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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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04/30/2005

Book Review - File System Forensic Analysis by Brian Carrier

Category Book Reviews

If you have a need to thoroughly understand computer file systems for whatever reason, you need this book...  File System Forensic Analysis by Brian Carrier.  It just doesn't get any more detailed than this.

Chapter List:  
Part 1 - Foundations: Digital Investigation Foundations; Computer Foundations; Hard Disk Data Acquisition
Part 2 - Volume Analysis: Volume Analysis; PC-based Partitions; Server-based Partitions; Multiple Disk Volumes
Part 3 - File System Analysis: File System Analysis; FAT Concepts and Analysis; FAT Data Structures; NTFS Concepts; NTFS Analysis; NTFS Data Structures; Ext2 and Ext3 Concepts and Analysis; Ext2 and Ext3 Data Structures; UFS1 and UFS2 Concepts and Analysis; UFS1 and UFS2 Data Structures; The Sleuth Kit and Autopsy; Index

The working concept of the book is that the reader needs to understand file systems in order to do forensic analysis.  For instance, they need to recover content that's been deleted or hidden on the drive.  And while it's true that this information will definitely address that need, it's really a detailed reference work for anyone who has a need to deeply understand the disk structure of a computer.  Developers working on disk utility software come to mind right away.

I was surprised that file systems such as FAT and NTFS really don't have published specifications that can be easily found.  Carrier often talks about how few of the detailed parts of the system are documented, so this book is one of the few places you'll find all the information gathered in a single location.  On top of that, there are copious diagrams and file dumps that help to take the information from theory to reality.  Another part of the material talks about how forensic software tools are used to analyze the disk information.  Carrier does primarily talk about forensic software that he helped develop, but it's not (in my opinion) a detriment to the book.  I didn't get the impression I was reading a 550 page advertisement (which I've seen on occasion).

Very detailed and complete, and this is the first title you should look at if you need to understand disk structures.

04/30/2005

At what point did I cease to be the man of the house?

Category Everything Else

At what point did my edicts from on high simply become meaningless babble to the other occupants of the house?

Did I *ever* have that role???

A week ago, we had to put one of our cats to sleep.  This was Patches, the one with the kidney issues.  My wife and I have talked about how the furniture we buy right now is transitional...  to bridge the gap from now 'till post-kids/cats.  Then we can get nice stuff that won't be slept on, scratched up, puked or pee'd on...

So after I got back from the vet's place, I said we weren't going to replace Patches.  Snoogie would be the only cat (and he seems to be liking the return to that status).  Sue agreed.  Ian wanted another cat, but life's tough.  He's nearly 19...

So I come home yesterday to find *what* on the refrigerator?  A picture of the kitten we're getting in two weeks...  Ian's already named him.  When I asked Sue where he got that picture, she sheepishly claimed to have no knowledge of any of this.  Except for the fact this is one of the kittens from a lady at her work whose "hot tub kitty" had babies...

sigh...

04/30/2005

Time for... April's Awful Associations!

Category Blogging

So what weird and unusual ways did people use this month to find their way to Duffbert's Random Musings?  Let's see...
  • short night cam - unusual request...
  • big pile of books - now *that* one I understand...
  • "John Head" "Boom Vang" - that's a blast from the past...
  • stuff duff would use - hmmm....
  • what was rocky's target audience - I'll assume this was for Rocky and Bullwinkle, not Rocky Oliver...
  • Thomas Duffbert - I haven't changed my name...  yet.
  • "TSG" WinHEC - comes the day they invite us to speak there...
  • dan lyons ed brill - that's the closest you'll ever see them together for anything...
  • should Krispy Kreme go public? - Note to searcher...  They already *ARE* public, but with their dropping stock price and financial misdeeds, you might be able to buy the entire company soon for the cost of a dozen of those bad boys...
  • phallic mother - ewww....
  • adult diaper statisics - double ewww...
  • IBM Dumping Domino - ain't happening, folks...
  • development of a 43 year old - I'm probably on the lower end of this scale.  :-)
  • adult diaper solutions review - now *that* is a review you'll not find on this site.
  • have u every rode a greyhound bus? - unfortunately, a number of the fellow passengers would have thought this was perfectly proper English.
  • Sarbanes-Oxley sucks thong - perhaps this is a new CafePress line from Mr. Byrne?
  • Tom finish your dinner - you're not the boss of me!
  • is blogging a disruptive - must be...  they couldn't even finish their thought!
  • michael jackson is a terrorist - only in that we cringe in terror every time we see the latest surgical "enhancement" to his face...
  • voyeur blind guy - that must be an exceedingly frustrating hobby.

And my favorite for the month...

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


Search engine hits...  over 6500 free sources of amusement each month (and still growing!)...

04/28/2005

Book Review - Killer Wedding by Jerrilyn Farmer

Category Book Reviews

I think this catches me up on all the prior Madeline Bean novels by Jerrilyn Farmer...  Killer Wedding, the 3rd in the series.  Once again, a fun read but rather hard to follow towards the end...

In this installment, Bean's new event business is on hold due to a lawsuit over a non-competing clause from the company that bought their old enterprise.  While she's marking time waiting for that to clear, a legendary wedding planner in the city decides that she wants Bean to buy her out and take over.  Only problem is, Bean doesn't want to do that.  She gets roped into "helping out" on one wedding for the planner, and as usual a dead body shows up at the exclusive wedding...  that of the wedding planner.  To top it off, the groom has completely disappeared and no one knows where he's at.  There's a number of people who could easily be suspects, as the planner wasn't well liked.  Bean decides to help figure out who dun it, just so she can close this chapter of her life and make sure she doesn't end up with the planning business (or get killed over it).

Like the rest of her books, Farmer writes a great story.  I really enjoy the characters and dialogue, as well as the pacing of the action.  This one was a little more difficult to follow towards the end, as there were some character interactions that weren't obvious at the start and didn't seem to fit together very well at the end.  Still well worth reading, however...  a great deal of fun.

04/28/2005

I hereby promise to release a new version of iWatch to OpenNTF this weekend...

Category Everything Else

Bruce Elgort made me the proverbial "offer I couldn't refuse" and basically bought my time and attention this weekend...  :-)

04/27/2005

IBM Execs and forgoing raises... giving credit where due...

Category IBM/Lotus

As recently announced in the media, IBM execs are forgoing raises due to the disappointing financial results just recently released.  Granted, when your income is already well into the six or seven digit range, raises can be ignored without too much financial pain.  But still...

There are far too many examples of companies granting raises and huge bonuses to execs who have bankrupted the organization or mismanaged it to brink of existence.  I'm pleased to see IBM execs treating themselves like rank and file employees would be treated if they turned in disappointing results in an annual review.

04/26/2005

Don't like a particular book? Ban the publisher from your store...

Category Everything Else


From Reuters:  
Apple Pulls Jobs Bio Publisher's Books From Stores

So...  Steve Jobs is apparently miffed over the new unauthorized biography called
iCon - Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act In The History Of Business.  So, what do you do when you don't like the content you read?  You throw a fit and ban the rest of the publisher's books (in this case, Wiley) from your store.  Either that, or you sue teenagers running web sites that are scooping your latest moves...

I can see a company (and an individual) being less-than-thrilled with someone's portrayal of them in print.  Such is life in the limelight.  I can even see making the decision not to stock that particular title.  It's a free country, and you shouldn't be forced to sell something you don't agree with.  But to take the punitive step of removing useful reference titles by the same publisher "just to show them who is the boss" is a bit much.


It's no secret Apple is a very image-conscious company.  In many ways it's like Disney...  There's the reality, and then there's the "authorized" reality.  In my opinion, Apple overstepped their boundaries when they went after the websites that report on the company.  Unless you're breaking nondisclosure agreements (which I think Apple is contending they've done second-hand), you have a right to monitor and report on a public company.  The Apple image got hammered pretty hard over that fiasco, and now they step right back into the frying pan.  


It's my personal feeling that Jobs probably just gave Wiley the biggest publicity boost they could have dreamed of.  Since I'm not a Mac user, I really had no inclination to read and review this book.  Now after this PR misstep, I'm much more tempted to check out the book and see what Jobs is so upset about.  


And the other Wiley titles?  Talk to me when you can get Amazon, Borders, or Barnes and Noble to pull copies.  Until then, thanks for the controversy.  It sells well...  :-)

04/26/2005

Funny jury duty moment for Ian...

Category Everything Else

Ian was called for jury duty yesterday for the first time.  Where we live, you show up for one day.  If you get on a case, you follow it to completion.  If you don't, you're done.

 

Anyway, he was initially called for a jury having to do with an assault case.  The lawyers were asking jurors if it's ever OK to hit anyone.  He got to Ian and asked when was the last time he was in a physical confrontation with anyone. 

 

Ian simply looked at him and said, "I play hockey."

 

The lawyer said he didn't want to go there, and dismissed for cause.  :-)

04/25/2005

Can someone translate this for me?

Category Everything Else

Looking through my referrer logs, I've gotten a lot of hits from this URL:

http://www.pelit.fi/keskustelu/keskusteluboard.asp?ryhma_id=3&alue_id=35&ketju_id=2970773&x=3643

I don't have a clue as to what it is (looks like a Finnish gaming site?), and I'm really curious as to what was linked to in my blog...

Any one "game" enough to tell me what it was I wrote that's so popular?

04/24/2005

Book Review - Head First Java (2nd Edition) by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates

Category Book Reviews

Since this is a review of the 2nd edition of Head First Java by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates, I'm going to do things a bit differently.  I am a fervent believer and supporter of the Head First concept and titles.  What Sierra and Bates have done in terms of writing and learning style is incredible.  I'd venture to guess that I'll get any Head First title that comes out if nothing more than to study the style.  It's great stuff.

Now as for Head First Java - 2nd Edition.  I might have been one of the first bloggers to start talking about this book when the first edition came out.  A number of people bought the book based on that initial buzz.  I've also used this book as a giveaway in Java seminars.  It's always a popular choice.  The 2nd edition isn't dramatically different than the 1st edition, but it does cover some of the new Java 1.5 features like autoboxing and generics.  As such, it continues to be an up-to-date learning guide to a very large language.  I can only hope that the book continues to be updated as the Java language grows over time.

If you're already a proud owner of the first edition of Head First Java, I don't know that buying the 2nd edition just for the new language features would be the best use of money.  Of course, I'm sure Kathy and Bert would appreciate it.  But if you're looking to start your journey into Java, this is one of the few books I'd recommend without any reservation whatsoever.  Highly recommended.

04/24/2005

Book Review - Cyber Spying by Fair, Nordfelt, and Ring

Category Book Reviews

Cyber Spying - Tracking Your Family's (Sometimes) Secret Online Lives by Ted Fair, Michael Nordfelt,  and Sandra Ring (Syngress) is one of those books that evokes some strong emotional reactions to the content...

