldering iron.  I can see where this book would offer hours of entertainment for the right type of photographer/geek...

11/03/2005

Book Review - Building a PC for Dummies - 5th Edition - by Mark L. Chambers

Category Book Reviews

I'll admit it...  I buy my PCs when I upgrade.  I'm getting more at ease with hardware since I've started doing all these book reviews, and I probably *could* build a PC now without too much angst, but I still buy.  But if I were to decide that my next PC would be "home-built", I'd be comfortable with using the book Building a PC for Dummies by Mark L. Chambers.

Contents:  
Part 1 - Can I Really Do This?: What's in a Computer, Anyway?; What Type of PC Should I Build?
Part 2 - Building Your PC: Building the Foundation - The Case and Motherboard; A Bag of Chips - Adding RAM and a CPU; The Three PC Senses - Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard; Images "R" Us - Adding Video and a Monitor; Make Room!  Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
Part 3 - Adding the Fun Stuff: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD; Let Your PC Rock!; Modems and the Call of the Internet
Part 4 - Adding the Advanced Stuff: Attack of the SCSI Monster; So You Want to Add a LAN?; Life in the Fast Lane with Broadband; Input and Output - Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers; More Power User Toys
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten Reasons Not to Buy a Retail PC; Ten Tools and Tasks for a Power User's PC; Ten Important Assembly Tips; Ten Ways to Speed Up Your PC; Ten Things to Avoid Like the Plague
Part 6 - Appendixes: Choosing Your Operating System; Glossary
Index

This book is most likely going to appeal to the hardware-phobic computer owner (like I was for quite awhile) or the first-time PC builder.  Chambers has an amusing writing style which will make you smile as you figure out the next steps to take in your PC adventure.  If you've already built a PC or you dwell in the land of needing to know every last technical spec of a device before you install it, there's probably not much here to offer you.  Even I know most of the material *about* each device and what type of rationale you should apply (buying new vs. refurbished, why hard drive capacity is important, RAM is king, etc.).  My downfall would be actually having all those devices spread out on a table with an empty computer case in front of me.  But I'm pretty confident that I'd be able to stand a pretty good chance of getting everything to actually work the first time if I followed the information here.  There's even a center section with color pictures to show you what to expect.  It's a nice touch...

If you're looking for an approachable book on getting past your first computer build, this one would be a good choice.  Easy to follow, fun to read, and the intimidation factor is nonexistent.

11/02/2005

Book Review - Core Security Patterns

Category Book Reviews

If you're building enterprise-level applications that do *anything* with security, this is a book you need to consider reading...  Core Security Patterns - Best Practices and Strategies for J2EE, Web Services, and Identity Management by Christopher Steel, Ramesh Nagappan, and Ray Lai.  If you need to know it, it's in here...

Contents:
Part 1 - Introduction: Security by Default; Basics of Security
Part 2 - Java Security Architecture and Technologies: The Java 2 Platform Security; Java Extensible Security Architecture and APIs; J2EE Security Architecture
Part 3 - Web Services Security and Identity Management: Web Services Security - Standards and Technologies; Identity Management Standards and Technologies
Part 4 - Security Design Methodology, Patterns, and Reality Checks: The Alchemy of Security Design - Methodology, Patterns, and Reality Checks;
Part 5 - Design Strategies and Best Practices: Securing the Web Tier - Design Strategies and Best Practices; Securing the Business Tier - Design Strategies and Best Practices; Securing Web Services - Design Strategies and Best Practices; Securing the Identity - Design Strategies and Best Practices; Secure Service Provisioning - Design Strategies and Best Practices
Part 6 - Putting It All Together: Building End-to-End Security Architecture - A Case Study
Part 7 - Personal Identification Using Smart Cards and Biometrics: Secure Personal Identification Strategies Using Smart Cards and Biometrics
Index

With the emphasis on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) these days, it's likely that you'll be building systems that interact with other systems in ways you may not have envisioned.  And it's a given that if someone is trusting you to provide a service, they're also trusting you to make sure that service interaction is secure.  Core Security Patterns is an exhaustive volume on security as it relates to J2EE applications, web services, and other associated types of applications that drive today's business.  The authors start out each section with a clear explanation of the issues involved in security for that given subject (like web services) and then go on to explain the different technologies that can be used to address those issues.  They don't get into deep examination of specific APIs, but they do go into enough code to make a Java developer happy.  After all the issues and options are presented, there's a presentation of security patterns that can be applied to a number of application scenarios.  The value of patterns is that you can architect your system to take advantage of accumulated wisdom surrounding secure applications, without having to redesign the wheel.  You'll still need to implement the design within your application, but the pattern gives you the overall structure you need to consider.  With the core patterns found in this book, you shouldn't have to find yourself explaining why a significant security design was flawed.

