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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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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide

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Book Review - Visual Studio Tools for Office by Eric Carter and Eric Lippert

Category Book Reviews

Part of my 2006 professional goals involve learning more about Microsoft's collaboration software.  To that end, I got a review copy of Eric Carter and Eric Lippert's book Visual Studio Tools for Office - Using C# with Excel, Word, Outlook, and InfoPath.  Good stuff here...

Part 1 - An Introduction to VSTO: An Introduction to Office Programming; Introduction to Office Solutions
Part 2 - Office Programming in .NET: Programming in Excel; Working with Excel Events; Working with Excel Objects; Programming Word; Working with Word Events; Working with Word Objects; Programming Outlook; Working with Outlook Events; Working with Outlook Objects; Introduction to InfoPath
Part 3 - Office Programming in VSTO: The VSTO Programming Model; Using Windows Forms in VSTO; Working with Action Pane; Working with Smart Tags in VSTO; VSTO Data Programming; Server Data Scenarios; .NET Code Security; Deployment
Part 4 - Advanced Office Programming: Working with XML in Excel; Working with XML in Word; Developing COM Add-Ins for Word and Excel; Creating Outlook Add-Ins with VSTO

The two Erics have put together a very nice volume that shows how the programmability of Office is structured, and then how that object model can be used within the Visual Studio environment using special tools provided for that purpose.  While you have to have the latest and greatest Office and VS software to follow along, their writing style is pretty straight-forward, and the reader should be able to pick up on the core concepts to understand the possibilities inherent in the integration.  Even if you're not necessarily ready to fire up VS to program Word or Excel, Part 1 and 2 do a great job in showing the object layout of those Office components and how they can be manipulated.  If you've never gotten into the code that can be added to a Word or Excel document, those two parts of the book would be worth it alone.

For me, I'm going to gain two benefits from this book.  First, the object model information will help me better integrate Office into my Notes/Domino applications.  I do some of that now, but the object model for Excel and Word have always been somewhat hazy to me.  This book will help clarify those areas.  Second, I think that knowing more about InfoPath will be part of my process as I seek to understand more about Microsoft collaboration application development.  As a result, having this book should help me tie InfoPath into the Visual Studio environment and get a running start on my education.

Definitely a useful addition to your library if this is an area of interest to you...


Book Review - Build It Yourself Visually: The Ultimate Game PC for Under $999

Category Book Reviews

If you've ever wanted to build a PC but want *exact* instructions on what to buy, where to buy it, and how to put it all together, here you go...  Build It Yourself Visually: The Ultimate Game PC for Under $999 by Joel Durham.  No guesswork here...

Contents: Special Considerations for Game PCs; Preparing Your Shopping List; Buying Your Components; Preparing Your Tools and Workspace; Introducing the Case; Mounting the Power Supply; Installing the Motherboard; Dropping In the CPU; Adding Memory; Installing the Graphics Card; Introducing the Audio Device; Installing the Floppy Drive; Installing the Hard Drive; Installing the Optical Drive; Setting Up the Speakers; Attaching the Monitor; Connecting the Input Devices; Installing Windows XP; Installing the Drivers; Keeping Your System Up-To-Date; Optimizing Your System; Benchmarking to Quantify Your System's Performance; Glossary; Index

The Build It Yourself Visually series relies, as you can probably surmise, on a graphic-heavy format to show the reader exactly how to do something.  In many cases, it's just a lot of screen shots that show each step in a program or installation.  In this situation, it's valuable in that you get pictures of each component as well as each installation step.  This book goes beyond other "build your own PC" books in that it tells you *exactly* what to buy, why it is the preferred choice (cost vs. performance), and then points you to the CPUSolutions.com site where they have a special area set up to complement the book.  You can buy the very same components listed in the book, therefore assuring yourself that the parts you get and assemble are the same ones you'll see in the instructions.  For those who are a bit gun-shy to begin with, that's a nice safety net.  And if you're confident of your skills to "wing it" a bit, you can spend a bit more and upgrade per their recommendations listed on each component.  Either way, the end result should be a solid gaming system for less than you would have spent to buy it off the shelf...  Not to mention the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself.

A solid title for the target they're shooting for, and one I would recommend to someone that fits that category...


The obligatory end of year review for 2005...

Category Everything Else

This is the time when one is supposed to look back and contemplate their journey of the past year.  So just what *did* I do of note this year?
  • In November of 2004, I broke into the top 500 reviewer ranking at Amazon.  By February, it was 298.  June, 198.  September, 149.  And finally, two days before the end of the year, I hit my goal...  I'm ranked at 125.  And what does that get me?  Even more books to review...
  • I had a goal to read a bit less this year.  Reading 182 books last year seemed to be a bit much.  So what did I end up doing this year on the reading front?  201.  I *definitely* have a goal this year to "read less, do more".
  • My writing gig with e-Pro ended when the electronic newsletter remnant went belly up in May.  But I was back writing again for LotusUserGroup.org in the last quarter of this year.  Between this blog and my official writing jobs, it seems like the keyboard is my mistress.  I'm sure my wife thinks that more often than not...
  • Lotusphere 2005 and the Java Jumpstart that Joe Litton and I did went very well.  The evaluations were very good, and I was given a chance to do it again in 2006 with Julian Robichaux.  Great fun...
  • Compared to my 747 blog entries last year, I *only* posted 668 times in 2005.  Guess I'm learning to hold my tongue better.  :)
  • I did a webcast on the new Notes/Domino 7 features for e-Pro before it died.  It's hard to talk to a wall and have it sound natural...
  • Since my old laptop from 2001 went south with Ian to DisneyWorld, I had to replace it with a spiffy new one.  
  • And speaking of "went south", Ian survived Disney.  Today's his last full workday there, and he flies home on the 4th of January.  I don't know that he's ready to come home, but he's *really* ready to not be working for The Mouse any more.  The "magic and pixie dust" is pretty well gone.
  • And it was a year of loss...  40 pounds worth, to be exact.  I joined Jenny Craig and started taking steps to get healthy.  I'm still not where I want to finish at, but I'm halfway there.

Those are some of the basic blog highlights.  Of course, there's a ton of other stuff (lost a cat, gained a cat, etc.) that would probably bore you all even more than this did.  But it was fun to scan back over the 2005 blog entries and relive some of the highs and lows.

So...  onward to 2006.

And remember...  READ LESS, DO MORE...


The last 2005 edition of Unusual Search Hits...

Category Blogging

I just know all of you were crushed that the November edition of this monthly tradition didn't show up.  Something about being off floating on the water somewhere in the Caribbean...  :)  But fear not, loyal readers!  This month you get a *double* edition that covers the last *two* months!  And I won't tell you how long it took to cull down the thousands of referrer hits in Blogsphere...  :)

First off, a special search callout...  You can tell Lotusphere is coming, as the Lotusphere search hits are spiking.  And people are curious about some..  "strange stuff".  I have search terms out there for Lotusphere 2006, Lotusphere 2006 party MGM, Lotusphere MGM, Lotusphere pictures, Lotusphere shirts, Lotusphere 2006 journal, gay Lotusphere 2006, Lotusphere 2006 parties, Lotusphere 2006 Chris Miller, Lotusphere 2006 where is the party, and Lotusphere sex.  Looking at the Disney schedules, the MGM location is possible, as it closes down at 7 every night that week.  All the other parks either are open too late or don't host those types of parties.  Yes, I will be blogging live from Lotusphere, so I'll cover the journal thing.  And it appears that some new forms of...  "networking" are happening this year...  :)

Now, on with the ordinary weirdness...
  • why do it take so long to notice weight loss - Because we look at ourselves every day and become numb to the figure staring back at us.
  • lotus naked - Another form of Lotusphere networking?
  • pile of books - I have three of them at the moment, actually...
  • we don't need an edducation - Um...  I'm guessing you just might...
  • single thomas duff - The world would probably only want one anyway.
  • bizarre future releases lotus - In Microsoft language, that would officially be version 7 as Notes died after 6.5.  Just ask them.
  • julian naked - He's assured me he'll be wearing a full outfit on stage.
  • 1st class seating on Greyhound - No such thing, unless it's called Amtrak.
  • short eating contests - Guess that takes "eat my shorts!" to a whole new level.
  • notes domino future likely - Very likely...
  • Disney peak attendance times - That would be the week that Ian just lived through...
  • Random acts of duff - I like this one...
  • become a microsoft genius - I'd love to know where they were going with this one.
  • Julian Robichaux memory leak - Just so long as he remembers his presentation while we're on stage.
  • Job stealing indians - Why would anyone want to steal Indians?  :)
  • Tom Willing in nude photo - No such willing (or unwilling for that matter) photo exists to my knowledge.
  • learn to play bas - Bas, are you the one giving these lessons?
  • lotus shiny - Ooooh...  Hannover...  shiny...
  • hairy scotsman - Gotta be our resident Notes ewok!
  • duffbert's terrorist - Another one I'd like to know more about.  Along with Homeland Security...
  • christmas turtle duffs - Yeah...
  • pretty buttocks illustrated - How do you people come *up* with this stuff???
  • gigabyte how much text - Let me try...  approximately a billion characters?
  • today's Duff cartoon - It's disturbing to think I've been turned into a cartoon character and I didn't even know it.
  • beacon awards sham - A sore loser?
  • dog blogsphere - You know what they say...  On the 'net, nobody knows...
  • ms kill notes - I'm sure they'd love to.
  • using x-10 hardware to automate school bell - Now *there's* a hack just waiting to happen.
  • litton light fades - That's what you get for not presenting this year...  :)
  • can you get white viagra - Guess the blue ones were too much of a giveaway.  You can pass the white ones off as aspirin.
  • swan butts - People look for stuff like this?
  • chris miller naked - I'm sure he'll be clothed for his Lotusphere sessions, too.
  • deep mouth - For all you youngsters out there, his code name was Deep *Throat*.
  • radicati white paper - I'm doing all I can to stop from linking this to the white paper in my bathroom.
  • crash pad the swan - Looks like a Lotuspherian staying off property and looking for somewhere to dump their stuff during the day.

And one of my favorites from this set...

Jamaica "I don't want my hair braided" t-shirt

Understood by anyone that's been there...


What a lame explanation from Microsoft regarding the WMF exploit...

Category Microsoft

From their press release:

Microsoft Security Advisory (912840)
Vulnerability in Graphics Rendering Engine Could Allow Remote Code Execution.
Published: December 28, 2005 | Updated: December 29, 2005

Microsoft is investigating new public reports of a vulnerability in Windows. Microsoft is also aware of the public release of detailed exploit code that could be used to exploit this vulnerability. Based on our investigation, this exploit code could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code on the user's system by hosting a specially crafted Windows Metafile (WMF) image on a malicious Web site. Microsoft is aware that this vulnerability is being actively exploited.

Microsoft has determined that an attacker using this exploit would have no way to force users to visit a malicious Web site. Instead, an attacker would have to persuade them to visit the Web site, typically by getting them to click a link that takes them to the attacker's Web site. In an e-mail based attack, customers would have to be persuaded to click on a link within a malicious e-mail or open an attachment that exploited the vulnerability. In both the web and email based attacks, the code would execute in the security context of the logged-on user. Users whose accounts are configured to have fewer user rights on the system could be less impacted than users who operate with administrative user rights.

Microsoft will continue to investigate these reports and provide additional guidance depending on customer needs.

So...  It's really not Microsoft's fault if you get infected.  You should have been more careful and not have been "persuaded" to visit those horrible sites...

I'm so glad Microsoft is focused on providing us enhanced security...  


I went down to the wire on my Amazon reviewer ranking goal for 2005...

Category Book Reviews

But as of today:

A picture named M2

My goal earlier had been to hit 150, but I got there far faster than I thought I would.  I then set the bar up to 125.  But at this level, each ranking point upwards is a hard-fought battle, and I was stalled out between 130 and 128 for the longest time.  But the last two days have moved me past whatever logjam was ahead of me, and I *just* made my goal.

For 2006?  It'd be nice to get into the top 100.  I'm not too sure how realistic that is, as the activity to get (and *stay*) there is pretty heavy.  There's also a number of people in that area who review any and all things sold on Amazon (appliances, books, CDs, food products, etc.).  Seems to be a bit silly at times, but it moves them on up.  I am pretty much "books only", so it takes a bit longer to rack up the points to move on.

And if you wonder how the ranking works...  On the site, each review by a person has a "Yes"/"No" button after the review asking if the reader found the review helpful.  Although Amazon doesn't publish the formula, common wisdom has it that a point is awarded for 3 positive votes and for 10 positive votes.  There's a deduction for having more negatives than positives if the difference is multiplied by the square root divided by the cycle of the moon, or some such thing.  Basically, the more positive votes I get, the higher I move up in rank.

So, if you *really* like a review you read over here, feel free to click through to the book on Amazon, find my review listed on the book product page, and vote Yes.

I'm Duffbert, and I thank you for your support...  :)


Book Review - Iron Orchid by Stuart Woods

Category Book Reviews

I recently checked out Iron Orchid by Stuart Woods from the library.  I normally look forward to his Holly Barker and Stone Barrington novels, but this one left me a bit puzzled and flat...