Chapter List: Why Spy?; Spying Basics; Technology Overview: Computer Basics; Network Basics; Taking Control; Spying On The PC; Spying On Web Browsing; Spying On E-mail; Spying On Chat And Instant Messages; Advanced Techniques; Counterspy: Are You Being Watched?; Index

The authors cover a subject that may be controversial to some...  how to spy on people's computer activities.  Depending on when and how this is practiced, it could be construed as illegal or as a responsible parental activity.  They start out explaining why spying might be necessary as well as the legal and ethical implications.  There is also discussion about how overt and covert spying can be effectively utilized to get the results you're after.  After that, there is coverage of the basics of computer technology for those who don't know much more than how to turn on the computer and read email.  The rest of the book gets into techniques, software, and case studies of surveillance to explain how it all fits together.

From a technical perspective, the book is very interesting.  If you need to find out more about the activities of your kids, this book will most definitely help you get there.  But as with all information, it would be very easy to use this same information to spy on other people (like at work).  The information on computer basics also seems to be somewhat unnecessary, but I need to remember that I'm probably not the target audience for some of this information.  And even if you've been working with computer technology for some time, I'm sure you'll pick up some tips on how you can find out what's going on with your computer (or figure out how to cover your tracks more effectively).

04/24/2005

Book Review - Silence on the Wire by Michal Zalewski

Category Book Reviews

Just when you thought you had a decent handle on how to protect yourself on-line, out comes a book that exposes a whole new series of exploits you probably haven't thought about...  Silence on the Wire by Michal Zalewski.

Chapter List:  I Can Hear You Typing; Extra Efforts Never Go Unnoticed; Ten Heads Of The Hydra; Working For The Common Good; Blinkenlights; Echoes Of The Past; Secure In Switched Networks; Us Versus Them; Foreign Accent; Advanced Sheep-Counting Strategies; In Recognition Of Anomalies; Stack Data Leaks; Smoke And Mirrors; Client Identification: Papers, Please!; The Benefits Of Being A Victim; Parasitic Computing, Or How Pennies Add Up; Topology Of The Network; Watching The Void; Closing Words; Bibliographic Notes; Index

The subtitle of this book is "a field guide to passive reconnaissance and indirect attacks", and that gives you a pretty good idea as to the direction that Zalewski is going with his information.  While most security books deal with active attacks designed to either take over your system or crash it, Silence is more concerned with how you may be inadvertently giving up more information than you think.  This may happen based on detailed analysis of the timing patterns on data sent over the network.  By careful analysis, it's possible to deduce a significant percentage of the data, leaving the rest of the data vulnerable to statistical analysis and attack.  Visual representation of IP sequence numbers can also give strong indications as to what type of system may be sending the packets.  It could even be something as "innocent" as hi-tech monitoring of the blinking lights on the front of your modem.  These types of attacks are not "script-kiddy" exploits, in that there is a lot of theory and analysis involved in interpreting the results.  But the fact remains that someone you can't see may be getting more information about you than you think.

Zalewski goes into a lot of detail about the architectural underpinnings of a system in order to set the stage for the type of monitoring that can happen.  If you're just looking for "how do I do a timing attack?", you'll probably go away very frustrated.  But if you're the type of reader who asks "how does the design of a system facilitate that type of information leakage?", you'll definitely treasure this volume.  The type of information that Zalewski covers here isn't readily available in any other single volume.  Therefore, it fills a gap in the security library that most people don't even realize exists.

A good read that will open your eyes to problems you weren't even aware of...

04/23/2005

With fond memories... good-bye, Patches...

Category Everything Else


A picture named M2

We had to put one of our cats to sleep today.  Patches, who lately could more aptly be named Puddles, had been having urinary issues.  When Sue took him to the vet about a month ago, tests showed that the kidney function was down around 25% which is about as low as a cat can go before their health takes a dramatic downturn.  We tried special food to delay what was most likely inevitable, but it didn't seem to be working.  Over the last week, he seemed to be finding it harder to get comfortable.  Never having been a large animal, he had also dropped even more weight and seemed to weigh next to nothing.  He had gone from 8 pounds to 6.5 in the month since the last vet visit.  


Sue decided that we had reached that fine line between life and suffering, and asked me to take him in today.  She was a mess just sticking him in the carrier.  I was doing relatively OK until I walked out of the office with an empty carrier.  That's when it struck home...


As frustrated as I was over some of the damage and hassles we put up with, he was an entertaining critter.  It's strange walking through the house with all the doors open now that we don't have to restrict him to specific areas to minimize damage.  He will definitely be missed...

04/23/2005

Focus, phishers... FOCUS!!!

Category Everything Else

Today I got a phishing attempt in my gmail account (nothing new there)...  But it was designated as coming from eBay to update their new security system, the alternate text on the graphic was from wamu.com (Washington Mutual), and the last line was the motto from Washington Mutual...

One thing at a time, phishers...  FOCUS!!!  

"-)

04/21/2005

Book Review - PC Annoyances 2nd Edition by Steve Bass

Category Book Reviews

No matter how necessary the PC is to your very existence, there are times you want to pitch the beast out the window.  It's either irritating hardware glitches or software designed by monkeys.  The second edition of PC Annoyances by Steve Bass can help you mend your love/hate relationship with silicon.  It's good stuff...

Chapter List: Email Annoyances; Windows Annoyances; Internet Annoyances; Microsoft Office Annoyances; Windows Explorer Annoyances; Music, Video, and CD Annoyances; Hardware Annoyances; Index

If you haven't seen an Annoyances book before, it's a series of questions or statements (like SP2 Blocks Skype or Back Up Your Autocorrections) with an annoyance and a fix listed for each one.  Under each of the Annoyances chapters, you'll have subsections like Word/Excel/Powerpoint/Outlook/Outlook Express annoyances under the Microsoft Office annoyances area.  Depending on just how annoying the software or hardware is, you may have five to 20 ways to reduce your frustration level.  So, if you don't think the current tip applies to you, keep reading as the next one probably will.  Some of these you'll know already, many you'll never have heard of, and others will prompt the "you mean I can change that?" moment (or at least it did for me!).  Because Steve's writing style is irreverent and conversational, you almost feel as if you're sitting ringside with him and someone else as they solve the computing hassles we all deal with daily.

If that was it, it'd be plenty valuable.  But there's more.  There are a number of sidebar tips that don't necessarily fit into the question/answer format, but are just as important.  For instance, he devotes a large sidebar to the best way to capture screen prints to show brain-dead tech support people that the screen really *does* show what you said.  You may already know how to do that, but it's always worth seeing if there's a better way.  He also offers a multitude of URLs you can visit to download free or cheap utilities to do things that you just can't do any other way.  Want to fill out forms automatically?  Check out the free RoboForms software he recommends.  Need to remove hidden meta data in your Microsoft Office documents?  Check out the tool from Microsoft that will clean them up.  There are all sorts of gems like those on every page.  

The book is a rare blend of humor and utility in a fun and easy format, and it will easily pay for itself in short order.  Highly recommended.

04/20/2005

Got another batch of books from a publisher today, and...

Category Book Reviews

... I happened to look at the invoice that's included in all the packages (that I usually just ignore).

There's a note that just warmed my little heart...

"*** Permanent Instructions This Account - Do Not Pay Invoice ***"

Yeah, gotta love that!  :-)

04/20/2005

Book Review - Missing Persons by Stephen White

Category Book Reviews

Stephen White has the next installment out in his Alan Gregory psychiatric thriller series...  Missing Persons.  While I like the story, it's probably not my favorite...

Gregory is trying to wind down for the Christmas holidays and plans on accompanying a fellow psychologist down to Vegas for a conference.  But when they check in on the mental health worker who is going to cover their cases, they find her dead in a rather suspicious fashion.  Add on to that a disappearance of a teenager on Christmas eve, reminiscent of the Jon Benet Ramsey case.  And to make it even more confusing, the mother of the missing teen is psychotic and attends weddings uninvited.  The question is, are all these things related?  And is one of Gregory's patients the key as to how all these things tie together?  It appears that the teen had a single session with the dead counselor.  Is the teen dead for the same reason as the counselor?  And when Gregory's partner goes to Vegas to track down the mother, she goes missing and nobody knows why or where she is.

There is a lot of mystery in this story, and I definitely wanted to get to the end to find out how it all wrapped up.  But as I stated in the opening, this wasn't my favorite novel in the series.  For whatever reason, Alan wants nothing to do with the missing teen story, but keeps getting drawn back into it.  The Boulder cops are all convinced the teen is a runaway, but nobody seems to care about evidence to the contrary.  Alan's partner disappearing is suspenseful, but I'm still not quite sure why it all happened.  And towards the end, the interrelated threads just sort of morphed together and lost their individual uniqueness, and all was less than it appeared.  

I'll still give the book above-average rankings for writing, but the story could have been tighter or less convoluted...

04/19/2005

Book Review - Degunking Your PC by Joli Ballew and Jeff Duntemann

Category Book Reviews

There are some book series that I really look forward to reading based on their style and content.  One is the Degunking series, and the latest installment is Degunking Your PC by Joli Ballew and Jeff Duntemann.  Much common sense that is rarely practiced...

Chapter List: Why Is My PC All Gunked Up?; Degunking Your PC; Physically Cleaning Your PC And Peripherals; Degunking And Configuring Your PC Work Area; Degunking Your Main PC Components; Degunking Your Peripherals; Untangling Your USB And FireWire Connections; Setting Up A Basic Network For Sharing Dial-Up Internet Connections; Moving To DSL Or Cable Internet; Creating Gunk-Free Wired Networks; Going Wireless While Staying Gunk-Less; Degunking Your Backup Strategy; Enhancing PC And Media Performance; Index

I think it's fair to say that if you've been around computers for any length of time, you probably know you should be doing a lot of the stuff in this book.  PCs grow internal killer dust bunnies if not cleaned out occasionally (our kitchen PC grows new kittens).  An attempt to unplug a device ends up becoming an exercise in tracing the Gordian knot of cables, with slicing through it not being a viable option.  And, um, I really thought the plug for my Pocket PC cradle was *that* one, not the one that powered off my PC.  If you follow the plans put forth in this book, you'll avoid much (if not all) of these issues.  Ballew and Duntemann give you easy-to-follow tips on setting up a program to not only get your system cleaned up (hardware and software), but to keep it that way.  They even help you justify getting rid of that ink-jet printer that hasn't worked in two years but you just haven't bothered to reclaim that desk space because you've ceased to notice it...

In some ways, this book seems to go a bit beyond straight degunking.  When they talk about network degunking, you'll also get a fair amount of information on just what networking is, how it works, and what you need to know to make it all work.  Long-time techies will already know much of that info, but this may be just what the newbie needs to move away from 56K dial-up to 5mb broadband.  The style of writing is conversational and non-intimidating, so I think that people from just about all levels of background and experience should get something out of it.

For me, this is a highly recommended book.  Now if I can sneak upstairs and start degunking my teenager's PC, I'll have made great strides...

04/18/2005

Book Review - Linux Quick Fix Notebook by Peter Harrison

Category Book Reviews

If you're a Linux administrator who is constantly looking for that practical example or write-up on how to do a specific task, Peter Harrison's Linux Quick Fix Notebook (Prentice Hall) is probably what you're looking for...