With software systems handling billions of dollars in transactions each year, the stakes are high to ensure that the system is solid and secure.  Not only is the dollar amount at stake incredibly high, the trust that others have in your organization hinges on this key area.  Spending money on this book now greatly reduces your chances of spending millions to repair your systems later...  Assuming you have an organization left to repair...

11/02/2005

To follow suit with the rest of the bloggers... I'll be speaking at Lotusphere this year...

Category Lotusphere 2006

The email arrived with official news that I'm going to be speaking this year.  The Java Jumpstart is back, only with a different partner.  Since Joe unfortunately can't present this year, we found a very qualified individual to fill his shoes...

Actually, they're small shoes, so just about *anyone* could have filled them...  But we did find a highly qualified replacement...

Julian Robichaux!

We're already coming up with evil stuff to do on stage...  :)  Should be fun for all in attendance...

11/01/2005

Rich irony! Forbes is now blogging!

Category Blogging

Rich Karlgaard now has a blog called Digital Rules at http://blogs.forbes.com/digitalrules/

So...  Let's recap...

Steve Forbes does a podcast on the benefits of blogging.

Rich Karlgaard (the publisher?) now has a blog to share with readers.

Daniel Lyons writes an op-ed story on the "dangers" of blogging.

 

One of these things is not like the other...

10/31/2005

Book Review - XML Demystified by Jim Keogh and Ken Davidson

Category Book Reviews

It's tempting to ask what's the big deal about XML.  Just make up some tags and off you go!  Unfortunately, once you start getting into DTDs, XLink, XPath, and a variety of other X-things, it gets much more complex and confusing.  If you want to start understanding the world of XML, start off with XML Demystified by Jim Keogh and Ken Davidson.

Contents:  XML - An Inside Look; Creating an XML Document; Document Type Definitions; XML Schema; XLink, XPath, XPointer; XSLT; XML Parsers and Transformations; Really Simple Syndication (RSS); XQuery; MSXML; Final Exam; Answers to Quizzes and Final Exam; Index

At 221 pages, this is not an authoritative reference for everything involving XML.  And that's a *good* thing.  Keogh and Davidson zero in on the basics of each of the XML technologies, and they do a wonderful job of explaining things in terms any developer can understand.  Rather than try and explain every option and nuance of a command or feature, they tell you what it does, how it works, and they show an example.  If you work through the material as they present it, you'll end up with a solid understanding of the 90% of XML that you'll use on a regular basis.  The other 10% is where you'll head off to buy the 1000 page reference manual to look up that arcane parameter that your co-worker used just because they read about it before you did...  :)

I personally was impressed at how they were able to clearly present XSLT in a way that made it obvious.  Same with XLink and XPath...  I've read the large books and walked away somewhat more confused than when I started.  XML Demystified could easily be the starting point for many XML beginners, and I'm pretty sure that you'll end up with the results you were after...

10/31/2005

Google lends a hand to Microsoft Office rival

Category Microsoft

From TimesOnline.com:  Google lends a hand to Microsoft Office rival

Google is opening up yet another front in its battle with Microsoft by backing a competitor to Bill Gates’ dominant Office software package.

The internet search and advertising company is set to hire programmers to improve OpenOffice, a freely distributed "open source" alternative to products including Word, Microsoft’s massively popular word processor, it was revealed today.

"We want to hire a couple of folks to help make OpenOffice better," Chris DiBona, manager for open-source programs at Google, told news.com, the industry website.

"We use a fair amount of open source software at Google. We want to make sure that's a healthy community. And we want to make sure open source preserves competitiveness within the industry," he added.

Ouch...  Not good news for Microsoft to have their hottest competitor throw weight behind a free Office alternative.  I realize that Office 12 is supposed to do everything but wash your dog, and it will probably have some cool features.  But conversely, the typical home user just wants the basics.  Likewise the small to medium business.  Google will lend major credibility to OpenOffice, at exactly the time when Microsoft needs to have a blockbuster winner...  Also, if OpenOffice is the only significant office suite supporting OpenDoc format, guess where people will start looking?

This one will be interesting to watch...

10/31/2005

Mediachannel.org - "The global network for democratic media"... Yeah, right!

Category Blogging

So what do they do?  They pick up Attack Of The Blogs.

If this is what they consider "democratic media" along with their levels of editorial oversight, I think I can safely decide to write off *this* site as a source of credible news.  :)

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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