Holly Barker has officially joined the CIA and is undergoing her training down at "The Farm".  But the training is cut short when Teddy Fay, a rogue ex-CIA employee who was killing right-wing officials in a prior novel, turns out not to be as dead as everyone expected.  A mid-air plane explosion was a carefully crafted diversion to make it look as if Fay was no more, but he is now back in New York killing off foreign spies and enemies of the US.  Barker has had some level of success in breaking cases that stymied the local police, so she's brought in to track down Fay, who is a master of disguise and leaves absolutely no trace of himself behind...

So, why puzzled and flat?  Because this novel appeared to be marking time between the last Barker installment and some yet-to-be written/released novel in the future.  I never did understand the motivation behind why Fay was picking his targets, considering he could have just walked away from it all and retired peacefully.  Other than Barker now working for the CIA and living in New York, I didn't really see how this novel advanced her as a character.  And the ending had "in the next book, Fay and Barker..." written all over it.  I got to the end and thought, "That's it?"

Iron Orchid was an easy book to read and follow, and I enjoy Wood's writing.  It's just that this story didn't seem to go anywhere...


Book Review - Using Moodle by Jason Cole

Category Book Reviews

It's always fun when you catch wind of something technical that you didn't even know existed.  That's the position I'm in with the O'Reilly book Using Moodle - Teaching with the Popular Open Source Course Management System by Jason Cole.  This is a very cool software package, and the book covers it very well.

Contents:  Introduction; Moodle Basics; Creating and Managing Content; Using Forums, Chats and Dialogues; Quizzes; Workshops; Assignments and Exercises; Journals; Glossaries; Lessons; Wikis; Grades and Scales; Managing Your Class; Surveys and Choices; Putting It All Together; Moodle Administration; Index

I had no idea there was any open source content management systems (CMS) out there, much less ones with a rather quirky and cool name like Moodle.  This book is published under the O'Reilly Community Press imprint, which means that people intimately involved in the technology create the documentation that is then put into print and distributed by O'Reilly.  It's also licensed under the Creative Commons structure, so it's designed to be used and built on by others.  I think O'Reilly should be commended for providing this valuable niche to the technical community.  The author has put together some solid documentation on Moodle, supplemented by his warnings and tips based on real world experience.  Although you might be able to get a drier version of the documentation online, all it would take is one or two of Cole's warnings to save you more than the cost of the book many times over.  Even if you're not necessarily considering Moodle as a CMS, it's worth reading the book to see how elegant an open source software solution can be.  It'd be really hard for me to recommend commercial solutions costing tens of thousands of dollars after reading this volume.

This is a well-done book that can open your eyes to what an open source solution can provide, whether it's for a CMS or something else.  Worth a read...


My first pass at the Lotusphere schedule...

Category Lotusphere 2006

So this is where I put my neck out and potentially alienate a lot of friends who are speaking but who aren't on my schedule at this point in time...  :)

I had some free time today as things are a bit quiet at work during the holiday lull.  I downloaded Ben's session database and started flagging sessions I wanted to see.  And as normal, there's "too much good stuff".  I had to make a number of tough choices, and I have plenty of timeslots where I could be one of two (or even three) places at once.  Following is my tentative schedule as it sits right now.  All the standard caveats apply...  I reserve the right to make any last minute changes, no implied or expressed warranty is given, blah, blah, blah...
10:30 am - 12:30 pm

JMP201 - Java Jumpstart for the IBM Lotus Domino Developer
1:30 pm - 3:30 pm

JMP204 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to Microsoft Office Integration with IBM Lotus Notes and Domino
JMP302 - IMB Workplace Designer 101
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
JMP205 - IBM Lotus Domino and IBM Workplace Collaboration Services: Comparison of Collaborative Application Platform
JMP202 - LEI, DECS, LSXXLC: Understanding the "How and Why" of IBM Lotus Domino Integration with other Systems
11:00 am - 12:00 pm
BP104 - Measure Twice, Cut Once: Low Fidelity Prototyping in the Real World
ID101 - What's New in the IBM Lotus Notes Client
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
AD212 - Introduction to DXL
BP308 - IBM Lotus Domino Web Facelift Using Ajax and DXL
2:15 pm - 3:15 pm
AD202 - Web Services and IBM Lotus Notes and Domino 7
AD216 - Ajax and IBM Lotus Domino - The Cleanest, Slickest Sites In Town
3:45 pm - 4:45 pm
AD206 - IBM Lotus Domino 7.x (and 6.x) Application Performance Optimization
AD214 - XML and Web Services with IBM Lotus Domino and IBM Rational Application Developer
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
BP310 - How to Make IBM Lotus Domino Sites That Don't Look (or Act) Like Lotus Domino
AD203 - Tips and Topics for Developing Web Services in IBM Lotus Domino Designer
6:15 pm - 7:15 pm
BOF205 - Simulating Relational Databases in an IBM Lotus Notes World
7:00 am - 8:00 am
MTG610 - Doing It: In Formula Language, LotusScript, _JavaScript, and Java
8:30 am - 9:30 am
BP314 - Web Services and IBM Lotus Domino 7 - How to be a Good Consumer!
10:00 am - 11:00 am
BP103 - Managing the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) with IBM Lotus Notes and Domino
11:15 am - 12:15 pm
AD204 - Power Programming: Examing and Manipulating IBM Lotus Domino Application Designs
1:30 pm - 2:30 pm open
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
BP303 - Big-Time Tips and Tricks for Your IBM Lotus Domino Web Applications: The Great Code Giveaway!
AD217 - Solution Architectures: Why They Matter
4:15 pm - 5:15 pm
BP304 - Code for Speed, or Code for Easier Reading: You Make The Call!
5:45 pm - 6:45 pm
BOF105 - The IBM Lotus Blogging Community
7:00 am - 8:00 am

BOF104 - OpenNTF - An Open Source Community
8:30 am - 9:30 am
BP106 - Worst Practices in IBM Lotus Domino - Learning From the Mistakes of Others
10:00 am - 11:00 am
ID401 - The Boss Loves Microsoft: Where Does That Leave Lotus?
11:15 am - 12:15 pm
BP302 - Application Performance Techniques for IBM Lotus Domino Developers
1:30 pm - 2:30 pm
ID120 - How to "Sell" IBM Lotus Notes and Domino Inside Your Organization
BP305 - Combine XSL and DXL for Rich Web Applications
BP309 - Extreme Integration - Techniques for Advanced Integration of Office and OpenOffice with IBM Lotus Notes and Domino
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
BP312 - Object-Oriented LotusScript Techniques and Tricks
AD218 - Working with Customers via the IBM Lotus Sametime Links Toolkit
4:15 pm - 5:15 pm
BP313 - Practical DXL for LotusScript - IBM Lotus Domino Developers Using DXL in the Real World
8:30 am - 9:30 am
AD205 - New Methods for Customizing Views in IBM Lotus Notes 7
10:00 am - 11:00 am
BP102 - It's a Virtual World: Effectively using VMWare in Your Environment
BP105 - OpenNTF: Learn How OpenNTF Open Source Solutions Can Save You Time, Money, and Your Hair
11:15 am - 12:15 pm
ID208 - Introduction to the IBM Productivity Tools


So what's on *your* list of professional goals for 2006?

Category Everything Else

I'm a firm believer in setting professional goals for myself...  learning new things, stretching my comfort limits, etc.  I think that habit has served me well over the years as an IT professional, and it's taken me in directions I never dreamed I'd experience.  Talking in front of hundreds at Lotusphere, writing as a paid "sideline", high visibility as a book reviewer, etc.  Definitely some good stuff there...

Looking back at the last couple of years, I've noticed that I've ended up in a bit of a rut.  Since I spend so much time reading and writing, I end up knowing a lot *about* different technologies, but I don't really *know* any of them deeply.  Sort of the "jack of all trades, master of none" syndrome.  While it has some advantages as far as being able to keep a wide view of trends, it frustrates me that I don't have that skillset that I can "hang my hat on", so to speak.  Sure, Notes/Domino is my expertise, and I do quite well there.  But once I venture out of that niche, the knowledge becomes less experiential and more "book smarts".  Information technology can be a brutal profession these days, and I really don't want to lose my edge.

So with that in mind, I have set some very lofty goals for myself this year...

I want to master:
  • AJAX
  • Ruby
  • Linux

I want to better understand:
  • Perl
  • Microsoft's version of collaboration software

This can all be summed up in four words...  "read less, do more"  :)

By "master", I don't expect to be in a position to get a full-time job doing any one of those skills.  But I do want to be able to write programs and routines in those languages without trepidation.  I also want to feel comfortable running Linux under my VMWare partition.  By "better understand", I want to have a decent working knowledge of those technologies.  For Perl, I want to be able to write a simple Perl script and know when I might be able to use it in my day-to-day activities at work.  And as for Microsoft's collaboration technologies, I want to be able to know what application development skills compare to what I do in Notes/Domino, as well as understanding a basic application development cycle.  This will probably be one of the hardest ones to reach, as not only do I have to figure out *what* matches up, but then I have to figure out how to *get* the software to install it in my home environment for study.  At least all the other goals I have involve open source and free software...  :)

An aggressive list?  Yup.  Reachable?  If I remain focused.  If I apply myself.  If I quit launching Hearts and Solitaire in the evenings...  :)

So what's on *your* list?


Book Review - Makers by Bob Parks

Category Book Reviews

Tools and I usually don't get along real well.  But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the skill of those who can make something out of seemingly nothing...  Makers: All Kinds of People Making Amazing Things In Garages, Basements, and Backyards by Bob Parks.  A beautiful book that salutes the sometimes off-beat inventor we'd probably all like to be...

Parks has taken 91 "makers", those who have invented and created things out of the ordinary, and given them a short one to two page write-up on their invention, their story, and their motivation as to what makes them tick.  In many cases, it's a matter of making a gadget out of trashed treasures that someone else threw out.  Take Greg Miller, for instance, who built his own night vision scope from discarded parts and $39.  Or you have the group of hackers who built an electronic lock-picking machine out of obsolete and castoff computer parts...  cost $0.  But there are also the serious inventors who devote large amounts of time, energy, and money to pursuing their dreams.  Like Tom Chudleigh who has built a spherical wooden treehouse that took him two years and well over $10ooo.  Or Hans-Joerg Krohn who missed being able to fly all the time before he was transferred to a job in Kazakhstan.  To satisfy that urge, he spent over $12000 and 10 years building a full-scale flight simulator with multiple computers and customized instrument panels.  While the back of the simulator looks like a Rube Goldberg device, the seating canopy looks like a professional trainer.  An incredible feat of engineering...

O'Reilly has done a superb job with this "coffee table" book.  After the success of their Make magazine, it's not surprising that they would publish something like this.  What is unusual is the quality and beauty of the volume.  Heavy paper stock, full color pictures, and a stylistic look that kept me turning the pages and marveling at how creative people could be.

This isn't a "how to" book, so if you're intending to buy something as a tutorial on building things, look elsewhere.  But if you want to be inspired by human ingenuity and creativity, this book will definitely fit the bill...


Book Review - Cutting Edge PowerPoint For Dummies by Geetesh Bajaj

Category Book Reviews

This is one of the more "timely" books I've read in awhile.  It's Cutting Edge PowerPoint For Dummies by Geetesh Bajaj, and I plan on incorporating a number of things from this book in my next presentation at Lotusphere...

Part 1 - Powering Up PowerPoint: PowerPointing with the Best of Them; Empowering Your PowerPoint Program; Color Is Life; Streamlining with Masters and Templates
Part 2 - Achieving Visual Appeal: AutoShape Magic; Drawing in PowerPoint; Dressing Up the Text Stuff; Adding Images to Your Presentation; Pulling in Diagrams, Charts, Equations, and Maps
Part 3 - Adding Motion, Sounds, and Effects: Listening and Watching - The Sound and Video Stuff; Moving On with Animations and Transitions
Part 4 - Communicating Beyond the PowerPoint Program: Interactivity and Linking; Exchanging Information; Preparing and Delivering Your Awesome Presentation
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: My Ten Favorites PowerPoint Tips; Ten PowerPoint Problems
What's On The CD-ROM; Index

I've put together my share of PowerPoint presentations, and I normally know enough to get the basics down.  I'm a firm believer in "just because you can doesn't mean you should", and I try to stay away from font and animation overload.  All of that is well and good, but it usually means my slides can lack a bit in the "pizazz" department.  Bajaj has written a book that starts beyond the "what is PowerPoint" mark and starts to delve into all the features that can make your presentation stand out.  Yes, there is plenty of time spent on how to animate things and such, but he also offers the caveat that too much activity is distracting, not informational.  Use with caution.  All versions of PowerPoint from 2000 through the current version are well-covered, so you're not shut out totally if you haven't bothered to keep up with Microsoft's latest offerings.  

On top of just learning about features you haven't played with before, the author offers up insights and tips based on his extensive experience with the product.  You'll learn how best to avoid corrupted PowerPoint files, what features work well (and what features don't), as well as some hidden gems you probably don't know about.  For instance, did you know that you can create a basic PowerPoint presentation using Notepad?  Neither did I, and it's an intriguing way to get your thoughts and structure down "on paper" before you get distracted by all the PowerPoint bright shiny objects.  This is also one of the few books which quickly ended up with a broken seal on the CD container.  The full version of Camtasia 3 that's offered gratis is something I've long wanted to play with.  Just in time for January's Lotusphere session...