Chapter List:
Part 1 - The Linux File Server Project: Why Host Your Own Site?; Introduction To Networking; Linux Networking; Simple Network Troubleshooting; Troubleshooting Linux With syslog; Installing RPM Software; The Linux Boot Process; Configuring The DHCP Server; Linux Users And sudo; Windows, Linux, And Samba; Sharing Resources With Samba; Samba Security And Troubleshooting; Linux Wireless Networking
Part 2 - The Linux Web Site Project: Linux Firewalls Using iptables; Linux FTP Server Setup; Telnet, TFTP, And xinetd; Secure Remote Logins And File Copying; Configuring DNS; Dynamic DNS; The Apache Web Server; Configuring Linux Mail Servers; Monitoring Server Performance; Advanced MRTG For Linux; The NTP Server
Part 3 - Advanced Topics: Network-Based Linux Installation; Linux Software RAID; Expanding Disk Capacity; Managing Disk Usage With Quotas; Remote Disk Access With NFS; Centralized Logins Using NIS; Centralized Logins Using LDAP And RADIUS; Controlling Web Access With Squid; Modifying The Linux Kernel To Improve Performance; Basic MySQL Configuration; Configuring Linux VPNs
Appendices: Miscellaneous Linux Topics; Codes, Scripts, And Configurations; Fedora Version Differences; syslog Configuration And Cisco Devices; Index

Harrison does a great job in hitting the target audience.  He is writing to "proficient beginners, students, and IT professionals" who understand the theory but need a little nudge on the command formatting.  As a result, there's less emphasis on explaining a lot of "why" material so that he can devote more time and space to the "how to" material.  I must say he definitely nails that mark.  He also spends a lot of time on troubleshooting issues (Samba, network connectivity, etc) because that's where the average reader is going to be floundering if they don't know the answer.  By having a concise volume that covers the major areas of concern, you should be able to either quickly fix the problem or rule out a number of potential issues.  Practicality rules in this book...

He also avoids the "which version of Linux are you on" issue by concentrating on the command line interface.  The material you'll learn here is applicable to all versions of Linux, because he doesn't work with any graphical interfaces which may or may not have an equivalent in all Linux distributions.  So while there might be easier ways to do some of the tasks listed here, you won't be locked out from any of them due to picking the "wrong" distribution.

A very good practical book for Linux admins, and one that should get lots of wear and tear...

04/17/2005

Book Review - Immaculate Reception by Jerrilyn Farmer

Category Book Reviews

Continuing with my Madeline Bean theme of late, I read Jerrilyn Farmer's second book Immaculate Reception.  This was an excellent follow-up to her first installment with Madeline Bean...

Now that Mad Bean Events has recovered from the poisoning episode of book #1 and have all the money they'd ever need, there's more of a focus on creating events instead of just catering.  And they've hit the big time with their first event...  they've been asked to do breakfast for 2000 people and the Pope.  While there's no problem setting up the event, there are some major issues surrounding it.  Brother Xavier, who is doing preparation for the event, was at one time engaged to Madeline before leaving her for his religion.  While doing some planning, they find part of a letter in an old cookbook that points to a murder confession involving the Catholic church.  The deeper they dig, the more the story points to a major cover-up of an event that happened during World War 2.  And when a fellow Brother of Xavier is murdered and Mad is threatened, the breakfast event might just be their last.

As usual, Farmer does a great job with her writing.  You find out more about Madeline's background, as well as why her relationships are what they are.  20/20 hindsight (reading this book after some of the later ones), you also get the stage set for some of the material that shows up later.  Wes is still somewhat of a mystery, but you get a bit more clarification of his personality here.  And I'm impressed how Farmer was able to weave a bit of historical fiction into the storyline.  

Great job, and another great read...

04/17/2005

My neck is sorta getting better...

Category Everything Else

I don't know what I did to my neck while sleeping Thursday night, but I certainly did a number on it.  Friday, it was really painful.  I spent most of the day taking Tylenol and putting heat on it.  I was able to find some comfortable positions for sleeping Friday night, which was a step up from Thursday.  Yesterday I had a bit more range of movement, but I still had to take a few breaks to stretch out and nap (life's rough!).  I'm still in some pain this morning, as I think I'm holding my head and neck somewhat differently, putting stress on back muscles that normally don't get it.

The worst part is that I tend to turn my head thinking that everything is OK, and I hit that pain point without warning.  Ouch...

04/16/2005

Book Review - RFID For Dummies by Patrick J. Sweeney II

Category Book Reviews

I've heard of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, but I really have paid much attention to it.  I figured that RFID For Dummies by Patrick J. Sweeney II (Wiley) would be a good way to get up to speed.  This is definitely a great "first read" on the subject.

Chapter List:
Part 1 - Now That You Can Spell RFID, Here's The Rest Of The Story: Taking The Mystery Out Of RFID; Auto-ID Technologies: Why RFID Is King Of The Hill; Making Basic Decisions About Your RFID System
Part 2 - Ride The Electromagnetic Wave: The Physics Of RFID: What Makes Up An RFID Network; Understanding How Technology Becomes A Working System; Seeing Different RFID Systems At Work
Part 3 - Fitting An RFID Application Into Your World: Seeing The Invisible - The Site Assessment; Testing One, Two, Three - Developing Your Own Lab; Tag, You're It - Test For Best Tag Design And Placement; Hooked On Phonics - Reader Testing, Selection, And Installation; Middle Where? - It's Not Just About The Readers
Part 4 - Raising The Beams For Your Network: From Pilot To Admiral - Deploying RFID Successfully; Getting Set To Administer And Maintain Your System; Ping-Pong, The Tags Are Gone - How To Monitor Your RFID System
Part 5 - How To Speak Bean Counter: Making The Business Case; Fitting RFID Into Strategic Plans; What To Look For When Considering Outsourcing
Part 6 - The Part Of Tens: Ten (Or So) Equipment Vendors; Ten Web Sites For Information On RFID; Ten Tips From The Experts; Ten (Or So) RFID Standards And Protocols
Appendix: Glossary of Electrical, Magnetic, And Other Scientific Terms; Index

I've always maintained that Dummies titles can be a great "first read" on a subject if you don't even know what you don't know.  Even though the material may not go into great depth, at least you'll have the mental framework in which to place future learning.  RFID For Dummies does that and a lot more.  The author is a CEO of an RFID company, so he definitely knows the technology from the business end.  He also knows it extremely well from the technical and scientific end.  Not only will this book give you the basics on what RFID is and how it works, but it will also go into fine detail about how best to run an RFID project.  This isn't just a lot of fluffy, humorous theory in around 400 pages.  Sweeney has the battle scars from these projects, and you could conceivably use this book as an overall guide to start moving your company into RFID technology without fearing that you've bet your business on a Dummies title.

Although I don't plan on being involved in any RFID projects to the best of my knowledge, I now have a much better understanding of the technology and its limitations.  I can also discern the difference between reality and the hype that you often hear decrying the fact that RFID tags will track our every step.  If this subject is of any interest to you, RFID For Dummies is a highly recommended read.

04/15/2005

Book Review - Sympathy For The Devil by Jerrilyn Farmer

Category Book Reviews

Occasionally I decide to concentrate on an author's earlier works if I've just recently discovered their material.  This time it's Jerrilyn Farmer and her first Madeline Bean culinary mystery, Sympathy For The Devil.  It seems she started out strong and has kept getting better...

Madeline Bean and her crew have been hired to put on a Halloween party for one of Hollywood's biggest (and most disliked) producers.  Things are going quite well until, unfortunately, the host dies of strychnine poisoning.  Even worse, Bean's main partner, Wesley Westcott, is the prime suspect.  Although he did have motive and looks like he also had a way to do it, Bean is convinced he didn't and has to sort through some complex family entanglements to figure out who would benefit most from the producer's death.  Of course, this whole affair isn't doing wonders for her catering business, because who wants to hire a caterer who poisons their hosts?

Farmer does a great job in and of itself in this novel, and it lays a good groundwork for where things are going in the future.  You're introduced to the cop who becomes a love interest in later stories, you learn how the Mad Bean Events company was formed, and you start to understand the working relationship between Mad, Wes, and Holly, their assistant.  Had I read this book first in the series, I would definitely have continued reading.  Now I'm just having fun filling in the character gaps.  Good stuff...

04/15/2005

In defense of our Lotusphere session rankings...

Category Lotusphere 2005

Ed recently posted the top 20 Lotusphere sessions for content and speakers, and Joe Litton and I came in tied for second in content and tied for third for speakers.   Heady stuff for a couple of short runts like us...

When I was harassing a friend over the fact I ranked higher than he did, he insisted I bought the vote by having a Flashdance moment as well as giving away three cases of Java books donated by O'Reilly.

And your point is?  

:-)

04/14/2005

It SUCKS getting old...

Category Everything Else

Sleep...  one of those blissfully unaware times when you're allowing your body to recharge itself so that you can wake up and conquer another day...  Right?

Yeah, tell me the one about the Easter Bunny, too...

I woke up at 11:30 pm with a pain in my neck that won't quit.  This is different than waking up *AS* a pain in the neck every morning...  After trying to position the pillows to go back to sleep, I decided to just give in and get up.  Easier said than done when the pain-free range of motion of your muscles attaching your cerebellum to your torso is around 10% of normal...

I can turn my head to the left OK.  Forget looking over to my right...  ain't happening.  Look down?  OK.  Look up?  Don't think so...

I turn 44 in less than a month...  Is *this* what I have to look forward to in my golden years?  Blogging at 2:26 am because I can't sleep due to rebellion within the bodily ranks?

Might as well go upstairs and do something I think I can still do OK...  read! :-)

04/14/2005

The gift that keeps on giving... Enron settlement checks! :-)

Category Everything Else

I mentioned awhile back that I had received a settlement check from Enron for the allowed claim amount of my remaining severance pay (one month's worth before they declared bankruptcy).  Even though that still left a little over $2500 above and beyond the claim limit, I figured that getting 100% of that base amount was better than 11% of the whole thing.  

Well, today in the mail I get another envelope from Enron.  Thinking it was another one of those endless updates on some aspect of some class-action suit that will never pay out, I casually opened it.  Voila!  An 11% payout of the amount over and above the initial allowed claim amount!  

Now, after taxes and withholding (they *are* wages, after all!), we're talking less than $200.  But still...  

04/14/2005

Legal smoke affects Microsoft Chimney, Longhorn

Category Microsoft

From the Inquirer:  Legal smoke affects Microsoft Chimney, Longhorn

Just what they need...  more delays for Longhorn...

A software firm was granted a preliminary injunction against Microsoft preventing it from deploying the technology, slated to be included in next generation operating system Longhorn.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Alacritech won a preliminary injunction against Microsoft in a court in San Francisco.

This San Jose firm alleges that Microsoft has violated two of its patents on technology which speeds up the connection of PCs on networks. This technology is called Dynamic TCP offload data acceleration.

Microsoft has dubbed this technology "Chimney", and, according to the Journal, faces around 30 patent suit cases. Alacritech holds a number of network patents. The patents in question are numbered 6,427,171 and 6,987,868 - both relating to a protocol processing stack for use with an intelligent network interface device.

Alacritech said in a statement that when it discovered Microsoft Chimney was based on its patents, it offer the firm a licence. But the Vole rejected the licensing deal it offered. The firm's lawyer said that the firm owned numerous patents in the same field. Mark Lauer, a partner at the Silicon Edge Law Group, said that last year, at WinHEC, "Microsoft said this technology would allow them to rule the world for the next few years".

04/13/2005

Book Review - Financial Statements.xls - A Step-By-Step Guide To Creating Financial Statements Using Microsoft Excel

Category Book Reviews

I recently received a review copy of Joseph Rubin's book Financial Statements.xls - A Step-By-Step Guide To Creating Financial Statements Using Microsoft Excel.  While it's has good material, it's probably best for a specific niche audience...

Chapter List: Introducing Financial Statements.xls Worksheets; Adjusting the Trial Balance; Updating the Trial Balances Data Worksheet; Balance Sheet; Income Statement; Cash Flow; Notes; Customizing the Financial Statements.xls Workbook and Presenting Information; Protecting Financial Data; Printing and Mailing Financial Statement Reports; Balance Sheet Five-Year Comparison Reports; Income Statement Five-Year and Quarterly Comparison Reports; Analyzing Financial Statements Using PivotTable and PivotChart Reports; Analyzing Financial Statements and Calculating the Ratio Analysis; Analyzing Profit Centers; Index

I've read other books by Mr. Rubin on Excel, and his style is pretty spartan.  It's a "do this, do this, and do this" without a lot of background or explanation as to what's going on behind the scenes.  This book is probably even more so in that style.  There's a CD that contains much of the material presented in the book, so you have a starting point.  He then takes you through the steps necessary to modify and add to the spreadsheets to produce your own financial statements.  You won't get a lot of handholding, so if you don't understand something, you may have to keep banging your head against the wall to figure it out.

As I mentioned in the opening, this book doesn't appear to be for everyone.  After going through the material, I'd feel comfortable giving it to an intermediate to advanced Excel power user who understands accounting.  S/he'll have to be comfortable with financial terms and concepts, as well as entering VBA macro code for some of the features.  Your typical computer geek might understand the Excel stuff but would be totally lost on the accounting.  An accountant who is not comfortable with Excel will be lost and frustrated in short order.  If you're the right mix of skills and this is a subject that is near and dear to your heart however, you may have found a book that will be of value to you...

04/13/2005

Book Review - Linux Desktop Hacks by Nicholas Petreley And Jono Bacon

Category Book Reviews


One of the latest Hacks titles from O'Reilly takes on the Linux desktop -
Linux Desktop Hacks by Nicholas Petreley and Jono Bacon.  It's good stuff, but not quite what I thought it would be...

Chapter List:  Booting Linux; Console; Login Managers; Related to X; KDE Desktop; GNOME Desktop Hacks; Terminal Empowerment; Desktop Programs; Administration and Automation; Kernel; Hardware; Index


Like all Hacks titles, this book is made up of 100 tips and tricks that you can do and that are related to the subject matter of the book...  in this case, the Linux desktop.  I was expecting to pick up a lot of hints and tips like #55 - Reduce OpenOffice.org Startup Time, #72 - Start Desktop Applications Automatically, and #80 - Protect Yourself From Windows Applications.  Those are some cool things, and they relate directly to what I usually think of when I envision the Linux desktop.  But you'll also find things like #81 - Build a Custom Firewall Computer, #88 - Compile a Kernel, and #2 - Kill and Resurrect the Master Boot Record.  Once again, all very good and interesting stuff, but it seems to stray somewhat from the "Linux desktop" premise (or at least what I was expecting it to be).  There are also plenty of instances where you need to be up to speed with scripting skills so you can change config files or compile and install software.  I realize that the Linux desktop isn't all automated installers and such, but there seemed to be a lot of times where you always ended up back at the command line console.  


Perhaps not being a Linux or Unix geek yet, I'm inclined to think of "desktop" as graphical user interface when it actually can be a number of things.  


So...  I like the book, and if you're into running Linux as your main operating system at the desktop level, you'll get a lot out of this book.  Just be forewarned that it may not contain exactly what you expected...

04/13/2005

IBM and Firefox? Hmmm....

Category IBM/Lotus

From news.com:  IBM On The Hunt For Firefox Programmers

In the newest indication that Firefox has become mainstream, IBM is trying to hire programmers to adapt the open-source Web browser to work well with Big Blue's server software.

A job ad posted on IBM's Web site said an emerging technologies team in IBM's software group wants programmers for "enhancing the Mozilla Firefox Web browser with new features complimentary to IBM's On Demand middleware stack."

An IBM representative on Wednesday said that the ad was for one position in the company's advanced technology group. The individual will make contributions to the Firefox project, the representative said.

The Firefox work could dovetail with IBM's effort to build its Workplace software, which moves several personal computer applications to a server that users access with a Web browser. IBM is spending $100 million on ensuring Linux computers can tap into Workplace servers.

Yes, hiring programmers with a particular talent is a long way from taking over large-scale open source browser development.  But...  If IBM is serious about battling Microsoft at the desktop level for collaboration and such, becoming the driving force in Firefox development would be a major development.  They've already shown a willingness to back open source efforts.  Make the Firefox browser be the "browser of choice" for new Workplace applications that are cross-platform, and all of a sudden Microsoft has a significant headache...  

04/13/2005

I don't *EVER* want to hear again that hockey is a rough sport with rowdy fans...

Category Everything Else

Soccer is the hands-down winner for that title...

04/12/2005

Book Review - Seed's Sketchy Relationship Theories - A Guide To The Perils Of Dating (How Not To Become A Bar Regular)

Category Book Reviews

I received an email from the authors of this book ("Seed" & "German Seed") asking if I would be interested in reviewing it:  Seed's Sketchy Relationship Theories - A Guide To The Perils Of Dating (How Not To Become A Bar Regular).  This is definitely one of the most unusual, funny, raw, thought-provoking books I've read in a long time.  

Seed (aka Lindsay Wincherauk) expounds on his views of the male/female relationship dynamic, and he pulls absolutely no punches in letting you know how he feels and what you should be doing in order to give yourself the best chance of finding true love and happiness when it comes to discovering that special someone.  That's the broad brush to what the book is about.  *How* he says it all is what makes this unique...

If you wanted to give this a serious review critique, you'd have a field day.  It's a self-published effort, so forget about proper grammar, editing, and sometimes even spell-checking.  And if you're offended by the use of the word "f**k", you'll only have to get over it 290 times.  Seriously.  It's stream-of -consciousness writing with plenty of rabbit trails, asides, stand-up comedy, and politically incorrect observations.  

And I really liked it.

The same traits that would drive your high school English teacher to drink make this book very "real".  Seed has gone through more in a couple of years than most of us encounter in a lifetime.  But rather than wallow in his own misery, he learned from the experiences and came out pretty much the better for it.  He's not perfect, and he doesn't always successfully practice what he preaches.  But there's no problem admitting that.  He minces no words when it comes to labelling people, and I will guarantee there will be a number of people offended by those labels.  But in reality, those people do exist, and things would probably run a lot smoother if we stopped telling ourselves otherwise.  If you're trying to understand how relationships work in today's world, this will give you a view and input I promise you won't hear from Dr. Phil or anyone else.

Because there is so much "writing as conversation" going on here, some parts work much better than others.  You may find Seed going from first to third person and back again in the same paragraph.  You'll get a number of totally unveiled pleadings to check out their website and buy stuff.  Some might find it all a bit much.  I personally found myself turning each page just to see where he'd head to next.  I don't need the relationship advice, as I've been married for over 20 years.  But from a sheer reading perspective, I loved it...

This is a book that you'll either love or hate...  I really liked it, but your mileage may vary.

04/12/2005

Book Review - Buzz Marketing with Blogs For Dummies by Susannah Gardner

Category Book Reviews

Since I've been blogging (http://www.twduff.com) for quite awhile, this is almost like reading a book to see if you're doing anything wrong.  Still, Susannah Gardner does a good job with Buzz Marketing with Blogs For Dummies (Wiley).

Chapter List:
Part 1 - Getting Started with Business Blogs: Checking Out Business Blogs; Discovering the Buzz about Buzz Marketing; Building a Business Blog
Part 2 - Setting Up a Business Blog: Picking a Blog Solution; Setting Up a Hosted Blog; Taking Control with Independent Blog Software
Part 3 - Minding Blog Etiquette and Culture: Understanding Your Audience; Joining the Blogosphere; Avoiding Business No-Nos
Part 4 - Positioning Your Blog: Finding a Voice; Promoting Your Blog; Staying on the Right Side of the Law
Part 5 - Making the Most of Your Blog: Adding Value to a Blog; Making Money with a Blog; Going Beyond Blogs
Part 6 - The Part of Tens: Ten Dry-Spell-Breaking Ideas; Ten Traits of a Good Blogger; Ten Blogs You Should Know
Part 7 - Appendixes: Glossary; Using the Book Blog; Hosted and Independent Blog Solutions; How URLs Work; Case Studies; Index

Based on the title of this book, you'd probably assume that this is geared more for the business use of blogs.  And in a significant sense, it is.  But that's not to say that the serious personal blogger won't learn a number of things here.  Gardner does a good job of taking the reader from "what is a blog" through the reasons they can be very important, and finally ends with the things you need to know to keep your blog fresh and inviting.  You'd probably figure out many of these rules on your own, but the blogging world can be unforgiving.  Make a mistake involving deception, and you may never get your audience back.  Have your blog be nothing more than press releases, and no one will show up.

She also does a good job of bridging the theory and the practical.  In addition to all the knowledge you need to understand blogging, she also takes you through some potential blogging software choices and shows how you'd use them to set up a blog.  Granted, it's not a comprehensive instruction manual on how to install and configure any one blogging package, but the reader will get an idea of what it takes.  

I also mentioned it's a good book for the serious personal blogger.  I use my blog to share information with various audiences, but it's also a personal marketing tool.  Therefore, many of the same "rules of the road" that she covers apply to me.  I'm concerned about finding my voice and style, how to attract readers, and knowing whether or not my audience is getting value from my writings.  While I've learned much of what she writes about on my own, I'd have come much further much faster if I had this book a couple years ago.

Good stuff, and highly practical.  A very good selection to give to your boss if s/he wants to investigate the subject.  Just make sure you explain that "For Dummies" isn't personal...

04/11/2005

Book Review - The Enthusiastic Employee

Category Book Reviews

I think that many businesses and bosses could be so much further ahead if they read The Enthusiastic Employee by David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer (Wharton School Publishing).  