I usually get *something* out of most every book I read.  Some books offer up more than a few "somethings".  This one ended up in the very upper range of value for my time and money...  Very good stuff...


Book Review - The iPod Book by Scott Kelby

Category Book Reviews

OK...  I finally joined the cult of the iPodders this month.  I'm not a music fanatic like others I know, but there are some podcasts I really should be listening to.  So, with iPod in hand, I started working my way through The iPod Book by Scott Kelby.  He did a really nice job on this, and I think I know what I'm doing now...

Contents:  I Can't Help Myself - The Chapter for People Who Must Play a Song Right Now; The Outsiders - How to Work the Stuff on the Outside of Your iPod; Pod's Theme - iPod Essentials; It's Tricky - Cool iPod Tips & Tricks; Cars - Using the iPod in Your Car; Get the Freeze-Frame - Using Your iPod's Photo Features; Home Sweet Home - iTunes Essentials; Imaginary Player - Playlists and Smart Playlists; Proof of Purchase - Using the iTunes Music Store; Tip Drill - Cool iTunes Tips; Add It On - iPod Accessories (and the iTunes Phone); Get the Lido Shuffle - How to Use Apple's iPod shuffle; Cast of Angels - How to Download (and Create Your Own) Podcasts; Recommended Dose - A Peek at My Own Personal, Ultra-Secret, Yet Surprisingly Way-Cool Playlists; Index

There were a number of things I enjoyed in this book...  For one, the writing style has some great dry humor and wit.  Each chapter is tied into some music, and it's Kelby's contention that editors never read the book and chapter forwards, and he can get away with stuff in there.  So for some great humor, don't skip *any* of the intros.  But the book is more than just a few laughs.  He does a nice job covering the range of functionality that comes in the iPod, in iTunes, and in the large number of after-market add-ons you can buy for your new toy.  Want to listen to your iPod from the car radio with no wiring?  You can do that.  Want to use your iPod as a voice recorder?  Yup, it's there.  Do you just want to use your iPod as your stereo system attached to a pair of high-end speakers?  No problem...  All that and more is covered.  Since he covers all the different iPod models, you also don't have to worry that your iPod Nano (or Shuffle) will get short-changed.  The book has great information regardless of your particular version.  Each page has one complete tip or hint, so it's easy to scan for just what you're looking for.  Throw in a number of iTips at the bottom of several pages, and even the most experienced iPodder will probably find something that causes him/her to say, "hey!  didn't know you could do that!"...

Maybe it's because I'm an iPod newbie and this was the first book that unlocked the possibilities for me.  Regardless, I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it to anyone looking for something more in the way of information than what comes packaged with the unit...


Book Review - Echo Burning by Lee Child

Category Book Reviews

Boy, I sure like the Jack Reacher series.  The latest one I read in my trek to get up-to-date is Echo Burning by Lee Child.  And as with all the rest, it's another great installment.

Reacher is doing what he's always doing at the start of his books...  wandering the country with no place to be and no agenda in mind.  He's in Texas, minding his own business, when he's picked up by Carmen Greer, a stunning woman who looks like she has it pretty easy.  But the story she tells is far different.  She's locked in an abusive marriage, she is hated by her in-laws for being Hispanic, and she has virtually nothing of her own (regardless of the millions her husband has as part of the family fortune).  Her only bright spot is her daughter, but it's also the reason she can't up and walk away.  Her husband is serving time for tax evasion, and it's been the best part of her marriage.  But he's getting out early, and she's looking for someone who will "do away" with her problem.  That latest someone is Reacher.  While he's killed as part of his former life as a military MP, he can't do a cold-blooded murder.  But the more he learns, the deeper he gets drawn into the conflict.  What complicates the issue is that her story appears to be built on one lie after another, and Jack has to separate reality from fantasy.  When the husband gets home from prison and is shot in the bedroom within hours of arriving, Carmen is arrested for murder.  Jack should just walk away, but there's that small part of him that still believes her, and he can't leave until he is convinced of the truth...

This is another solid job of writing and story-telling by Child.  The lines between truth and fiction, while starting out with sharp edges, becomes increasingly blurred until there is no line.  The "victim" story becomes harder and harder to swallow, and the "bad guy" story appears to be diametrically opposite to what the victim painted.  While I expected plot twists, I really had no way to tell where Child would end up with this one.  As such, I probably ended up committing some social family faux pas while I snuck off to keep reading and discover the outcome.  It was that good...


Book Review - 7 Deadly Wonders by Matthew Reilly

Category Book Reviews

I recently received an advanced reader's copy of the book 7 Deadly Wonders by Matthew Reilly.  If you want to suspend belief for awhile and go on an Indiana Jones-style adventure, this is worth a few hours...

A celestial event called the Tartarus Rotation is due to occur in 2006, something that happens once every 4500 years.  Legend has it that whoever places the Capstone on the Great Pyramid at the proper moment can perform one of two rituals to either rule the earth for 1000 years or ensure world peace for that time.  True to form, the United States is trying to be the winner in this sweepstakes, along with a European coalition.  Trying to stop either side from gaining control is a small federation of seven nations, led by Jack West of Australia.  Everyone is looking for the seven pieces of the Capstone which were hidden by Alexander the Great in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Leading each group is a set of twins who were born as "oracles" to interpret the clues as to where the pieces could be found.  West's team only needs to get one piece to keep either side from ruling the world.  Unfortunately, every time his group locates a piece, guess who shows up to take it away?

Forget character development...  It's not there.  Don't look for a slow plot build-up.  You're off and running on page 5.  Most of the cliffhanger situations (literally!) and special high-tech equipment is past the bounds of "that *could* work".  Imagine Indiana Jones meets The Da Vinci Code, all stoked up on caffeine, and you start to get the idea of the pace and plot.  The writing style might also put you off.  There's an overabundance of exclamation points, italics, ellipses that join the start of one sentence...

... to the end of the next one, usually revealing a surprising event!  Lots of maps in there, too.  Gotta make sure you know where everything is and how tricky the ancient mazes can be.  Imhotep III was one devious guy.

Now having said all that, I still liked the book.  It's mind candy, pure and simple.  Every page turn presents another situation that should kill the entire lot of them, but all the important people continue to pull through.  While it won't be mistaken for serious literature, it would make a cross-country plane ride feel a little shorter...


Book Review - Secrets of Podcasting by Bart G. Farkas

Category Book Reviews

Although I haven't (yet?) created one, I am becoming more interested in the podcasting phenomenon.  A very good "get your feet wet" book to get someone started in that area is Secrets of Podcasting - Audio Blogging for the Masses by Bart G. Farkas.  

Contents:  Podcasting Basics; Jumping In; Creating a Podcast; Podcasting Distribution; Appendix; Glossary; Index

Yes, there's only four chapters...  but they're *long* chapters...  :)

I don't know that I would have titled this book "Secrets of".  That almost implies that the book covers the nitty-gritty of podcasting and goes into great detail on specialized topics.  That's not the case.  Instead you get a broad coverage of the subject matter, from what it is to how to create your own.  I've reviewed a number of other podcast books that go into great detail on mics, setting up your own studio, etc.  Not here...  This is really targeted at someone who either wants to know more about this strange new thing called podcasting, or someone who wants to create a podcast and wonders how to go about it.  The information is highly practical, and you get all the "must know" information in order to make sure you are successful your first time out.  If you then want to continue on and carry it to the next level, you can look for the books that get into the esoterica of sound theory and such...

I liked how Farkas listed a large number of software packages and hardware recommendations to get started.  There's no emphasis on "buying the best of everything", but rather making solid purchases (or downloading solid open source software) that will serve you well going forward and make sure you don't sound like a rank amateur out of the gate.  With coverage of Mac, Linux, and Windows platforms, you're pretty sure to find something that will fit your configuration.  Also, if you're just into listening, chapter 2 (Jumping In) will give you everything you need to know on how to find, download, and manage the podcasts you find.  All this is done with some off-beat humor and a number of interview sidebars with actual podcasters.  Getting the perspective of where things are going from more than just the author adds quite a lot to the mix.

So long as you're not looking for expert level tips when you buy the book, you should enjoy the material and get real value from it.  I certainly enjoyed reading it, and learned a bit in the process...


Microsoft acquiring Opera?

Category Microsoft

From CoolTechZone:  Microsoft Buys Out Opera

OK...  This definitely falls into the realm of "unsubstaniated rumor", but still...

(Insider Report) - Here comes a surprise. In a recent conversation with one of our insiders at Microsoft, the source revealed that Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software maker, has acquired Opera Software, makers of the Opera browser. The insider reported that both Microsoft and Google were trying to bid on Opera, but in the end, the software maker took the lead.

At the moment, the deal is almost through with Microsoft and Opera planning on locations for the browser’s research and development centers throughout the world. One of such locations includes India; other locations at this time are unknown.

I guess if you can't do it on your own, just buy them out.  I could understand this from Opera's perspective.  Although innovative and well-liked in the tech world, it never achieved the status that Firefox did in the fight against IE.  How long do you continue to play third fiddle in an area where market share shifts are small and rare?  From Microsoft's perspective, I find this a bit confusing.  The naysayer in me snidely says this proves they couldn't get it right on their own.  The more logical side wonders what they gain from this.  Does Opera have browser technology that IE doesn't and that Microsoft couldn't add on their own?  Is this simply a play to get Opera's mobile browser?  If they want to get the mobile browser, do they now have browser technology that uses different software foundations for different platforms?  Are they simply out to acquire Opera's development staff and leadership personnel?

The whole thing sounds a little "hackish" to me...  Groove, anyone?


So how did Radicati do on her annual predictions?

Category Everything Else

I don't have the original list of prognostications, and I won't be able to get to this until after I get back from Christmas holidays.

But I'm sure one of you would relish examining the accuracy of one of the industry's most "vocal" analysts...

I think we can pretty much figure that her blogging prediction was wrong...  :)


Book Review - Wireless Network Hacks And Mods For Dummies by Danny Briere and Pat Hurley

Category Blogging

So what do you do once you have your wireless router plugged in and your laptop connected to the internet via the airwaves?  What more *can* you do, and what if you want to venture beyond the basics?  A lot of that is covered pretty well in the book Wireless Network Hacks & Mods For Dummies by Danny Briere and Pat Hurley.

Part 1 - Making Your World Wireless: Wireless Inside Everything!; Wireless Network Basics; Wireless LAN Infrastructure; Wi-Fi and Broadband Connections
Part 2 - Boosting Performance on Your Wireless Network: Combining Wired and Wireless Networks; Better Living Through Network Monitoring; Boosting Signal Strength Where You Need It; Staying Safe in the Wireless World
Part 3 - Wireless on the Go: On the Road Again with 802.11; Staying Safe on Any Wireless Network; Outfitting Your Car with Wireless; Operating Your Own Hot Spot
Part 4 - Cool Wireless Toys: Building a Wireless Audio Network; Wirelessly Securing, Monitoring, and Automating Your Home; It's Your Dime - IP Calls and Your Wireless Network; That's Not All - Other Cool Wireless Toys
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: (Almost) Ten Sites for Advanced Wireless Topics; Top Ten Wi-Fi Security Questions;

It seemed like (at least to me) getting connected wirelessly used to be more art than science.  Now it's pretty easy, and it doesn't take much to make a connection anywhere you happen to be these days.  But there's a lot more you can do with wireless technology that perhaps you haven't thought of.  For instance, the authors talk about GPS units and how they can connect wirelessly to services to enable you to track your car's location.  Given I have a son with diabetes, that's a possibility I plan on exploring so I can sleep better at night.  Or let's say that you are a music lover and you want to listen to your tunes all over the house.  Using wireless networking, you could set up a wireless jukebox and listen anywhere.  Perhaps you're the altruistic type and you just want to share your connectivity with others who need it.  There's a *lot* of information in here on how best to do that, both from a security and a technical perspective.  Add all that to some very understandable writing on the underlying technologies behind wireless (like 802.11a/b/g, WEP/WPA/WPA2, etc.), and you have a useful and solid book.

Any time I read a title that talks about hacks and mods, I realize that not everything will be applicable or even interesting to me.  But if I can come away with a handful of ideas and tips to use and explore, it's worth the read.  This book meets that criteria...


Book Review - Money for Content and Your Clicks for Free by JD Frazer

Category Book Reviews

Seems like all kinds of books are coming out about how to make money off your website.  Most have to do with Google AdSense and are repeats of what made it to market first.  But this one's a bit different...  JD Frazer's Money for Content and Your Clicks for Free - Turning Web Sites, Blogs, and Podcasts Into Cash.