Chapter List:  
Part 1 - Worker Motivation, Morale, and Performance: What Workers Want - The Big Picture; Employee Enthusiasm and Business Success
Part 2 - Enthusiastic Workforces, Motivated by Fair Treatment: Job Security; Compensation; Respect
Part 3 - Enthusiastic Workforces, Motivated by Achievement: Organization Purpose and Principles; Job Enablement; Job Challenge; Feedback, Recognition, and Reward
Part 4 - Enthusiastic Workforces, Motivated by Camaraderie: Teamwork
Part 5 - Bringing It All Together: The Total Organization Culture - and How to Change It: The Partnership Organization; Translating Partnership Theory into Partnership Practice
Part 6 - Appendices: Survey Administration and Population Composition; Reliability and Validity of the Data; Job Satisfaction: Demographic, Occupational, and Regional Breaks; Comparisons with Other Norms; The Readiness Questionnaire; Endnotes; Index

The authors have done a number of surveys of employees to get a idea of how 1) employees feel about their current jobs, and 2) what they'd like to see from their companies and management.  These findings are presented to the reader (which *should* be in management) to help them understand how their staff really thinks and works.  The conclusion is that companies can profit handsomely by understanding what their employees want and making sure they get it.  And it's not always just money.  It can be a sense of teamwork, a vested interest in making sure the company is successful, or even just the challenge of being given a difficult job along with the authority to do what's necessary to pull it off.  While not every employee is the same or is motivated by the same ideals or benefits, a company that follows the findings in this book and implement changes will find turnover plunging and job satisfaction going up to unknown levels.

Definitely worth reading if you run a company or have staff that report to you...

04/10/2005

Book Review - Regular Expression Recipes - A Problem-Solution Approach by Nathan A. Good

Category Book Reviews

Regular expressions are very powerful, but extremely cryptic to read and/or understand.  Nathan A Good's book Regular Expression Recipes - A Problem-Solution Approach (Apress) does a good job in showing you practical applications of regular expressions in multiple languages.

Chapter List:  Words and Text; URLs and Paths; CSV and Tab-Delimited Files; Formatting and Validating; HTML and XML; Coding and Using Commands; Index

Good basically takes a number of sample problems, like finding similar words or validating U.S. dates, and then shows how the task can be done in various languages using regular expressions.  Most of the solutions have two or more language examples:  Perl, PHP, Python, Vim, GNU grep, or sed.  In addition to showing you the statement that will do the task, he also gives a brief explanation on how the statement works and why it does what it does.  This definitely wouldn't be the book you'd get in order to learn about regular expressions, but it'd be the perfect bridge between learning and doing.  As you can tell by the list of languages, you probably won't find this as helpful if you're more interested in Java or JavaScript regular expression processing.  But even then, you'll at least get the general idea of how a regular expression could be written to do a certain task, and it may spark your imagination on what it would take to apply that technique to your language of choice.

Nice practical book, and one that would be useful for anyone who lives in the regex world...

04/10/2005

Book Review - Troubleshooting Your PC For Dummies by Dan Gookin

Category Book Reviews

If you need this book, you're probably crying or swearing.  But Troubleshooting Your PC For Dummies By Dan Gookin (Wiley) will help you solve the problem while putting a smile back on your face.

Chapter List:  
Part 1 - What the @#$%&*!?: It's Not Your Fault! Well, It Might Be Your Fault; Stuff to Try First; Telling a Hardware Problem from a Software Problem; The "R" Chapter (Reinstall, Restore, Recycle, Recovery); Your Last Resort: Tech Support
Part 2 - Troubleshooting Minor Irks and Quirks: This Just Bugs Me!; Gosh! This Is Embarrassing!; Startup Problems; Finding Lost Files and Things; Sounds Like Trouble; The Mystery of System Resources (and Memory Leaks); The Slow PC; Keyboard, Mouse, and Monitor Dilemmas; Printer Problems; Dealing with Disk Disaster; Correcting Graphic Disgrace; Internet Connection Mayhem; Web Weirdness with Internet Explorer; E-Mail Calamities with Outlook Express; General Windows Disruptions (Or, Is This PC Possessed?); Windows Can Be Your Friend; Shutdown Constipation
Part 3 - Preventive Maintenance: Maintaining Your Disk Drives; Useful Tools and Weapons; The Benefits of Backup
Part 4 - The Part of Tens: The Ten Rules of Tech Support; Ten Dumb Error Messages; Ten Things You Should Never or Always Do
Appendix: Windows Startup Program Guide
Index

Even though I've been in Information Technology for over two decades, I generally don't do well at PC or Windows troubleshooting.  I design business software, and I basically want my hardware and operating system to just work.  While I've gotten better at troubleshooting, I'm still interested in any help I can find.  Gookin does an excellent job in targeting the specific areas that are most likely to go haywire on your home or work PC, and he then gives you some of the more common approaches to resolving those problems.  In addition, he also helps you to take ongoing steps to make sure your PC stays functional and clutter-free for as long as possible.  Following the information in this book, there's a relatively good chance you'll be able to extricate yourself from a number of blunders or problems before you start teaching your children new words that shouldn't be repeated in public.

Long-term hardware techies or software/OS geeks will probably know most if not all of this information already.  But this is the type of book I could conceivably give my dad in order to help him fix some of his own computer problems when I'm not around.  Or he can have it on the shelf so *I* can use it when I show up to fix whatever he did.  Either way, this book is a perfect first line of defense and reference when you're desperately trying to resurrect your great American novel from the dead...

04/10/2005

"April 2004 e-ProWire" - Thoughts on the Microsoft Acquisition of Groove

Category e-Pro

Since I actually *did* write the April issue of e-Pro but it won't be officially published, I'll load the articles out here on my blog so they can see the light of day...  Tom
--------------------------------

Thoughts on the Microsoft Acquisition of Groove


Unless you've been on a media fast or marooned on a remote island without internet access, you've no doubt heard that Microsoft announced the planned acquisition of Groove on March 10th.  Microsoft gets the Groove software for integration into their own offerings.  In addition, Ray Ozzie becomes one of three CTOs at Microsoft, reporting directly to Bill Gates.


Reading the different media and personal analyses of this deal has been interesting.  The opinions have run the gamut from this being a deadly strike at IBM/Lotus to it doesn't change a single thing.  Somewhere in there lies the truth of what will really come to pass.


In this article, I want to review some of the more visible analysis reports.  I'll also offer my thoughts on what this all means for you, the Domino developer.


Ferris Research


Ferris Research issued a couple of items on their Ferris Research Blog.  The first was titled "
Microsoft Acquires Groove".  After a short explanation of the announcement and a brief overview of Groove, Chris Williams makes this observation:

"The cynical view would be that this is just Microsoft's latest course change in collaboration technology. Last year's message to build collaboration on top of Sharepoint looks like it is at risk now.  Groove offers a better forms architecture and an off-line solution. The next several years will likely see these products share feature sets, if not merge altogether. That could be an uncertain time for application developers make the best near-term architectural choices."


He also sees this as an admission by Microsoft that Exchange is nothing more than a mail engine, as there was no talk about how Groove and Exchange might merge features.


In my mind, this goes back to the common Microsoft approach to new ideas.  The new software isn't compatible with the old version or vision, and the old vision is abandoned.  When it comes to the Groove integration into Microsoft collaboration plans, I'd be very cautious about signing on with any new software approaches until I see some traction in the market.


David Via also writes an entry for Ferris titled "
What’s The Motivation For Microsoft’s Acquisition Of Groove?".  He sees the merger as a two-fold deal.  The first point is that Groove helps fill out the feature set of Sharepoint, offering off-line access as well as a desktop collaboration environment not currently found.  His second point is that it allowed Microsoft to bring Ray Ozzie into the fold, tapping into his vision and the team he built around Groove.

I think there's a lot of validity to this view.  Microsoft will get access to technology that could be used to improve Sharepoint, and Ray Ozzie is definitely a major talent in the software industry.  I'm not quite convinced this will all work out as well as it has been initially hyped however.  I’ll go into that a little bit more later.


Gartner


Gartner issued a very balanced and realistic view of the event on their site with a report titled "
Microsoft Pursues Future of Work Vision with Groove Deal".  While they talk about the value that this brings in conjunction with their recent collaboration announcements, they are also realistic about the challenges involved in this deal:

The deal's challenges include:

·        
Reconciling Groove's peer-to-peer architecture with SharePoint Portal and Windows architecture
·        
Determining how or whether to continue supporting the current Windows SharePoint Services shared workspaces
·        
Bringing Microsoft's disjointed collaboration products into a more cohesive workplace offering

Their final recommendation is a wise one for Microsoft shops looking at how this affects them:  Seek a clearer road map before you make strategic buying decisions.


Michael Sampson


And finally, we have Michael Sampson from Shared Spaces Research & Consulting.  Sampson focuses primarily on the collaboration market, and he has a good feel for what is going in that industry sector.  His first take on the acquisition was "
Microsoft Acquires Groove".  He examines the deal from both Microsoft's and Groove's perspective, and determines that this was a "must-do" deal for Groove as it hasn't established much market traction on its own.  He also ventures to guess what parts of Groove will end up in what parts of the Microsoft offerings, as well as which parts will die out.

He followed his initial analysis with a for-purchase report titled "
Microsoft Acquires Groove Networks: Three Years Too Late, Four Years To Impact".  This is an excellent report, and well worth obtaining.  Sampson goes into the deal in more depth, examines what this means to many different groups, and offers his views on how the results might come to fruition.  As you might be able to tell by the title, he's not overly excited about the timing of deal, nor is he holding out hope that this will change anything in the short term.  He feels that Groove should have been acquired some time ago in order to address shortcomings in the Sharepoint offerings (like off-line access) and to allow Ray Ozzie time to help shape the direction of their recently announced offerings.  With Longhorn requirements being trimmed back to meet delivery dates, there is also little chance that Ozzie will be able to affect any proposed offerings that are currently planned.  Basically, you shouldn't plan on seeing anything from this marriage until around 2009.

My Views


So where do I come down in all this?  My somewhat cynical nature thinks that in the short term, there is far more smoke than fire here.  Over the longer term, I'll adopt a "wait and see" attitude.


I find myself siding strongly with the Sampson report.  Quite often, Microsoft's answer to off-line replication has been to suggest organizations invest in Groove or some other third-party software.  If this was a known deficiency for so long, why did it take Microsoft this long to finally address it?  And with the amount of money that Microsoft has invested in Groove over the years, it's not as if there were no strategic partnerships formed over that time.  


The other much-hyped part of this deal is that Ray Ozzie becomes a CTO at Microsoft.  To which I reply, so?  Yes, Ozzie is a visionary, to be sure.  But again, Microsoft was a major investment partner in Groove over the years.  I have a hard time believing that Microsoft did not or could not avail themselves of his vision and expertise during that time.  Granted, this formalizes a role he probably could not play as a CEO of another company, but I still don't think it injects a completely new dynamic into the picture.  Some elements of that relationship should have existed before, and I doubt that Microsoft will completely change direction to embrace Ozzie's visions in the next year.  Also, Ozzie is one of three CTOs at Microsoft.  That sounds wrong to me.  Unless each CTO has an area that is truly theirs, it seems like this is a recipe for disaster.  I see this as a potential area for political infighting and major strategy changes as each CTO tries to implement their vision.  


Another point that has been mentioned in some venues is Ozzie's preferences in running a company.  It’s been said he left Lotus once IBM took over because things got too large and impersonal, and that Groove was an attempt to recreate that close camaraderie that existed in the initial days of Iris.  Once again, his small company has been bought and will become part of a mega-corporation.  Will history repeat itself?


On the positive side, this does bring someone into the Microsoft fold that "gets" collaboration.  Perhaps this will be the catalyst that allows Microsoft to finally develop a cohesive strategy for that part of the market, and to stick with it.  If that happens, it will present some interesting competition for IBM/Lotus, and should result in better software from both camps.


From the Domino development/evangelism side, I think it’s important to keep up-to-date on this story and to make sure you understand what is truly happening (or what isn't happening).  An announcement of this magnitude will definitely be used by Microsoft to show how they are leading in the collaboration area.  In reality, nothing has changed.  Sharepoint is still the same, Exchange is still the same, and elements of Groove have not been integrated into any Microsoft software.  If people in your organization are being sold the Microsoft vision of collaboration based on this acquisition, remind them that nothing has happened nor is there any plan on how the software integration will occur.  Any short term software purchase or commitment runs a major risk of being declared obsolete in one to three years as Microsoft changes direction to accommodate the Groove infrastructure.  Vendor lock-in that causes rip-and-replace every few years isn't very cost-efficient.


Summary


Keep your eyes open, watch how this plays out, and make sure there's a formal software direction and plan in place before committing to anything that may come out of this acquisition.  It might be the best thing that ever happened to Microsoft in the collaboration area, but long term results rarely ever live up to the short term hype.

04/09/2005

The "April 2005 e-ProWire: Lotus Developer Tips newsletter"... Current Ponderings

Category e-Pro


Since I actually *did* write the April issue of e-Pro but it won't be officially published, I'll load the articles out here on my blog so they can see the light of day...  Tom

--------------------------------


Current Ponderings – Digging Into The Mailbag


Hi, everyone…  Welcome to the April 2005 edition of the e-ProWire: Lotus Developer Tips newsletter.  

After each issue of e-ProWire, I normally get a number of emails either thanking or correcting me (fortunately everyone's been really nice).  The March issue was no exception.  But I also got a number of emails that brought up additional points on the stories, and I wanted to take some time this month to address them or feature the comments.

In the article
Notes, Domino, Workplace…  What's A Developer To Do?, I talked about how your current skills were still valuable, but that learning new skills were also needed to fully realize the value of the Workplace environment.  What I didn't do much of was tell you where to find training on those new skills, like Java.  While I tend to be partial to book learning, some people like more of a formal instructional method.  Howard Greenberg of The Learning Continuum Company emailed me to let me know they have specific courses on Domino skills, such as writing Java agents in Domino.  If this is a learning style that appeals to you, I'd strongly suggest checking out the site and making that first step towards expanding your skill set.

The article
Selling And Teaching Notes At The Same Time also elicited some very positive feedback.  Alain Romedenne wrote to say that there are a couple of other methods you can use to get the information from blogs like Alan Lepofsky's out to others in your company.  He recommended checking out two Notes-based RSS readers called News Miner and Madicon.  While I'm still not convinced that 5000 RSS readers all reading the same feed in a single company is a good idea for bandwidth, the idea of a Notes-based RSS reader option is intriguing.  He also suggested using a standard Notes discussion database for the application design coupled with the Notes client subscription feature.  Since I normally don't use the Notes client subscription, I forgot it was there.  But that's definitely another way to go.  One of the great things about Notes…  There are usually multiple ways to solve the same problem!

And finally, the
Current Ponderings: Your New Job… Notes Evangelist! got a number of people thinking about their job in a different way.  An email I got from Todd Brehe of Gallatin Technologies was worth passing along.  He wrote an article back in January along the same lines ("selling IT"), but his is more general in nature, where mine was more specific to Notes.  It's a great piece, and I strongly recommend you go to his site and read/download the article.  It's one of those ideas that could start to dramatically change the way your company views the IT department.

As usual, this month's e-ProWire newsletter has a mix of practical and strategic information.  A new writer, Prasad Krishnan, shares a script he wrote that will take a Domino Directory group document and expand it out to all the individual names.  It even works if you have groups nested within groups.  Ferdy Christant explains the use of XHTML in Domino and how you can create standard-compliant markup in your application.  This is definitely getting to be increasingly important as browsers seek to adhere to standards.  And finally, I take some time to examine the Microsoft acquisition of Groove from the perspective of a Domino development environment.

As always, feel free to offer feedback and suggestions on both these articles and any topics you'd like to see covered in the future.  Send them to me at
duffbert@gmail.com.  I'd love to hear from you.  And if you have a burning desire to write something to share with the e-Pro readers, let me know.  I'm always interested in introducing new ideas to the readers.  

04/09/2005

Book Review - Conspiracy Of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald

Category Book Reviews

You just *knew* that being an ex-Enron employee, I'd have to read and review this one...  Conspiracy Of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald.  I liked the book, but I'm somewhat conflicted by it...

Eichenwald goes clear back to the early days of Ken Lay and Houston Natural Gas, the merger with InterNorth, and the resulting rise and fall of the combined company, Enron.  As a journalist for the New York Times, he covered parts of this story as it happened, and now goes into nearly 750 pages of research to try and tell exactly what happened, what decisions caused irreversible damage, and what was going on in the minds of the major players.  If you haven't read any of the other Enron books that have been written, this one will give you most of the story.  If you *have* read other Enron sagas, then much of this will be a rehash of information you've already heard.

Did I like the book?  Yeah.  He goes into a lot of detail about how certain deals were arranged, and you get a real flavor for the internal rot that was taking over the company.  As someone who was there from 1998 until September of 2001 in the Portland Broadband unit, I was quite easily able to remember the events and emotions surrounding the culture and personalities.  From that perspective, I give this book very high marks.

Where I have problems is that books like this have 20/20 hindsight.  Events that look so momentous as they are written about probably did not have the drama or significance attached to them at that time.  He also has to decide how to paint the different characters, and that may or may not be accurate.  Fastow and his closest associates clearly carry 90% of the blame in this book, and he's portrayed as an immature, manipulative person who let his greed destroy a company.  Of that, I have little doubt.  Lay is portrayed as a detached leader who didn't know what was going on or didn't step up in time to prevent it.  It will be interesting to see how his legal trial paints his involvement.  My biggest surprise was how he presents Skilling.  Eichenwald gives him far more room for innocence than I feel he deserves.  It's almost as if Skilling discovered this fraud at the same time everyone else did, but mentally cracked under the strain and couldn't do anything about it.  Again, the story that comes out of the trial will be interesting.

So, if you're interested in corporate scandals, Conspiracy is a must-read.  It may or may not shed new light on the events, but it will force you to rethink some of the involvement by the major players.

04/09/2005

Book Review - Lost Lake by Phillip Margolin

Category Book Reviews

One of the authors I look forward to reading when new stuff comes out is Phillip Margolin.  His latest, Lost Lake, is a pretty good read...

Ami Vergano, an independent lawyer, meets up with a drifter carpenter, Dan Morelli, and it looks like there could be the start of a relationship.  But Morelli goes overboard at a Little League game during a fight where he's defending himself, and nearly kills another parent and a cop.  During the investigation, they find that he has no record of a past, and he claims to be hiding out from a high-powered group government group who he used to work for doing killings.  In the process, Vanessa Kohler, an old lover and daughter of a person who supposedly runs this group, discovers Morelli and tries to help hide him from being found and killed.  The trick is to stay alive and try to get someone to believe their conspiracy story...

First off, I like Margolin's stories as they are all set in Portland Oregon (where I live).  It's always fun to read a story that you can mentally watch play out because you've been to the places being described.  He also writes a pretty good crime thriller.  I don't think this is necessarily his best work.  There is a lot of psychological suspense due to the alleged conspiracy and you not knowing if it's true or not.  But with most novels dealing with conspiracies, there are a lot of mental stretches where you have to decide whether someone was framed or whether they did something that they don't admit.  Add in the mental instability issues of a character, and it's pretty easy to leave rather large holes in the plot that don't have to be filled.

Definitely worth reading, but probably not the best one to judge his work by if you've never read him...

04/08/2005

Rest In Peace, e-Pro... and thanks for changing my life...

Category e-Pro

As you might have seen on the e-Pro site and Libby's blog, the e-Pro website, blog, and newsletters are folding...

To Our e-Pro Readers:
Effective April 7, 2005, Penton Media has ceased publication of the e-Pro Web site, including the Lotus Informer Blog and related e-mail newsletters. Clippings, our joint project with IBM/Lotus, is currently not affected by this decision. From Domino Pro to Group Computing to e-Pro Magazine, we have been a part of the Lotus/Domino community for more than six years and have shared your passion for the technology. We wish you much success! We will keep this site up and the archives open for your use through April 30, 2005.

I feel really bad for Libby, as that was her job and career.  For me, it was a creative outlet and my "other job".  :-)  I'll miss the opportunity to hear from the readers, share what I've learned, and the chance to work with some really outstanding writers who contributed content for the newsletter.  I thank you all.

My affiliation with e-Pro started in late 2001 after the Enron layoffs.  I thought it might be an interesting challenge to "get published", so I wrote Libby and asked if she'd be interested in an article.  She gave me the chance, and my first article debuted in April 2002.  Little did I know where that would lead...  Three years later, I was coordinating the monthly content for the e-ProWire: Lotus Developer Tips newsletter...  over 35 articles for e-Pro with a few stops at DominoPower and Lotus Advisor along the way.  Add in a couple of Lotusphere speaking sessions, and a blog just in case things got slow.  :-)  I've gone from writing being something I wished I could do, to writing being a significant part of who I am.

Thanks, Libby...  Your willingness to take a chance on an untested writer changed my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined.  I'll miss working with you on a regular basis.

04/07/2005

Book Review - The Fabric Of The Cosmos by Brian Greene

Category Book Reviews

If you're at all interested in physics and quantum mechanics but you get easily confused by a lot of it, take a look at the book The Fabric Of The Cosmos by Brian Greene.  An excellent attempt to explain hard subjects in down-to-earth terms.

He tackles such topics as Newtonian physics, how Einstein's theories refined Newton's work, and how quantum physics completely changes the way we think about really tiny things.  Although there's a mix of provable facts and conceptual ideas, Greene does a very good job in helping the non-scientist follow the general flow of logic.  Hey, any writer who can use the Simpsons to prove the concept of the relativity of time has to be on top of his game.  :-)

I will admit to getting lost the further I read.  The basics of physics and quantum mechanics seemed to make sense.  The concepts of time got to be a bit more difficult.  I really started to lose it at string theory, but recovered a bit at the end when he started talking about the physics of time travel.  But even not understanding everything completely, it succeeded in opening my eyes to concepts and possibilities I had never quite imagined.

Well done book, and it should appeal to anyone with these interests...

04/07/2005

Domino security issues currently being discussed...