Content:  The Business of Creating Content; The Advertising Game; The Membership Game; To Gate or Not to Gate; Branding and Merchandising; Online Communities and Online Consumers; The Ethics of Creation and Consumption; Protecting Your Creation; Fame and Your Audience; Ready, Fire, Aim!; References and Resources; Index

Frazer is the cartoonist behind the tech cartoon User Friendly.  As such, he does know a bit about running a site that draws major hit counts on a daily basis.  But like most people in his position, he wasn't sure how he could turn a hobby and passion into dollars.  Through trial and error, he figured out ways to monetize his site and make a living at it.  But it's definitely work, and he makes sure the reader doesn't think that they can create a couple of cartoons (or short stories or podcasts) and make unlimited money...

Yes, he does talk about advertising, but he goes into areas that most smaller content creators aren't yet exploring.  In addition to Google AdSense, he also works with media firms to run banner ads for set campaigns that draw consistent income for the advertisers and himself.  He also goes into the pros and cons of selling memberships/sponsorships to his site, having "member only" areas available for a fee, and how merchandising your "brand" can also pay off.  That assumes you've taken the time to *develop* a brand, of course.  But it's a two-way street.  If you've accepted money for your content, you're obliged to deliver value for that money.  You no longer have the option to decide that you want to move on and play at something else.  The paying audience has a right to expect something for what they paid, and you no longer have an excuse for not delivering.  Wrap all this book material up with a dash of his quirky User Friendly humor, and you have a very good book that will make you think a bit more about content and reimbursement.

If you want to go beyond slapping an AdSense section on your site and you think you have content that people would pay for, you'll do well to get a copy of this book.  You may not agree with everything, but you'll end up thinking about issues before you make the mistakes associated with them.  A very good read...


So how did we fare weather-wise?

Category Everything Else

Guess it depends on how much the weather affects what you do...  :)

The weather system moved in a lot faster yesterday than was predicted.  The thought was that it'd all start between 4 and 6 pm.  In reality, the roads were covered with ice pellets by 2.  Things got progressively worse throughout the afternoon and evening, and I was glad that I was safely at home with nowhere I needed to be.  I woke up this morning expecting a thick layer of ice on top of everything, and that wasn't the case.  Temperatures stayed right above freezing and the rain, although freezing in places, really turned things more into slush.

The wife's happy, as her place of business shut down for the day.  My company doesn't open until 10 am, but I'm just going to work from home.  No use trying to spend hours getting to work to only spend half a day there...


Book Review - Professional LAMP

Category Book Reviews

If you don't know (in which case you wouldn't be reading this in all likelihood), LAMP is an acronym for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP5.  It's the open source "software stack" used to do web development.  If you have a basic grounding in all those software elements, you might be interested in the Wrox book Professional LAMP - Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP5 Web Development by Jason Gerner, Elizabeth Naramore, Morgan L. Owens, Matt Warden.

Contents: What's New in PHP5?; PHP5 OOP; More Obscure PHP; Advanced MySQL; PHP Configuration; Apache Tricks; Site Security; PEAR and PECL; Code Efficiency; PHP Extensions; AJAX; Caching Engines; Content Management Systems; Language Translation; Alternative Tools; Index

As you can see from the content listing, this is a bit of a grab-bag of topics that may or may not interest you.  There does seem to be some contradictory information as to who the target audience might be.  Looking at the back of the book, the book is described as being for "intermediate to advanced LAMP professionals".  This is backed by their visual flowchart of titles, which shows this as a high-end book for those who already know what they're doing.  But in the introduction, there is a description of the book as one "for web developers with some experience who want to take their websites to the next level."  This is followed by a list of basic skills that they assume, none of which are the software elements that make up LAMP.  While I consider myself the target of the second description, I can tell you that this isn't a book that I could use to learn and understand LAMP.  You definitely need to have a firm grasp of PHP in order to gain value from this material, as they go into new and advanced features very quickly.  

Having stated the caveats, I will say the book is laid out well and would be beneficial to the right audience.  There is a lot of code to use and play with, and the information is well documented.  The focus is on PHP5 material, so I think that you'd find the book most valuable if you were a PHP developer looking for tricks and tips using the latest version of the software.  The Linux part of LAMP is not covered much at all.  It's assumed that you're using Linux to run the "AMP" part of the stack, but that's about as far as it goes.  If you're looking for Linux info, you won't get much out of this book.  

Recommendation?  If you're firmly grounded in LAMP and you're looking for information that goes beyond the basics, you might be interested.  If you're just looking to get started, you'll want to look elsewhere...


Book Review - C# 2005 For Dummies by Stephen Randy Davis and Chuck Sphar

Category Book Reviews

Seems like I've been ending up with a number of C# books in my review pile lately.  The most recent one is C# 2005 For Dummies by Stephen Randy Davis and Chuck Sphar.  As with many programming language books in the Dummies series, it's a solid coverage of the material for those who are looking for a broad coverage of the material for a first exposure...

Part 1 - Creating Your First C# Programs: Creating Your First C# Windows Program; Creating Your First C# Console Application
Part 2 - Basic C# Programming: Living with Variability - Declaring Value-Type Variables; Smooth Operators; Controlling Program Flow
Part 3 - Object-Based Programming: Collecting Data - The Class and the Array; Putting on Some High-Class Functions; Class Methods; Stringing in the Key of C#
Part 4 - Object-Oriented Programming: Object-Oriented Programming - What's It All About?; Holding a Class Responsible; Inheritance - Is That All I Get?; Poly-what-ism?
Part 5 - Beyond Basic Classes: What a Class Isn't a Class - The Interface and the Structure; Asking Your Pharmacist about Generics
Part 6 - The Part of Ten: The 10 Most Common Build Errors (And How to Fix Them); The 10 Most Significant Differences between C# and C++
Appendix: About the CD
Bonus Chapters on the CD: Some Exceptional Exceptions; Handling Files and Libraries in C#; Stepping through Collections; Using the Visual Studio Interface; C# on the Cheap

As I've mentioned in other places, I like Dummies books for the ability to allow me to figure out what I don't know about a subject.  If I didn't know Java at all (C# is very close to Java in many, many respects) and wanted to get my feet wet in C#, this book would help me get the foundational skills I need.  As someone who *does* already know Java, I think I was more interested in the bonus material on the CD.  I really didn't know much about Mono, the open-source implementation of .Net.  Nor did I know that there are non-Microsoft imitations of Visual Studio that you can use if you want to code in C# without spending hundreds of dollars for the VS IDE.  Cool stuff!  This probably wouldn't be the book you'd keep around as your main reference source if you are going to be a C# code-slinger, but it will help you figure out where the gun goes and how to put the holster on...


Book Review - Polar Shift by Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos

Category Book Reviews

Kurt Austin is back in the latest installment by Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos...  Polar Shift.  It's a nice "mind candy" bit of diversion...

Austin and the NUMA crew are once again pulled into breaking up a plot that threatens to destroy the earth.  A group of anarchists (well-funded ones) have discovered a way to force a polar shift of the magnetic north and south pole.  By doing so, they hope to destroy the world's navigation and communication infrastructure, allowing their heavily shielded replacements to survive as the only game in town.  The only thing that can stop them is a young woman who is the granddaughter of the original scientist who learned about the shift decades.  She doesn't know that she holds the key to reversing the polarity, but NUMA and Austin have to find her before the others get there first...

I didn't expect blockbuster material here, just a fun read.  And basically that's what I got.  The Austin series isn't quite as frenetic a pace as the Dirk Pitt series, nor is the dialog between Austin and his sidekick quite as entertaining.  Still, it was a book I enjoyed picking up each evening before I went to bed.  I'm not sure I would have wanted to pay $27 for it, but as a library book it was fine.


Gonna be an interesting next couple of days here weather-wise...

Category Everything Else

The city of Portland (located in the United States, state of Oregon) has a geographic placement that makes wintertime somewhat interesting.  The city sits at the end of the Columbia River Gorge, which runs between the states of Oregon and Washington.  We're at the west end.  During stormy conditions, you can get strong east winds as the high pressure situated in the east pours down into the low pressure weather system in the west.  So far, no big deal.  Unless it's 30 degrees outside with 30 mile per hour winds.  Wind chill sucks!

Generally speaking, it doesn't get really cold here.  Many winters, you'll have nothing more than maybe a handful of days where the temperature drops below freezing.  No big deal.  It's the extended cold snap that causes issues.  This last week, we've been experiencing one of those in our area.  The nighttime lows have approached 20 degrees, and the daytime highs haven't gotten over 40.  The transition *out* of this pattern is where we find ourselves right now...

There's a storm approaching...  wet and warm.  The east part of the state is still cold and clear.  East winds are gusting up to 50 miles per hour right now with sub-freezing air.  We have a high wind warning that's been issued by the weather service.  Later today, the storm will get here.  The front will ride over the top of the sub-freezing air, meaning that the rain will turn to either sleet (frozen rain pellets) or freezing rain (rain that freezes on contact with the ground).  We have a weather warning issued for that, too...  Then we have to wait for the warm air to flush out the cold and turn everything to plain old rain.  The problem is that no one know how long that will take...

Two years ago we were in a situation like this, and the forecasters figured it'd transition in about 12 hours.  It took 3 days.  Other times the forecasters have called for "gloom and doom", and nothing happened.

So long as we keep our power (and our internet connection), I'll be happy...  :)

See what you're missing, Joe?


Book Review - Wireless Hacks (2nd Edition) by Rob Flickenger and Roger Weeks

Category Book Reviews

Wireless Hacks (2nd Edition) - Tips & Tools for Building, Extending, and Securing Your Network by Rob Flickenger & Roger Weeks is one of those book that will have different levels of appeal to each reader based on factors like operating system, technical expertise, and other various items...

Contents:  Bluetooth, Mobile Phones, and GPS; Network Discovery and Monitoring; Wireless Security; Hardware Hacks; Software Hacks; Do-It-Yourself Antennas; Wireless Network Design; Wireless Standards; Wireless Hardware Guide; Index

As all books in the Hacks series, this title contains a number of tips and tricks that you can explore to enhance your experience in the given subject matter.  In this case, it's wireless networking.  The book seems to cover a very wide range of topics and operating systems, along with a wide array of hack complexity.  Rather than concentrate on a single OS like Windows, the authors cover Windows, Mac, *and* Linux on a number of the hacks.  In fact, without counting to be sure, it almost seems like Linux is a bit more predominate than the other two.  That's probably understandable, as trying to get Linux to work with things like Bluetooth isn't as "out of the box" as it might be with Windows or Macs.  You might also find parts of the book not applicable to your situation, like if you don't have Bluetooth on your phone.  Of course, if you *do* have Bluetooth, then you've got some new toys to play with.  My personal favorite section was the Do-It-Yourself Antennas chapter, as they have some good information in there on how to improve your reception and your broadcast focus.  Since my access point is in the basement and my son's computer is two floors up, I could benefit from a homebrew reflector...

Normally I'm willing to recommend a Hacks title with no caveats.  In this case, I think a potential reader needs to be a bit cautious.  Don't count on nearly all the hacks to be of interest.  You'll either be running the wrong OS, or you'll not be very adept with a soldiering iron.  Conversely, all it takes is one or two good new tricks to make a book worthwhile.  You could well find those gems in here, but you'll have to look a little harder than normal...


Book Review - UML DeMystified by Paul Kimmel

Category Book Reviews

Let's face it...  Reading a book on UML in far too many cases is akin to poking your eye with a sharp stick.  You only feel good when you stop.  Therefore, any book that can make the whole subject of UML more readable has my commendations.  And UML DeMystified by Paul Kimmel falls into this category...

Contents:  A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Lines of Code; Start at the Beginning with Use Cases; Diagramming Features as Processes; Discovering Behaviors with Interaction Diagrams; What Are the Things That Describe My Problem?; Showing How Classes Are Related; Using State Chart Diagrams; Modeling Components; Fit and Finish; Visualizing Your Deployment Topology; Final Exam; Selected Bibliography; Index

Kimmel takes a subject that can be overloaded with lofty terminology and concepts, and boils it down to applicable, tangible examples.  You'll learn the most critical parts of UML, such as use case diagramming and process flow diagrams.  I'm sure people who make a living doing analysis with UML might think that the material is over-simplified, but that's the benefit of it.  Most developers are not going to live in the world of UML.  It's a communication tool that is designed to help convey design, not the actual system itself.  Kimmel's approach removes the jargon, strips out the esoteric items that are more academic in nature, and focuses on the parts that actually benefit a project 95% of the time.  Using a conversational tone with plenty of illustrations and practical examples, he allows the reader to soak in the information without getting bogged down in minutiae.  This would be a good starter text for developers being exposed to UML for the first time.  They'll understand what is trying to be accomplished, and they can refer back to the material over time to reinforce the concepts.

Solid material, understandably presented, and not at all painful to work through.  And when it comes to UML, that's asking for a lot...


I can understand why Mini-Microsoft and MSFT Bagholder think there's too much bloat in the company...

Category Microsoft

Mini-Microsoft and MSFT Bagholder are two bloggers who appear to work for Microsoft and who are openly cynical about the company's current direction and prospects.  There's been more than one discussion about how large the company has become, and how a major trimming of personnel is needed to make the company lean and responsive like it once was.  Having that much free cash flow allows Microsoft to hire and staff positions that in other companies would not even be contemplated.  One of those roles that Microsoft seems to love is "evangelist"...