Category IBM/Lotus

You don't see these very often, but when you do it's a good idea to pay attention...

Long String of ASCII 430 Characters Reported to Cause Denial of Service on Domino Web Server

In addition, Ed Brill has a list of four security issues that are being addressed in the 6.5.4 release of Notes that just hit the streets.

04/07/2005

Life with (and I'm sure *as*) a Type 1 diabetic is hard...

Category Everything Else

We get a call last night from our son who is a type 1 diabetic.  He's at a meeting about 20 minutes away from our place, and he says the car won't start.  When we try to tell him to call AAA (a car club that can offer jump starts and such), he mentions that it won't work, the keys are in the car, he's out of the car, and other equally strange stuff.  It finally starts to come clear that he's having a low and isn't quite with it...

Fortunately he had gone over to a bingo hall and gotten a carb drink to bring his blood sugars back up.  After 15 minutes of conversation and making sure he was coherant, all was well, his blood sugars were back in line, and he was able to get home.  But needless to say, mom and I were a wreck...

It could have been so much worse...

04/06/2005

Forbes' Lyons once again foretells the decline of Notes...

Category IBM/Lotus

After much thought and consideration, I am removing the contents of this post.  I choose not to participate in Mr. Lyons editorial activities, and I don't care to associate my blog with his writings any longer.

04/05/2005

Book Review - Access 2003 Personal Trainer by CustomGuide

Category Book Reviews

Many typical power users tend to use Excel as a psuedo-database because Access is perceived to be much more difficult.  O'Reilly's new book Access 2003 Personal Trainer by CustomGuide helps address that complexity.

Chapter List:  The Fundamentals; Creating and Working with a Database; Finding, Filtering, and Formatting Data; Working with Tables and Fields; Creating Relational Databases; Working with Queries; Working with Forms; Working with Reports; Formatting Forms and Reports; Working with Macros; Advanced Topics; Index

The Personal Trainer series uses a comic book-style "superhero" motif as the overall theme.  But even though the cover doesn't look all that serious, the content is very well done.  Once you're into the chapters, the only hint at the theme is a cartoon face attached to a dialog bubble for the Quick Reference material.  So if you're thinking the book isn't serious or doesn't have solid writing, give it a second glance.  Each chapter is a series of lessons with objectives and a number of tasks.  At the end, you get a lesson summary, a quiz to test your comprehension, and some homework to stretch your newly-obtained skills.  And best of all, there's a CD in the book that has Access simulation software so you can do the training without necessarily having the full Access 2003 package installed wherever you're at.  Definitely a big plus...

I personally thought the writer(s) did a great job of managing the balance between theory and practical knowledge.  It's easy when you're an IT professional to get bogged down in all the relational database terms and concepts, whether something's in 2nd or 3rd normal form, and so forth.  This book isn't going to make you ready to design the FBI's latest crime database (or maybe it will, since the professionals didn't do such a hot job either), but it will give you enough knowledge to catalog your wine cellar or track the books you've read.  On top of that, you'll be able to build forms for data entry and generate reports to figure out what you've got or what you've done.  Basically, this book can take you from information to knowledge.

This is a pretty good title, and one I'd definitely recommend for someone who wants to get some exposure to relational database systems...

04/04/2005

Book Review - Java In A Nutshell (5th Edition) by David Flanagan

Category Book Reviews

Here's a classic that just keeps on keep up with the state of the language...  Java In A Nutshell (5th Edition) by David Flanagan (O'Reilly).  But it's definitely getting pretty large...

Rather than list the chapters like I usually do, I'll forego that this time in that I'll probably overrun the Amazon word limit.  Suffice it to say that if it's a core part of the Java language as of version 5.0, it's probably in here...

The good stuff...  Flanagan has once again done an outstanding job in providing a succinct reference manual that covers the latest version of the Java language.  He's added a new chapter to cover Java 5.0 features such as generic types, enumerated types, and annotations.  There is also coverage of some new features in chapter 2, such as autoboxing and the new for/in statement.  This coverage method (most of the new stuff in one area) means that readers who are upgrading their copy can easily flag the new material they need to read.  And rather than keep a lot of older material floating around, he's also eliminated some language features that are either deprecated or are not widely used.  Granted, if *you* are one of the few using it, that's not good, but you have to draw a line somewhere.  Other than that, it's the same solid, no-fluff coverage of the Java language in the first 400 pages that you've come to expect in this Nutshell volume.  The reminder of the 1200+ pages covers Java API documentation, which is useful if you're looking for a particular method or property you're not familiar with.

The bad part is probably the page count...  Although the print is small and the information is packed tightly, 1200 page still makes for a pretty thick book.  Some will make the argument that you can get the last 800 pages (the API documentation) on-line, which is true.  I tend to prefer having pages I can flip through without having to do a lot of hyperlinking.  Plus you can jot down notes or flag certain parts you reference quite often.  I'm almost of the opinion that perhaps it's now time to split the book into Java In A Nutshell - volumes 1 and 2.  Put the API info in a second volume and make it easier to work with...

I still think this is a "must have" book for any Java programmer...  It just may be time to take a hard look at the packaging for the 6th edition.

04/04/2005

Book Review - Linux In A Windows World by Roderick W. Smith

Category Book Reviews

O'Reilly has a nice book that fills the niche of Windows admins looking on how to apply Linux to their environment.  The book is Linux In A Windows World by Roderick W. Smith.

Chapter List:
Part 1 - Linux's Place in a Windows Network: Linux's Features; Linux Deployment Strategies
Part 2 - Sharing Files and Printers: Basic Samba Configuration; File and Printer Shares; Managing a NetBIOS Network with Samba; Linux as an SMB/CIFS Client
Part 3 - Centralized Authentication Tools: Using NT Domains for Linux Authentication; Using LDAP; Kerberos Configuration and Use
Part 4 - Remote Login Tools: Remote Text-Mode Administration and Use; Running GUI Programs Remotely; Linux Thin Client Configurations
Part 5 - Additional Server Programs: Configuring Mail Servers; Network Backups; Managing a Network with Linux
Part 6 - Appendixes: Configuring PAM; Linux on the Desktop

The thing that I like most about this book is that the author picks a target audience and purposes, and then successfully fights the temptation to try and tell too much.  He's writing for a Windows administrator with a basic understanding of Linux administration.  The book is designed to help that person figure out how best to integrate Linux into that network environment *without* being an end-all guide to every people of software mentioned.  He's very open about the fact that if you want to do more than the basics, you'll probably need to get specific books to explore that area.  And that's OK.  If he wanted to write a 1500 page book, he could have expanded the target.  But what he covers in less than 500 pages is excellent.

If I were a Windows admin who wanted to figure out how to blend in Linux for certain task, this would be one of two books that I'd want.  This one would show me what I could do, and the other book would have the in-depth details of how to do it.  If you fit the target of this book, you'll do well to check this book out.

04/03/2005

Book Review - Firefox & Thunderbird Garage

Category Book Reviews


If you've been thinking about switching to Firefox and/or Thunderbird for web browser and email, this book can help you make that switch successfully...  
Firefox & Thunderbird Garage by Chris Hofmann, Marcia Knous, and John Hedtke.

Chapter List:  

Firefox - Getting Started; Protecting Your Security and Privacy; Ridding Yourself of the Annoyances of the Web; Searching the Web; BLOG - Websites to Waste Your Time With; Bookmarks and History; Harnessing the Power of Tabbed Browsing; Customizing Firefox with Third-Party Extensions and Themes; BLOG - Managing Your Blog with Extensions; Other Interesting Features; BLOG - Literary Blogs Through the Ages

Thunderbird - Getting Started with Mozilla Thunderbird; Setting Up Your Mail, RSS, and Newsgroup Accounts Using Mozilla Thunderbird; Protecting Your Privacy and Blocking Spam; BLOG - Phishing; Organizing Your Email Topics; BLOG - My Email Tirade of the Day; Customizing the Look and Feel of Mozilla Thunderbird;
Appendices - Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts for Firefox; Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts for Thunderbird; Menu Commands for Firebox; Menu Commands for Thunderbird; Hacking Configuration Files; Security, Certificates, and Validation; Glossary


There are many things to like about this book.  For one, the Garage series is an irreverent style of writing that conveys a lot of information in an entertaining, conversational fashion.  In addition to the regular text (that is well illustrated), there are useful sidebars like Tool Kits and Fridges that go slightly off-topic but add some really nice tricks to your computing repertoire.  The material on Firefox and Thunderbird is extremely practical without getting bogged down in geeky details that are of little use to the normal user.  You could probably figure out a lot of this information on your own if you plugged away long enough, but by taking a little time to read this book, you'll become much more proficient with little effort.


I personally liked the sections on themes and extensions.  The extension concept is one of the most powerful features of Firefox, and knowing that you can add functionality to your browser with a simple download will change the way you surf the web.  The authors cover a wide array of extensions, so you should find at least one or two immediate "must have" additions that you'll want to investigate.  Granted, the world of extensions and add-on software is constantly changing, so what you see in the book will change over time.  But still, it will at worst give you an impression of what's available out there.


An excellent book for the new Firefox or Thunderbird user, and one that will give you enough new material to keep you learning for quite awhile.  Highly recommended.

04/03/2005

Book Review - Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Category Book Reviews

Believe it or not, with all the reading I do I have never read any of Heinlein's stuff.  Someone recommended Stranger In A Strange Land to me, and I'm impressed with the guy's writing...

The basic plotline is that a manned trip to Mars occurs but the ship loses contact once it gets to the surface.  The thought is that everyone was killed.  But a later mission reveals that there was a survivor, and it was a child that's been raised as a Martian.  He's brought back to Earth, and has to understand and learn everything there is about being human, as well as learning how to control his Martian mindset.

I won't go into all the "deep significant meanings" in this book, as I don't do subtlety very well.  Besides, many others have done a far better job of that than I could ever hope to.  The thing that impressed me is that reading the book 45 years after it was written doesn't affect the story at all.  I expected that the science part of this sci-fi novel would be rather hokey, but it all aged very well.  With very few exceptions, the technology doesn't have that "futuristic" feel that you often saw in writings from that era.

Good read, and I'm definitely interested in reading more of his work...

04/02/2005

The whole Microsoft/Groove deal is looking somewhat slimy now...

Category Microsoft

From the Boston Globe:  Groove backers left short

This deal is sounding less like a strategic acquisition and more like a fire sale designed to hide the truth of the situation...  The story:

Groove backers left short
Firm fetched less than shareholders had invested in it

By Robert Weisman, Globe Staff  |  April 2, 2005

Financial backers failed to recoup their investments in Groove Networks Inc., and rank-and-file employees weren't compensated for stock they'd been given in the Beverly software company that has agreed to be purchased by Microsoft Corp., according to documents filed in a lawsuit brought by a former Groove executive.

A judge in Wilmington, Del., yesterday denied a motion by Michael Matthews, who had been Groove's executive vice president for sales and marketing, to block the $120 million acquisition deal. Its price tag was among financial information contained in the lawsuit that wasn't disclosed when Groove and Microsoft unveiled the deal March 10.