From what I can tell, an "evangelist" is a position where the employee goes out and generates excitement and hype about a product.  They don't seem to be directly responsible for sales, nor do they seem to have any bottom-line accountability for quantifiable results.  I'm open to a better understanding of this position and role, because frankly it really confuses me...

The whole Microsoft at Lotusphere discussion on this blog has often talked about how certain Microsoft employees are "evangelists" for the Microsoft collaboration products, and their role is to help Domino shops integrate the two technologies.  Cliff Reeves has stated that these people are not trojan horses, and that there is no ulterior motive in their presentations and talks.  They are there simply to provide technical information and help the customer.

So...  let me ask a serious question...  

Does this mean that Microsoft staffs positions and spends significant money helping Domino shops use Microsoft technologies, with absolutely no expectation or desire that Domino will be used less and Microsoft will be used more by said company?  Is that the primary purpose of a Microsoft technology "evangelist" in this area?

My "cynically optimistic" nature doesn't allow me to easily believe that a company would spend millions of dollars with no sense or expectation of return on investment (ROI).  Perhaps a better understanding of the role of "evangelist" within Microsoft, along with understanding how the company measures the results of that type of position would allow me to view the whole Lotusphere issue in a less antagonistic fashion...


Book Review - The 86% Solution By Vijay Mahajan and Kamini Banga

Category Book Reviews

Business is obviously always on the lookout for growth opportunities.  In the book The 86% Solution - How To Succeed In the Biggest Market Opportunity of the 21st Century by Vijay Mahajan and Kamini Banga, the argument is made (and quite effectively) that the largest new markets are in the developing countries...  86% of the world.  However, the rules are significantly different in those markets...

Contents:  The Lands of Opportunity; Don't Build a Car When You Need a Bullock Cart; Aim for the Ricochet Economy; Connect Brands to the Market; Think Young; Grow Big by Thinking Small; Bring Your Own Infrastructure; Look for the Leapfrog; Take the Market to the People; Develop with the Market; An Opportunity Not to Be Missed; Index

Many companies that have tried to move into these developing countries did so by following the same rules that worked in the richest 14% of the world.  They more often than not failed miserably.  The economies are different, the purchasing power is different, and the market plays by different rules based on culture.  The authors do an excellent job in showing how a different approach to these markets are necessary in order to succeed.  For instance, in "Grow Big by Thinking Small", they explain that developing country consumers are using to buying what they need when they need it, and only the amount they immediately need.  They often don't have either the space to store bulk quantities nor the extra income to stockpile.  Trying to sell laundry detergent for 100 loads will fail.  Selling enough soap for one load for a few pennies will work.  The margins are thin, but the volume is huge.  Your company needs to figure out how to make it all work.  In "Take the Market to the People", you'll learn that the concept of going to the nearest Wal-Mart is completely unknown.  Your "store" may be a stall at a weekly market bazaar or a person cycling your wares from village to village.  You better understand that and package/price accordingly.  And what do you do when you're marketing electrical items in a country where power is normally unavailable for hours each day?  That's your new reality...

For any business or entrepreneur looking to tap into the vastly underserved global markets, this book is required reading.  Even if you're just moderately interested in business and markets, the information here is fascinating.  What we consider normal, really isn't...


Good for *which* customers (and which company)?

Category IBM/Lotus

Follow-on to my rabble-rousing post about Microsoft not presenting at Lotusphere...

First off, I'd like to thank everyone who joined in *and* for keeping it pretty civil.  I had no idea that it'd be that lively.  Although the Microsoft people might not agree completely, I thought it was relatively focused on the issue I tried to raise and didn't degrade into name-calling.  At least, that's the way I perceived it, but I may be too close to the issue to be totally objective...  :)

One of the overriding comments I saw a lot was "the customer is the loser" in this decision to not let Microsoft participate.  From a non-emotional, technical-only perspective, I can sort of see that.  People have Notes, people have .Net, and they want to learn how to put the two together.  Lotusphere will have information on how to integrate Office into your Notes apps, and there will be plenty of information on web services (the primary way to tie together Notes and .Net).  So is the customer really *losing* anything by having IBM business partners and IBM staff present this information instead of Microsoft?  Not really...  Granted, it's from the perspective of using Notes as the base tool reaching out to Microsoft, not the reverse which is where Microsoft wants to start from.  But if that's your direction, then there's the Notes2.Net conferences.

Now let's deal add in some marketing message and some emotion...  Context:

Ballmer To Partners: Don't Wait For Longhorn  
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says there is more-than-ample business opportunity in the pre-Longhorn era for partners to profit. He cited migrations from IBM Notes/Domino, SAP, Novell and Oracle products, as well as upgrading Windows NT 4.0 as huge green field.

Ballmer rallies partners, targets IBM, Novell  
Speaking with his usual gusto to a gathering of Microsoft resellers and solutions provider partners, Ballmer took direct aim at IBM in his morning keynote address, identifying the company as Microsoft's No. 1 competitor and criticizing every aspect of IBM's three-pronged strategy to provide hardware, software and services to customers.

"Does IBM have the best hardware most of the time? Ask yourself that question, I say," Ballmer said, eliciting laughter from the audience. "Does IBM have the best software? They don't even have in my personal opinion the second-best software. Do they have the best services? No, they don't have the best services. IBM's product line is the weakest it's ever been. The value [of IBM] is significantly less today than at any time in my 25 years in the business."

"People say IBM has the biggest services army in the world, I say that's nonsense," he roared in a booming voice. "Our partner base is the biggest services force in the world."

Ballmer said Lotus Notes customers are a particularly easy target, reiterating a stance taken earlier in the weekend conference by Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Information Worker Product Management Group, who described Microsoft's intent to poach Lotus Development Corp.'s partners.

"The Lotus Notes opportunity, just to remind everybody, is coming out the ying-yang," Ballmer said. "I've never seen a customer base more ripe to be plucked. They're just waiting for us and our partners to do the conversions [to Microsoft]."

These quotes aren't from 2002 or 2003...  They're from July, 2005 and are the top two Google hits when you search on Ballmer Lotus.  Who signs the paychecks at Microsoft?

The perspective of "the customer's the loser" only makes sense to me if you look at it from Microsoft's perspective.  More accurately, I see it as "the prospective Microsoft customer's the loser".  If I as Microsoft can convince you to start writing your applications based in Visual Studio and to have you call Domino via web services, then I can start to weed out the Notes client, weed out the Notes applications, and talk about moving data and logic to other Microsoft tools like SQL Server, InfoPath, SharePoint, and whatever else fits.  And *don't* tell me that doesn't happen...  I've heard it, I've seen it, and it's standard sales tactics.

The techie that wants to know how to hook up Notes with .Net also could want to know how to run Notes on Linux, how to code AJAX, and a hundred other things about the inner workings of the magic of technology.  It's what we are and it's what we do.  The "customer" paying the bills wants to know how to get value from their software platform of choice.  If they're at Lotusphere, it's probably IBM Lotus/Domino.  If it's Microsoft's collaboration solution(s)(?), then they're probably going to a Microsoft DevCon or the Notes2.Net conferences to approach integration with Microsoft as the closest point of use.  

If you're a business partner working both sides, you end up having to make a choice between conferences to get the base perspective you want.  Or you go to both vendor's offering.  But don't expect IBM to allow Microsoft to push their tools as a primary point, just as you can't expect Microsoft to allow IBM to push Notes as the primary development platform at their conferences.  


Alberta county opens portal to the world...

Category IBM/Lotus

From itWorldCanada:  Alberta county opens portal to the world

"Bringing the world to you," runs a slogan on Wetaskiwin's Web portal – and over the past four years the town's IT team has been beavering away – along with private sector partners – to make this slogan a reality.

The goal, according to Westaskiwin's director of information services, Lynn Weed, is to provide residents (11,000 of them) and public servants with swift and seamless Web access to key applications and better self-service capabilities.

She said county staff can be anywhere in the world and can access their e-mail, calendar, and anything else that is part of the Lotus Notes collaboration tool via the secure part of our Web site.

Since this site is built in Domino, I'm guessing it's the one they're referring to:  http://www.county.wetaskiwin.ab.ca/


Wow... My pinnacle of blogging success...

Category Everything Else

To be
Ed-dotted and vowe-dotted all in a 24 hour period...

It's all downhill from here.  :)


Book Review - Build the Ultimate Custom PC by Adrian and Kathie Kingsley-Hughes

Category Book Reviews

After reading Build the Ultimate Custom PC by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes and Kathie Kingsley-Hughes, I'm pretty convinced that my next desktop PC will be built by me instead of purchased at a store.  I think I could actually do this...

Part 1 - Choosing Components for Your PC: Staying Safe; Choosing the Tools You Need; Choosing a Suitable Case and Power Supply; Choosing a CPU and Motherboard; Choosing the Right RAM; Choosing Hard Drives and Floppy Drives; Choosing CD/DVD Drives; Choosing Video Adaptors and Monitors; Choosing Sound Capability; A Tour of Cables and Fittings; Checking and Testing Components
Part 2 - Building Your PC: Top 10 Things You Don't Want to Forget before You Begin the Build!; Assembling the Case and Fitting the PSU; Fitting the Basic Parts; Adding Storage
Part 3 - Starting and Testing Your PC: Fire Up and Burn In; Final Tweaks and Installing Windows XP; Check and Test, Check and Test Again!; Everything You Need to Know about Warranties and Beyond
Part 4 - Appendices: Useful Websites; Checklist; Hardware Manufacturers; Glossary

The authors work from the assumption that you've never done this before (which I haven't) and that you will need guidance from choosing the parts clear through the assembly and start-up.  They do a very nice job in covering all the basic components, what things need to be known about them (specs, details, etc.), and what you'll need to look for in terms of making good choices based on your requirements.  This would even be good material if you're looking to upgrade something (like a CD unit) and you need to better understand what to look for.  Once you have all your parts together, they show you how to assemble it all into a working computer, along with things you must know during the assembly process, like how to diffuse static electricity.  You don't want a simple spark to fry your expensive CPU, do you?  I was impressed with their coverage of testing tips, too.  My biggest fear (short of having left-over parts) is pushing the power button and having nothing happen.  With the testing steps shown here, you should be able to quickly get past that point should it occur.  Honestly, seeing the quality of the information presented, I'd say there's a very good chance that you won't have that happen unless you have a faulty part to begin with...

Bottom line, this is a book I'd definitely recommend to a first-time computer builder who wants the experience of "rolling their own".  As much as it surprises me to say it, I think I might just be that person for the next upgrade...


How come my Referrer Blocking list in BlogSphere...

Category Blogging

... looks like I'm opening a pharmacy?  :)


I've become a (i-)Pod Person...

Category Everything Else

I'm not really into music like many of you out there.  I have a few CDs, a few music files, but overall it's pretty meager compared to the volume that most of you write about.  As a result, the whole iPod phenomenon really passed me by with nary a glance...  Podcasts didn't even capture my attention much until Bruce and Julian started their Notes-based podcasts at Taking Notes.  I finally decided to break down and get a portable MP3 player so I could listen to stuff without being at my desk...  in other words...  

I finally bought an iPod.

A black iPod Nano with 2GB.  I didn't need a 30 GB video model (or at least I don't think I do at this point in time).  Ian also got one for Christmas.  Christmas must fall on December 13th this year, as he got the package we shipped and didn't bother to wait until the 25th to open it.  :)

I must admit...  It's an engineering marvel to be able to get that much stuff in so little and light a package.  

Of course, Cam is now convinced I'm totally whacked because I don't have any music on there yet...  just podcasts...  :)


Celebrating your "ethnicity"...

Category Humor

Yesterday my wife brought home a package of smoked salmon from Costco.  When I asked her what it was for, she said they were having a lunch at work the following day, and that everyone was supposed to bring a dish that related to their ethnic background.  I don't know where the next words that came out of my mouth originated from, but they were out there before I could stop them...

"White Canadian chick, eh?"


Book Review - Taking Control Of Your Life by Harvard Business School Press

Category Book Reviews

With the new year fast approaching, I'm getting that urge to spend a bit more time examining my life and what I'm doing.  As part of that review, I had a chance to read Taking Control Of Your Life by Harvard Business School Press.  There's quite a few gems hidden in this relatively small volume.

Contents:  Be Sure You're Spending Your Time in the Right Places; Strategies for the Shorthanded; Timeless insights on How to Manage Your Time; Getting Organized; How to Make Every Meeting Better; Copying with Infoglut; Is Multitasking Overrated?; Fast-Cycle Decision Making; Speed Leading; Advice to Leaders in New Jobs; Don't Throw Good Money (or Time) After Bad; Which Projects Get Top Billing?; Making Sense of Your Time Bind, and Escaping It; Pump Up Your Volume!; Five Questions About Encouraging Managers to Delegate with Jeffrey Pfeffer

Taking Control Of Your Time is a compilation of a number of articles that have appeared in the Harvard Management Update and the Harvard Management Communication Letter that all have to do with some element of time and life management.  Since there are various authors, you'll get a wide range of views and techniques that you can use to start making better use of the finite amount of time and attention you have.  It's likely that not all articles will apply directly to you (like Advice to Leaders in New Jobs didn't apply to me).  But a few short pages away, you'll run into something that resonates loudly (like Is Multitasking Overrated?).  My personal goal with a book like this is to come away with two or three good ideas on how to modify my actions to improve my productivity and efficiency.  Without a doubt, this book met that standard.

Regardless of whether you're planning a new start for the new year or you're just trying to cope, this book can be a small investment with major returns in your life.


Book Review - Behind Closed Doors : Secrets of Great Management by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby

Category Book Reviews

Pragmatic seems to come out with some really good titles that hit right at the heart of information technology and application development issues.  Behind Closed Doors - Secrets of Great Management by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby is another one of those books that you either need, or you wish your boss would read...

Contents:  Week 1 - Learning about the People and the Work; Week 2 - Bringing Order to the Chaos; Week 3 - Building the Team; Week 4 - Managing Day by Day; Week 5 - Discovering Lurking Problems; Week 6 - Building Capability; Week 7 - Dealing with Corporate Realities; Techniques for Practicing Great Management; Bibliography; Index

Rothman and Derby have taken a slightly different tack when it comes to teaching about management.  Rather that just throw out a bunch of "you should do this" material, they take you through the first couple of months of a new manager working with a technical group.  Another departure from the norm is that this guy knows what to do, so you learn how to do it right.  Most books would show a floundering manager and then explain what they should have done.  Might as well work from a positive example instead of from a less-than-perfect one that we all have experienced.  Granted, the story is one of those "and they all lived happily ever after", when in reality you'll get a wide range of people who might not necessarily all be on board no matter what you do.  But still, after each vignette you get a discussion of the underlying concepts and principles at play.  Regardless of whether your particular situation plays out as well as the book did, it's still the right way to go about it all.  They cover all the typical stuff, like project planning, group dynamics, meeting planning, scheduling demands, coaching, feedback, one-on-ones, and a lot of other good material.  Even if you're not the manager in your situation, you'll learn how things should be working in an ideal situation.  Perhaps you can even coach *your* boss!

All new technical managers should read this book and understand what they're about to undergo.  Even experienced managers ought to read this and see if they can improve.  In either case, there's a *very* good chance that your staff will appreciate the effort...


Microsoft ex-Loti still just want to help us poor Notes developers... Not buying it.

Category IBM/Lotus

I was cruising around a few blogs yesterday that I normally don't frequent, and I ran across Gary Devendorf's.  I saw that Microsoft was not granted a booth for Lotusphere this year, and to that I say...  way to go, IBM!  I have a hard time with the fact that Microsoft wants to have a booth with the stated purpose to help Notes developers integrate Notes and .Net technology.  I don't have a problem with integrating those things, but I have a significant issue when it's Microsoft that's doing it...

And yes, I expect to generate some major disagreement here...  :)

There are vendors that have software that help the two platforms coexist.  Proposion and CoexLinks come to mind right away.  I don't have a problem with either of those packages or vendors.  Their livelihood is based on a healthy infrastructure for both Lotus and Microsoft, and if either of those choices went away, there'd be no market for their software.  Microsoft pushing integration is a different story...  They *want* to have Notes go away so that they can own that market and the dollars associated with it.  I don't question the motivation of the first two vendors.  I can't avoid questioning the motivation of the third.

Gary is obviously dismayed to not have an official presence at Lotusphere.  He apparently tried to explain how having a booth would be "good for customers, Lotus, and Microsoft".  Since when does Lotusphere exist to benefit Microsoft???  So now he has to figure out how to unofficially do his "million hours of free consulting at Lotusphere" (his words, not mine).  I'm sorry...  I know Microsoft has a ton of money from the Office and Windows cash cow.  But I don't believe that Microsoft is paying salary and travel just to help out Notes developers from the goodness of their heart.  They expect a return.  And that return is seats, mindshare, and marketshare.  

I can't reconcile Gary's stated purpose of "just being helpful" with Ballmer's stated purpose of converting seats since "Notes is dead".  And when Gary does webcasts on how to migrate from Notes to Microsoft's collaboration platform, it pretty much drowns out any flowery "feel good" statements on cooperation...

Yes, I'm cynical...  But this is business, business is tough, and there are winners and losers (like it or not).  Gary's information may well be valuable to those who need it.  Lotusphere is not the place for it, however...


Resources for converting Notes applications from Wintel to AIX?

Category IBM/Lotus

A reader of this prestigious fount of technical wisdom (OUCH...  sprained a finger typing that!) emailed me with the following question...

Just wondering if you could point me to where I could find information on migrating Lotus Notes applications from Windows Intel to AIX.  I've searched IBM.com, DeveloperWorks, SearchDomino, and even tried Googling the net.  I can find lots of information for System Administrators and servers, but very little to no information regarding migrating applications built on the WinIntel platform to AIX and what kind of gotchas we need to be aware of other than the obvious. Is there a source I am overlooking?

Any referral you can offer would be sincerely appreciated.

Since I've never dealt with AIX, I can't lend any insight here...  Anyone else out there know of resources they might suggest?


Book Review - Getting Things Done by David Allen

Category Book Reviews

This is a classic in the field of personal productivity, and I need to periodically re-read it to adjust my processes...  Getting Things Done - The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.

Allen has created a system that is miles ahead of the typical calendar and to-do list techniques.  He examines how the mind works when it's spending time trying to track things in the mental "in-basket", and how that creates a mental drain that saps any attempt at being productive.  The system doesn't rely on going out and buying some branded material that serves mainly to pad the bank account of the author.  In fact, the GTD methodology can be practiced with as little or as much technology as you feel comfortable with.  When I first started to use the GTD techniques, I used a leather portfolio, paper tablet, and post-it notes to move around.  Worked great, and I don't know why I allowed myself to drift away from it.  My wife even asked me why I wasn't getting as much done as I used to...  :)

Allen's writing is clear and easy to read, with emphasis on practicality and experience.  It's nearly impossible to not come away with an understanding of the system and the underlying reasons for why it would work.  If I had to point out any flaws, it's that the flexibility of the system can make it a bit difficult to understand how you might want to personally apply it.  It might be nice to have some examples of how people have applied the principles, along with the mechanics of how they make it work.  

This is one of those books that can change your life...  highly recommended.


Book Review - A Crack In The Edge Of The World by Simon Winchester

Category Book Reviews

With all the recent attention to natural disasters, the following book caught my eye...  A Crack In The Edge Of The World: America And The Great California Earthquake Of 1906 by Simon Winchester.  I'm not quite sure what I was expecting or looking for, but this certainly wasn't it...

In this book, Winchester tells the story of the 1906 earthquake and how it affected the city and the people who lived there.  For that, it's not bad.  My problem is that we don't really get to the earthquake until page 244.  To arrive at that point, we take a number of side trips...  A history of  geology, plate movements, scientific study of ground movement, the author's travels to look at all the different areas where plate movements are visible, the Madaras fault in middle America, personalities that led to the settlement of California, the ethnic and racial inequality that existed in San Francisco towards the Chinese, etc.  Oh, and *plenty* of foreshadowing to the "big event"...  Put together in a single volume, I felt like I was being fed a random, unfocused plate of rabbit trails that served only to showcase the author's ability to write flowery prose and use Latin phrases.  And footnotes...  Every other page had footnotes...  sometimes two per page.  While I'm not "anti-footnote", it became irritatingly comical to have to jump up and down on nearly every page to read the book.

If you can get past the writing style, there are some interesting issues.  I was completely unaware of the prejudice towards Chinese at that time.  It sounded dangerously close to some of the situations we find ourselves in today.  The attempts to "spin" the event to minimize the damage (and thus maximize the economic impact of future development and commerce) is also strangely reminiscent of today's media and commercial messages.  It's those all-too-infrequent gems in this book that keep me from giving this a less-than-average rating...

As with all reviews, my opinions may not be your opinions, and your mileage may vary.  All I can say is that this book contained about a quarter of what I expected by the title, and knowing then what I know now would probably have caused me to leave this book on the library shelf...


Couldn't resist sharing this Pearls Before Swine cartoon...

Category Humor

And it's painfully true...

A picture named M2


Book Review - Beginning Algorithms by Simon Harris and James Ross

Category Book Reviews

It's pretty easy these days to use a programming language and the high level of abstraction it can offer to avoid understanding certain programming fundamentals like lists, queues, and stacks.  It's for sure that I've gotten away with it.  But if you're just starting out in programming (or if you're trying to fill in some gaps), you might be interested in Beginning Algorithms by Simon Harris and James Ross.  They do a nice job of making a complex subject approachable...

Contents:  Getting Started; Iteration and Recursion; Lists; Queues; Stacks; Basic Sorting; Advanced Sorting; Priority Queues; Binary Searching and Insertion; Binary Search Trees; Hashing; Sets; Maps; Ternary Search Trees; B-Trees; String Searching; String Matching; Computational Geometry; Pragmatic Optimization; Further Reading; Resources; Bibliography; Answers to Exercises; Index

Harris and Ross take you through the basic programming algorithms using Java as the base language.  Rather than just tell you "use this Java class to do a Hash", they explain the underlying concept and then have you build an implementation of that concept in code.  After you've taken the time to write the methods and classes by hand, you'll end up with a pretty complete understanding of that algorithm in a way that just using provided classes can't offer.  Another commendable point in this book is that they start off each algorithm coding exercise by building unit tests first.  That way, you can be assured that the code you write does everything it's supposed to do, and further tweaks to improve the logic don't lead to the introduction of bugs.  Very solid approach...

I will end up keeping this book around for a couple of purposes.  First, I'm sure to end up referring to it when I need to understand a certain fundamental like Soundex or searching.  I'll get more out of this book and it's focus on practicality than I would out of some academic treatise on the subject.  And second, if I have to code something related to one of these algorithms, I'll have some good example code to pull from.  Can't ask much more from a book than that...

If this is a weak point in your programming portfolio, getting a copy of this book to study and reference would be a good investment in your career.


If you're a Lotusphere speaker and haven't yet registered for Lotusphere, you have a week left to do so...

Category Lotusphere 2006

Usually speakers get a specific email with registration information.  This year we got an email with a link, ID, and password to a speaker site.  The email made it sound like it was nothing more than a link to load bio info.  Until Bruce Elgort pointed it out to me yesterday, I hadn't yet gone to the site.

Big mistake...

It's the site where you get the presentation template, the release and consent form, AND the conference registration form...

Don't be stuuupid like me...  Go visit that site now if you haven't yet done so and you're a speaker at Lotusphere...


Book Review - The Right Decision Every Time by Luda Kopeikina

Category Book Reviews

Ever dithered over a decision to be made, and just couldn't reach a level of comfort with the process?  Luda Kopeikina attempts to help you past that point in her book The Right Decision Every Time - How to Reach Perfect Clarity on Tough Decisions.

Contents:  The Key to Mastering Decisions; The Clarity State - Mental Focus Redefined; Five Hurdles to Clarity; How Do You Make Decisions? Overview of a CEO-Tested Process; You Too Can Reach Clarity at Will! - How to Attain the Clarity State; No Aim, No Game - How to Achieve Clarity of Objective; Escaping Handcuffs - How to Achieve Clarity of Constraints; Balancing Mind and Body - How to Learn from Your Emotional Clues; Pick a Fight! - How to Get the Most Out of Clashing Opinions; Everything Is Relative! - Why the Right Frame Is Critical; Becoming a Frame Artist - How to Master Clarity of Perspective; Bull's-eye! - How to Align with the Right Outcome; Voila! - How to Put It All Together; Clarity State Decision-Making Technique - A Summary; Additional Tips on Reducing Decision Complexity; References; Index

Kopeikina has made a career out of studying and teaching these decision techniques, and they do appear to work.  The basic premise is to put yourself into a relaxed state (she covers how that is done), and then you can follow the decision-making steps she proposes in order to make decisions with less stress, less emotional turmoil, and more clarity.  Even if you're not quite ready to follow the entire methodology, the material in the book will help add some structure to your decision process.  The Decision Map she uses, once you understand it, can by itself help to come up with better decisions.  You set a proper objective for the decision (often an issue in itself), identify the options and constraints, list the assumptions and success factors, and then go to work.  Just clarifying these elements of a decision is usually more than most people do...  Each chapter has a number of real case studies from her experience, so it's pretty easy to take her teaching and apply it to real-life scenarios.

I'm not personally ready to adopt this program for my decision situations, but I can see the value in it.  I don't think I'd have a problem recommending this title as a potential source for someone looking to learn better decision-making skills.


Book Review - Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Operation Barracuda by David Michaels

Category Book Reviews

Took nine books with me on a cruise.  Finished this tenth one on the way home...  :)  Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Operation Barracuda by David Michaels.  Given what it is, it's an OK read...

Sam Fisher is a Splinter Cell operative, which means he's part of a deep undercover government group that has free reign to do pretty much anything to defend the interests of the US.  In this episode, he's sent off to figure out why a Russian intel group is seemingly getting rather tight with some Chinese Triad groups.  When he tracks down a few unexplained deaths, it all points to a stolen technology from the US that can park underwater "drones" just about anywhere, fully equipped with a variety of weapons based on the need.  But when the Triad group finds out that selling to the Russians could mean that they are ultimately supporting the communist Chinese government (who they deeply oppose), things fall apart.  And when the government *does* get the device anyway to use it as a deterrent against the US, Fisher is called in to save the day...