While the deal will now go forward, and could be completed next week, Delaware Chancery Court Judge William B. Chandler III will permit Matthews to file an amended complaint challenging allocation of the merger proceeds among different groups of stockholders. In his initial complaint, lodged March 25, Matthews alleged that Groove and its directors violated the company's certificate of incorporation and breached their fiduciary duty by not adequately compensating employees who'd been issued common and junior preferred stock.

M. Duncan Grant, a lawyer for Matthews, said his client had not yet determined whether to file a new complaint.

In a statement yesterday afternoon, Groove said Matthews was the only one of the firm's principal investors not to approve the deal with Microsoft. The statement said the other principals continue to support the deal. ''Groove Networks and Microsoft are proceeding toward closing of the transaction according to the terms of the merger agreement," it said. Microsoft officials declined to comment.

Because the sale price was less than the $155 million invested in Groove, the cash-for-stock deal provided no payout for an unspecified number of employees who had been given Groove shares. Groove did set aside some money to be paid to current employees who remain with the firm after the Microsoft purchase takes effect. That will come in the form of ''reward retention bonuses," half of which would be paid one year and the remainder two years after the deal is complete.

Matthews' suit named as defendants the company, its founder and chief executive Ray Ozzie, and a pair of directors, James Breyer and John P. Stenbit. Ozzie, a pioneer in collaboration software and the creator of Lotus Notes, will become a Microsoft senior vice president and chief technical officer upon completion of the deal.

According to the complaint, Ozzie, together with Microsoft and Accel Partners, a Palo Alto, Calif., venture capital firm that employs Breyer -- all part of a class of senior preferred shareholders -- owned 77.7 percent of the total outstanding shares of Groove. Other financial backers in the eight-year-old company included Intel Capital and Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corp. of Cambridge.

The complaint said Ozzie would get $382,966 under the deal, while Breyer would receive about $1.7 million and Accel about $3.4 million. Microsoft, Groove's largest investor, would recoup about $80 million, it said. The document doesn't indicate how much each of those parties invested. It also said a March 4 letter from the board apprising Groove stockholders of the acquisition didn't mention the separate deal in which Ozzie would become a Microsoft executive.

''Stockholders were not provided with the supposedly final merger agreement . . . until 9:53 p.m. on March 8, 2005," the complaint said. ''Stockholders were then asked to give their written consent no later than 9 a.m. the following morning, thus giving stockholders zero business hours in which to conduct their review of (and seek advice regarding) the supposedly finalized merger documents."


Now, I'm no business legal expert, but this whole situation looks really bad.  It'd be interesting to see how much the retention bonuses are.  There's obviously no guarantee that these people will stick around.  Also, if Microsoft is paying $120 million for the company but recouping $80 million, then the company is only worth $40 million...  far less than the $120 million that made it look so important.  And Ozzie?  Apparently that's a whole separate deal...  Sounds like there's a little less altruistic benefit going on than was originally speculated.

And that final paragraph...  less than a day to approve a merger agreement?  Do the words "due diligence" mean anything?  This reminds me of the "you MUST call in the next 15 minutes to take advantage of this offer" sales pitch.  

While I have no doubt that Microsoft wants to incorporate Groove technology into their software to give them some collaboration features they are lacking at this time, the Microsoft/Groove acquisition is appearing to be a far different business reality than it appeared less than a month ago...

04/02/2005

More on the Microsoft/Groove lawsuit...

Category Microsoft

From the Seattle PI:  Suit challenges Microsoft's deal for Groove

Interesting things coming to light in this deal, and it looks like this was truly a desperation deal for Ozzie's company...  Some points from the story...

Former Groove employee Michael Matthews, who sued closely held Groove and its directors and seeks to block the deal, claimed that Microsoft and Ozzie "seek to eliminate the interest of junior preferred and common stockholders for no consideration," according to the suit filed March 25 in Delaware Chancery Court. Only senior preferred stockholders receive compensation under the deal, he said.

Matthews asked Judge William Chandler III to stop the buyout under its current terms, which provide $50 million in "golden parachute" payments and other benefits, including $27 million in stock grants for Ozzie. Together, Microsoft and Ozzie hold 59 percent of Groove's stock. Matthews seeks damages and legal fees.

When Microsoft first announced the deal, it didn't disclose the financial terms.

Matthews said in the lawsuit that he learned of the terms in letters to stockholders from the Groove board. Groove lawyers asked Chandler to keep details of the transaction confidential. Chandler denied the request.

Matthews' lawyer, M. Duncan Grant, said Groove was unjustified in trying to withhold information "that the company allegedly would be mere weeks, if not days, away from a bankruptcy filing," according to court papers filed Wednesday.

Chandler wrote in an opinion the same day that Groove hadn't shown that any harm would occur by allowing the public to see filings in the case.

In papers filed yesterday, Grant disputed Groove's contention that the court has no power to stop the buyout. Grant also said Groove officials had suggested "that unless the merger proceeds as planned, Microsoft, which has over $80 million invested in the company, will choose to simply walk away with nothing."

Groove said in a statement that at a hearing yesterday Chandler denied a request by Matthews, a former Groove executive, for a temporary order to stop the buyout. The case could go to trial.

Microsoft has so much money floating around that I doubt they'll view this as a showstopper.  They could easily restructure the deal, throw a few more million on it, and pay everyone to just shut up and go away.  What this story *does* highlight is that Groove was basically finished as a company unless a white knight stepped into the picture and rescued them...

04/01/2005

Book Review - Linux Cookbook by Carla Schroder

Category Book Reviews

If you're a Linux admin/guru who loves the command line, you'll probably really like Linux Cookbook by Carla Schroder (O'Reilly)...

Chapter List:  Finding Documentation; Installing and Managing Software on RPM-Based Systems; Installing and Managing Software on Debian-Based Systems; Installing Programs from Source Code; Discovering Hardware from Outside the Box; Editing Text Files with JOE and Vim; Starting and Stopping Linux; Managing Users and Groups; Managing Files and Partitions; Patching, Customizing, and Upgrading Kernels; CD and DVD Recording; Managing the Bootloader and Multi-Booting; System Rescue and Recovery with Knoppix; Printing and CUPS; Configuring Video and Managing X Windows; Backup and Recovery; Remote Access; Version Control; Keeping Time with NTP; Building a Postfix Mail Server; Managing Spam and Malware; Running an Apache Web Server; File and Printer Sharing, and Domain Authentication with Samba; Managing Name Resolution; Finding Linux Documentation; On-line References; Microsoft File Types; Init Script for CVSD; Index

The standard "Cookbook" format has a problem (such as "Installing YUM"), a solution, a discussion of the problem and solution, as well as additional reference material (either other cookbook items or external sources).  The focus is less on theory and more on practicality.  The author wants to help you learn to do something without necessarily understanding every little nuance or subtle effect.  Because one of the primary target audiences is Linux administrators, there's a strong emphasis on command line techniques.  For instance, there's a "recipe" for password-protecting LILO.  All the things you do involve entering command line statements at prompts.

This wouldn't be the type of book you'd buy if you're looking for things you can do from the KDE or GNOME desktop environment.  You'd walk away with very little, if any, value.  But if you're an administrator who wants to tap into the full power of the command line server interface, this will be an interesting book for you...

04/01/2005

The Microsoft/Groove deal is being challenged (and this is not an April Fool's joke)...

Category Microsoft

From the Boston Business Journal:  Microsoft's $120 million Groove buyout challenged in suit

Microsoft Corp.'s $120 million cash offer to buy Groove Networks Inc., owned by Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie, ignores some employees who hold preferred and common stock, a former Groove worker said in a lawsuit, Bloomberg Business News reported.

Former Groove employee Michael Matthews claimed Microsoft and Ozzie, who together hold 59 percent of Groove's stock, "seek to eliminate the interest of junior preferred and common stockholders for no consideration" in the $120 million deal, according to a lawsuit filed March 25 in Delaware Chancery Court.

The lawsuit could temporarily block the deal. Microsoft, the world's largest maker of software, wants to use Groove products to supplement its Office business applications. The combination will help computer users in different locations work on documents together over the Internet, Microsoft said.

Matthews sued closely-held Groove and its directors, including Ozzie. He asked Judge William B. Chandler III to stop the buyout under the present terms and award damages and legal fees. Groove lawyers asked Chandler to keep details of the transaction confidential, but he denied the request.

The suit claims the buyout is also unfair because insiders will get $50 million in "golden parachute" payments and other benefits, including $27 million in stock grants for Ozzie.

Ouch...  $27 million in stock grants...  Hadn't heard that one...  :-)

04/01/2005

Remember Grant hockey? Play-off game #1... 1-0 victory!

Category Everything Else

I realize I've been remiss in not posting anything lately about the Grant High hockey team.  The season wasn't over, as you might have thought.  It was just that after Christmas, the team had fallen into a big-time pit.  It was like Jekyll and Hyde.  No offense, scrambling defense, Cam was facing 30 to 40 shots a game, and it was pretty safe to assume a loss most nights.  And this from a team that had been 7-1 before the Christmas break...

Well, last night was game #1 of the play-offs.  Since *all* teams make the play-offs (this *is* hockey, remember!), there's nothing special about being there.  But I sensed that the focus of the team was sharper than it had been in a long time.  Cam was actually nervous, and there was some energy there before the game.  So on with the game recap...


The first two periods were well-played by Grant.  A significant amount of time was played in the attacking end, and shots were being put on goal.  Cam wasn't seeing hardly anything in net, and what he *was* seeing was being handled well.  After the end of two, it was still 0-0, and I was getting nervous that we were looking at a potential overtime shoot-out.  Just what the parent of a goalie doesn't want to see...


The third period continued with good play on both sides.  Then with about 7 minutes left in the game, there was a massive scramble in front of West Linn's net.  I think all 10 skaters were there, and no one could freeze or clear the puck.  Finally, Charlie got the puck on his stick and sniped a shot into about a 2 inch clearance.  1-0, Grant!


Gut check time...  Would the team retreat into a defensive shell and allow Cam to be pelted with shots, or would they continue to push the play, knowing that you risk giving up odd-man rushes?  Fortunately, Grant didn't panic, and the play was still offensively-minded.  While they weren't pushing quite as hard, there was a focus on making sure at least one man was back.  Things didn't get dicey until the 2 minute mark, when Grant was called for a minor penalty.  They'd skate the rest of the game down a man.  West Linn called a time-out at the 1 minute mark and pulled their goalie...


One minute of 6 on 4 hockey for the right to move on in the play-offs...  Grant continued to track the puck well, and even nearly scored on the empty net with a clearing pass.  But the puck stopped about two inches short of the goal, and West Linn came back for one more rush.  The game was decided when Bertalot went down in front of a shot at the point with about 10 seconds left.  The puck left the zone, and that was the game.


Excellent effort by both teams, and I'm extremely proud of the Grant team.  In three years, they've gone from an 0-22 season to actually advancing in the play-offs.  As Ian left the ice after helping coach the team to victory, he summed it all up perfectly...


"Only three years in the making..."

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