This is a straight-to-paperback series where Tom Clancy has franchised his name and it's written by someone else.  I didn't expect Pulitzer material...  just some diversion to kill a few hours on a plane.  If that's the mindset going in, it's OK.  The switching back and forth between first and third person narrative was a little annoying/disconcerting at first, and it took a bit to get used to it (as well as to transition when the perspective changed between chapters).  Again, if you're not expecting blockbuster material, it's enjoyable mind candy.  If you're expecting a 600 page Clancy blockbuster, this ain't it.


The mainstream mass-market review requests are starting to pick up...

Category Book Reviews

My primary source of books to review has been (and probably always will be) the technical publishing firms...  O'Reilly, Apress, Pearson/Prentice Hall/Addison-Wesley, and others.  Most of my recreational reading is provided courtesy of the library that's a block away.  Occasionally the odd request will come in via email from a non-tech author asking if I'd like to read and review their book.  It's a nice break, and it usually gets me to focus on a book that I might otherwise not notice.

As of late, I've been attracting more attention from the mass-market publishing houses as well as from authors who I consider more well-known.  Simon-Schuster just sent me an advance copy of Matthew Reilly's latest cliff-hanger adventure, and Harper-Collins has a FirstLook program that has provided some advance copies that have been very well done.  And today, I got an email from Joseph Finder, author of Company Man, asking if I'd like to get an advance copy of his newest one before it comes out in May.  And it still blows me away when I get an email from a big-name author who found my review online and wrote to say thanks.

Nothing like having your drugs of choice delivered to you for free...  :)


Book Review - The Home-Based Bookstore by Steve Weber

Category Book Reviews

Yes, I play around with selling a bit on Amazon.  I've done OK, but I've had to learn as I went.  Now everything I should have known up front is in a nice concise book...  The Home-Based Bookstore - Start Your Own Business Selling Used Books on Amazon, eBay, or Your Own Web Site by Steve Weber.  Bottom line, you need this book if selling books is something you're interested in...

Contents:  Why Online Bookselling?; Where to Find Books; What Books to Buy; Where to Sell Books; Grading and Pricing Books; Focus on Service; Your Fulfillment System; Collectible Books; Advanced Automation; Online Postage; Taxes, Legal Requirements, Records; The Future of Bookselling; Remainder Book Wholesalers; New Book Wholesalers; Shipping Supply Vendors; Amazon Best Practices; More Resources; Further Reading; Glossary; Index

The author contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing this book.  Since it's a subject of interest to me, I gladly accepted.  I'm so glad I did.  Weber has condensed down a tremendous amount of hard-earned wisdom and advice into a concise 167 pages.  If you've never sold books online before, you'll quickly learn why it's an appealing hobby (or a full-time business like it is for him).  You'll also get started off on the right foot in terms of picking your selling avenues as well as making sure you have a satisfied customer base.  If you're already a seller, there's also tips and techniques you can use to take your selling to a new level.  For instance, maintaining an inventory of 10 to 20 books for sale is no big deal.  But what if you have 100 to 200?  How do you quickly find the right book (or the right copy of the book) that was purchased?  He explains a SKU system that is simple in concept but that would work and scale with no problems.  There are also plenty of references to other sites and vendors that offer tools you can use, like software to look up Amazon pricing via a wireless connection so you can decide whether to spend $5 on a book at an estate sale that might be worth 10 times that on Amazon.  And you can find out *now*!

Even more impressive to me (as a person who reviews a *lot* of books) is that this is a self-published title.  Most authors who go that route end up with a book that either is rough when it comes to presentation and editing, or they just don't have enough of an audience to justify the involvement of a major publisher.  In this case, I found the writing to be smooth and the content to be solid.  Every chapter is useful and deserves to be there.  If this had been labeled a "Pocket Guide" or "Dummies" series title, I don't think the writing style and content would have to have been modified much.  It's obvious that Weber is not only just a successful seller, but he also reads and understands the art of writing.

Obviously, this isn't the type of book that will appeal to everyone.  If your life doesn't revolve around books (like mine does), the concept of selling a book or two every couple of months on Amazon probably doesn't cause you any excitement.  But if this type of activity appeals to you in the least, The Home-Based Bookstore is the place to start...  Highly recommended.


I'm finally taking the plunge and buying an iPod...

Category Everything Else

I'm not a huge music fan who wants to listen to tunes as much as possible.  I enjoy music, but I just don't listen to it much.  In the car, I'm more apt to be listening to sports talk radio or nothing at all.  But the rise of podcasting has put me in a position where I don't have the flexibility to listen to them during times that are convenient (like 15 minute commutes).  So, after mulling things over and getting some advice from Bruce, I decide to buy a black iPod Nano (2 GB model).  It will be more than enough space to allow me to store and listen to audio files I have backed up, and I was able to use $150 in Sharper Image gift certificates that I had lying around.

Now comes the hard part... waiting for it to show up.  :)


Book Review - Open Sources 2.0 by Chris DiBona, Danese Cooper, and Mark Stone

Category Book Reviews

Open Source Software (OSS) has radically redefined the landscape of the software industry and the Information Technology field.  As much a mindset as a methodology, there are many elements of OSS that draw some of the deepest thinkers of our field.  You can find some of those essays in the book Open Sources 2.0 - The Continuing Evolution, edited by Chris DiBona, Danese Cooper, and Mark Stone.  There's a little something here for everyone...

Part 1 - Open Source - Competition and Evolution: The Mozilla Project - Past and Future; Open Source and Proprietary Software Development; A Tale of Two Standards; Open Source and Security; Dual Licensing; Open Source and the Commoditization of Software; Open Source and the Commodity Urge - Disruptive Models for a Disruptive Development Process; Under the Hood - Open Source and Open Standards Business Models in Context; Open Source and the Small Entrepreneur; Why Open Source Needs Copyright Policies; Libre Software in Europe; OSS in India; When China Dances with OSS; How Much Freedom Do You Want?
Part 2 - Beyond Open Source - Collaboration and Community: Making a New World; The Open Source Paradigm Shift; Extending Open Source Principles Beyond Software Development; Open Source Biology; Everything Is Known; The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia - A Memoir; Open Beyond Software; Patterns of Governance in Open Source; Communicating Many to Many
Part 3 - Appendixes: The Open Source Definition; Referenced Open Source Licenses; Columns from Slashdot; Index

As with all compilations from various writers and authors, it's not possible to have all the articles flow with the same voice and pace.  And really, they shouldn't.  You're looking to get a wide array of opinions and insights, not a blended mind dump from a single writer.  Conversely, you'll find that some of the articles resonate with you, and others have you moving into scan mode to get to the next one.  If you keep that in mind as you're working through the book, you'll get a lot more out of it.  

For me, there were two areas that were enjoyable and valuable.  The story of how Wikipedia went through growing pains and worked through rules and culture was interesting.  Likewise, the story of Slashdot and how it got to what it is today is insightful.  I still don't care for the site, but you can't argue it's effect in the technology world.  The most thought-provoking essays for me revolved around the commoditization of software.  Coupled with a different book I recently finished, I realize that certain software vendors are in a very precarious position, and they are following the same path that has led others to destruction as they attempt to hold on to what doesn't work any more.  Those essays would have been worth the cost of the book alone to me...

If you're part of the OSS movement, or if you're trying to understand how it will affect your business, this is a good book to read and ponder...


Book Review - Let Go To Grow by Linda S. Sanford and Dave Taylor

Category Book Reviews

So what do you do when your main business offering is in danger of becoming a commodity item?  Do you desperately cling to ever-shrinking profit margins in hopes of a turnaround, or do you take a radically different approach and open things up?  Those questions and answers are discussed in a new book called Let Go To Grow - Escaping The Commodity Trap by Linda S. Sanford and Dave Taylor.  Lots of food for thought here...

Contents: Grow To Build Profits, Not Just Revenue; Commodity Markets Defined; It's All About Components; Creating Business Components; Integrate Your Business Components End-To-End; Expand Your Growth Space; Liberate Your Cost Structures; From Vision To Results - The Leadership Agenda; Achieving Measurable Productivity Improvements; Practical Implementation Of The Component Business Model; Gaining The Collaborative Edge - Building The Creative Company For The Creative Economy; Endnotes; Index

With the globalization of today's business environment, it's a strong likelihood that your business offerings over time will drift (or run) to becoming a commodity.  The margins will shrink along with your rate of growth.  It's at that point that companies either flourish or stagnate.  Sanford and Taylor make the case that by opening up your business to the use of components, as well as allowing your business to become a component in the business of others, you can create a value web that causes you and others to build whole new businesses in unique ways that were not part of the "original" plan created by holding on tight.  They use examples like Li & Fung, a player in the apparel industry who can do everything from design to delivery.  As a result, companies like J. C. Penny can partner with them and dramatically improve turnover, delivery, and inventory levels, all at lower cost.  That allows J. C. Penny to concentrate on retailing.  Another example is UPS.  Rather than looking at themselves as just a commodity player in the package delivery space, they turned their business into components that other businesses could plug into.  Because of that, UPS becomes a critical partner for many companies looking to better manage logistics, inventory, repair, etc.  It's this "letting go to grow" which is the theme of the book, and it certainly makes a lot of sense when you step back and look at where things are going.

Even though you may *think* your business isn't a target of commoditization, I'd be willing to bet you're not looking hard enough.  Business executives owe it to themselves to read through this book and think about some restructuring that may be necessary to survive in the next few years...


Book Review - Lasting Leadership by Mukul Pandya and Robbie Shell

Category Book Reviews

A sign of wisdom is being able to learn from the successes and failures of others (without having to make the same mistakes yourself).  In the business world, this trait can be worth millions (or even billions).  A good resource for starting your learning is the book Lasting Leadership - What You Can Learn From The Top 25 Business People Of Our Times by Mukul Pandya and Robbie Shell.

Contents:  Best of the Best - Inside Andy Grove's Leadership at Intel; Leadership and Corporate Culture; Truth Tellers; Identifying an Underserved Market; Seeing the Invisible; Using Price to Gain Competitive Advantage; Managing the Brand; Fast Learners; Managing Risk; Conclusion; References; Index

This book is laid out a bit differently than other business leader biographies I've read in the past.  The material is grouped into specific sections that focus on a particular trait, such as the skill of managing the brand of your company.  Within each section, a number of business leaders are covered with special attention paid to their skill in that area.  This is a welcome departure from books that tend to deify a business legend, making it sound as if they never made a mistake.  In the post-Enron era, we know that the public hype doesn't always equate to reality.  For each business leader covered, there's a few pages of side bars that recap his/her career, along with a brief write-up about their skills as it relates to the area being discussed.  Following that information, there's a "Leadership Lesson" that helps take the leader's skill and make it a bit more generic to allow you to think about applications to your own business arena.

The other thing that was nice about this title is that it didn't gloss over errors or mistakes.  Richard Branson didn't turn everything he touched into gold.  Overextension of resources forced him to choose between his record company and his fledging airline.  But there's lessons to be learned there.  Likewise, Fred Smith of FedEx hasn't exactly missed all the potholes in the road to where they are today.  Again, the skill to learn quickly from mistakes and adapt is a critical trait, and you can learn from his mistakes.

For business people looking to tap into the collective experience of those who have gone before them, this is an excellent read with many points to apply...


Book Review - Chinchuba by K. Michael Casey

Category Book Reviews

I was recently contacted by K. Michael Casey, the author of the novel Chinchuba, asking if I'd be interested in reviewing his work.  Based on my enjoyment of Frank Peretti, he thought I might like his novel.  He was right...  It's pretty good...

Dr. Kat Abnaki is on the trail of some strange killings that have started to occur in Mississippi.  Bodies are going missing in and around swamps and rivers, and when they turn up, there's not much left of them.  The few witnesses to these killings can't adequately explain the "thing" that came out of the water and took the victims under with little to no resistance.  Legends among the old Indian tribes in that area point to a creature who was worshipped but must be appeased with human sacrifices.  Apparently the creature has now awakened and isn't very happy...  Abnaki also has some issues to deal with, as her marriage is heading towards divorce and she's discovered that she's also pregnant.  Throw in a little New Orleans black magic from a voodoo priest who has taken an unwanted interest in her, and she's got plenty going on.  And the only person who looks like they can help is a street preacher who sleeps in a coffin...

Casey does a very good job in painting a dark side of New Orleans inhabited by an element of society you don't want to know about.  While there are spiritual undertones in the story-line, it's not a heavy-handed moralistic tale.  It's a battle of good vs. evil, and that conflict is what makes the story work.  He also does a good job of concealing the creature throughout the story, so you're not quite sure whether it's a natural phenomenon or something that is truly not of this world...

For what I think is his first novel, K. Michael Casey does an admirable job in telling a well-paced story that draws you in and doesn't make it easy to set the book down.  I certainly enjoyed it...


Book Review - Point Of Entry by Peter Schechter

Category Book Reviews

So what would happen if nuclear terrorists and drug traffickers linked up to threaten the United States?  Peter Schechter explores this twist in his first novel
Point Of Entry.  I got the opportunity to read an advance reader copy of the novel, and I really got absorbed into this one...

The United States wants to push an international sanction on Syria for their involvement in housing terrorists.  There isn't a clear-cut majority in the UN Security Council to pass this, but Colombia's new female president is willing to deliver Latin American votes if the US changes some policies (like their Cuban embargo).  Even though the US president isn't likely to change the current policies, he does start communicating with her via email accounts that no one knows about.  In the process, they both start to fall for each other, although it would never work out in real life.  When she discovers a plot by her political rivals to transport uranium via drug channels into the US for a nuclear bomb, she has to make hard painful choices.  The right thing is to tell the president, but by doing so he'll end up sending troops into Colombia to find the material, thereby dooming her chances to remain in power.  And if he reacts the way everyone wants him to, he'll destroy the woman he's fallen in love with as well as alienate an entire region.  But to do nothing means that millions of Americans will likely die...  What to do?

This book reads like the headlines of CNN.  Many of the assumptions and situations underpinning the story-line are pulled from real events and current hostilities.  While it might not be completely believable to think that two heads of state could carry on a cyber-relationship without discovery, it works well enough to set up the conflict between personal relationships and national responsibilities.  And unfortunately I had *no* problem believing the logistics of how drug smugglers could get uranium past our borders.  And that's scary...

If you're into thrillers based on current political headlines, grab this one and prepare to be somewhat unnerved...


Book Review - Terminal by Brian Keene

Category Book Reviews

Since I'm on a Brian Keene kick right now (thanks, John!), I took the book Terminal with me on vacation.  This was an excellent read reminiscent of Koontz and King's current supernatural storytelling.

Tommy O'Brien is one of those small-town guys who works at the local foundry, lives in a double-wide trailer, and is sinking deeper in debt with no real hope of rising above it all.  If it wasn't for his wife and small child who he dearly loves, you could pretty much paint him as white trailer-park trash living for beer, cigarettes, and his next one-night stand.  What little he does have to live for comes crashing down when he's diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 25, and he's got about a month to live.  He tries hard to hide it from his wife, as well as the fact that he just got laid off from the foundry too.  With no way out, he plans a bank heist with two friends in order to attempt to leave his wife and child with something more than a pile of debt after he dies.  But the heist goes wrong when one of his friends starts killing hostages, and the other friend (who's driving the get-away car) is shot by someone else.  The situation continues to go downhill quickly as he watches his friend slowly die from the gutshot.  But to his amazement, a small child who's a hostage has the ability to cure injury and illness by touching the victim.  He heals the gunshot wound and cures O'Brien's cancer.  But now Tommy isn't sure he can save the hostages from his other friend's increasingly erratic behavior and intent to kill everyone...

There were a number of things I liked about this novel.  For one, it wasn't as "way out there" as some supernatural thrillers can get.  Koontz was like that with his earlier work, where every book seemed to have a killer zombie.  The current work is more "mainstream" in story-line, so you can more readily put yourself in the story and identify with the characters.  Keene is at this point with Terminal, and you could identify with the helplessness of O'Brien and his situation.  I also thought the pacing of the story was perfect, as well as the premise of robbing a bank when any punishment they can hand out is meaningless due to your short lifespan.  

For readers who like King and Koontz, I'd highly recommend adding Keene to that list.  And starting with Terminal would be a nice point of entry...


Any Notes C API experts willing to help a reader?

Category IBM/Lotus

I got the following email from a reader the other day.  I've never worked with the C API, so I'm not the right person to answer this.  But I have no doubt that someone out there has an answer or a tip to pursue...  Feel free to jump in and comment...

I have a Notes programming issue which I have not been able to track down on the IBM site or anywhere else.  I am wondering if you are willing/able to help me.
I have a C++ program which (among other things) sends Notes mail.  When it sends a mail message, a copy of the mail message is saved in the Sent folder of the user’s mail database.  I need to suppress this behavior.

If I were using the Domino COM objects, I would code as follows:

doc.SaveMessageOnSend = False

But I’m not.  I am coding to the Notes C API:

NSFDbOpen (szMailBoxPath, &hMailBox)
. . . etc . . .
NSFDbCopyNote(hSource, NULL, NULL, noteID, hMailBox, NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL);

where “hMailBox” is the handle to the mail.box database and “hSource” is the handle to the user’s mail database, etc.

But how do I code the C equivalent of “SaveMessageOnSend = false”?

I assume that the note to be mailed has a Note Item corresponding to “SaveMessageOnSend”, so that if I knew the name of that item, I could code:

NSFItemSetText(hDocument, “field-name”, “0”, (WORD)1);

if only I knew what the “field-name” was.


Book Review - City Of The Dead by Brian Keene

Category Book Reviews

Fortunately, I had Brian Keene's City Of The Dead all lined up to read after finishing The Rising.  Otherwise, I probably would have been more than a little miffed at the ending of The Rising.  Likewise, reading City Of The Dead without reading The Rising first will leave you really confused.  Read them as a single large novel, and things work ok...

Continuing from the previous novel (in fact, chapter one is the last chapter of The Rising), you continue to follow the quest of Jim Thurmond and his fellow travelers to reach his son and then to simply survive against increasingly impossible odds.  Once the issue of rescuing his son is worked out, then everyone has to figure out how to exist with the ever-present threat of zombie attack (or even if it's possible to do so).  There's a single refuge that exists in New York...  an "impregnable" skyscraper with an owner who thinks he's the savior of the remaining human population.  The problem is that the zombies and their leader know that location too, and they are mounting a final assault to destroy the remaining life on earth.  Once that's done, the next phase of the demonic occupation of earth can occur (destruction of all insect and plant life, followed by the final phase of destruction of everything by fire).  While the humans are relatively well-equipped to hold off an attack, emotionally they are falling apart.  And of course, a single death within the building means that the body is replaced by a zombie who is going to up the body count in all likelihood.  The intrigue is to find out who will crack, who will die, and whether there is any possible way to prevent the eradication of all human life.

This book read just like an extension of the first installment, and I didn't feel there was any break in continuity.  Same zombie humor, same deteriorating conditions, and same hopeless situations continue to evolve.  Oh, and same gore and violence.  Without going into the ending too much, it's accurate to say things play out without resorting to the happy Hollywood ending where everyone lives happily ever after.  While some readers might hate the ending, I must give props to Keene for playing it out like that.  Anything else would have been too improbable.  

If you can get both this and The Rising for three or four days of intense reading, I'd recommend blocking out some uninterrupted time...


Book Review - The Rising by Brian Keene

Category Book Reviews

I'm normally not one to read hard-core zombie novels.  Dean Koontz's earlier stuff is probably as close as I came to that genre.  But a friend of mine thought I might like the writing of Brian Keene.  He sent me three of his novels, and I started out with The Rising.  Much to my surprise, I really liked how Keene did this one...

A physics experiment with a supercollider has apparently gone awry, and a hole between our world and the demon world has been breeched.  Whenever a human or an animal of a higher order (bird, mammal, etc.) dies, their body is inhabited by a member of the other realm.  The only way to keep the zombie creature from continuing their attack is to destroy the brain.  Of course, all that does is send the demon back to the underworld to await another body to inhabit.  And what's the zombie's goal?  Simply, to kill all the humans so that their comrade demons can be released from their banishment into the Void.  Since this is occurring on a worldwide basis, the numbers are turning against humans in an exponential fashion.  The main story-line follows a survivor, Jim Thurmond, who has received a cell phone call from his young son who is a few states away.  Against rather significant odds, Jim pushes forward in his quest to reach his son in time to save him.  Along the way, he picks up some unique traveling companions and meets up with other groups of the living who are often more dangerous than the zombies they're escaping.  

Keene does an excellent job in telling a story and bringing the zombies to life (pun intended).  The personalities and mixtures of the prior inhabitants and the new body owners tends to be rather humorous in a morbid way.  Things look pretty gloomy the further you read, and in fact the book ends in a rather strange way.  If I hadn't also packed the sequel to this book (City of the Dead) for immediate reading, then I probably would have marked this book down in terms of rating.  But if you plan to read both this and the sequel at one time, the story works really well.  Do be warned that the violence and gore (and language) is *very* graphic.  If that doesn't put you off, then you'll probably really like this.


Is Microsoft turning into a "me too" company?

Category Microsoft

I was reading the latest entry from MSFT Bagholder (Blurring Vision), as well as a number of Google News Alerts that stacked up during my vacation, and I think Baggy has a point:

Unfortunately, Bill still fancies himself chief visionary. He still serves as the uber-idea guy at Microsoft with the title of Chief Software Architect. Once a year, he famously goes off to a secluded cabin in the woods for "Think Week" where he cogitates in solitude over the future direction of technology and what Microsoft's 60,000 employees are going to do about it. It was during Think Week a decade ago when he belatedly discovered the Internet. Bill's most recent deep thoughts have resulted in a company-wide memo to rally his troops around his latest vision of the future. And what exactly was it that the Microsoft "genius" saw when he looked into his crystal ball?

Advertising supported software services!

Apparently, Bill just figured out what the rest of the world has known for a while. And this is how it has been for a long time now. Microsoft has been chronically late to the party, chronically catching up. This is a huge change for a company that used to be able to see so far ahead.

I think this became more insightful to me as I caught up on Microsoft news over the last week...  Microsoft's getting ready to launch their version of Google Base.  Microsoft's getting ready to launch their version of Craigslist.  Microsoft's getting ready to launch *their* version of <insert the latest software offering from Google/Yahoo/whoever>.  I know many have said that Microsoft doesn't always come up with new ideas first, but they either market or buy their way to the top with their version.  There seems to be even more of that manic type of activity of late.  Witness their preoccupation with Google and searching over the last year or so.

Meanwhile, Vista just keeps on slipping its schedule...


Microsoft Drops the Office Open Standard Ball

Category Microsoft

From eWeek:  Microsoft Drops the Office Open Standard Ball

When Microsoft announced a week ago Monday that it had decided to open up its Office 12 XML file formats and had submitted the formats to be considered as a formal open standard by ECMA International, Alan Yates, the general manager of Microsoft's Information Worker Strategy, said, "The new license that will accompany the Open XML format with the standards organization will go well beyond traditional standards licensing and will be very positive for the vast majority of developers, even open-source developers."

This new license was to have been released last Wednesday. Instead, all that Microsoft did was to release its Patent Protection Covenant for its Office XML formats.

The only difference between Microsoft's November 2003 open and royalty-free license for the Office 2003 Reference Schemas and today's Office 2003 license, according to the company, is that "Microsoft is offering a covenant not to sue for the Office 2003 Reference Schemas."

Microsoft also said it "will also be offering this same covenant with respect to the forthcoming specifications for the 'Office 12' schema specifications. More information about this program will be forthcoming at or before the time of the commercial availability of 'Office 12.'"

And they wonder why people don't trust them?  This is a prime example of how Microsoft can use language that they conveniently redefine as they go along.  To the rest of the world, "formal open standard" means that it's not owned by a single company and that there is a group that accepts input from a variety of sources for growth of the standard.  And you can't tell me that Microsoft didn't expect that reaction when they made their announcement.  But now, we find that "formal open standard" means that they just promise not to sue someone for using the technology behind the standard.  And what's to prevent *that* definition of "open standard" from changing later down the road...  The track record isn't good...


Yet another major IE flaw...

Category Microsoft

From eWeek:  IE Design Flaw Lets Hacker Crack Google Desktop

It just amazes me that with all the words that come out of Redmond about security being a major focus, that we still see these types of flaws that uncover significant structural defects in Microsoft software that leaves user information wide open to theft and abuse.

With the increased scrutiny on businesses securing personal data (and being responsible for exposing it) and Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, it seems like Microsoft is just one OS or IE bug away from major legal action.  And as I've mentioned in the past, I'm still surprised it hasn't happened yet.


I'm B-A-A-A-C-K!

Category Everything Else

The cruise is over, and we're back home now.  Fortunately I have a day to catch up on stuff...  :)

We had a great time.  Ate somewhat more than I should have, exercised less than I planned to (but I *did* do some exercise), slept more in a week than I probably have in the last three weeks combined, and read a lot of books (like *that's* any big surprise!).  I "tried" to go scuba with a "Discover Scuba" excursion.  Emphasis on the word "tried".  Not being comfortable in the water didn't help, nor does the concern of taking a mouthful of seawater.  Couple that with a very short lesson before a short 30 ft dive, and I decided this wasn't working well.  I think I needed more time to become comfortable with the whole thing.  Besides, we were diving with an instructor and three other people.  The last thing I wanted to do was panic at 30 and force everyone else up.  But at least I can say I've tried it, and perhaps it's out of my system now...  :)  Other than that, didn't do a lot of memorable things, which was fine.  The ship was a bit older than some of the posh mega-cruise ships being built now, so there weren't all the high-end amenities I've come to expect on prior cruises.  I just had a solid block of time to recharge with no schedule or commitments.  Liked it a lot...

Expect a number of postings in the next couple of days as I catch up on book reviews and news stories I'd like to comment on...  

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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