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

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

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Co-author of the book IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide

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Book Review - The Broker by John Grisham

Category Book Reviews

It used to be that I really looked forward to a new Grisham novel.  Action-packed legal thriller, life and death situations, etc.  But then after a few books, the writing seemed to get somewhat uneven and I didn't quite know what I'd get each time I started a new one.  John Grisham's latest, The Broker, ended up being one of his better ones of late.  I really enjoyed it.

Joel Backman, aka The Broker, was a high-powered player in the Washington scene until he took the fall for a espionage and conspiracy charge involving spy satellites and software that the U. S. didn't know existed.  Six years into a 20 year sentence, he's offered a full pardon and whisked off to Italy to start a new life off the beaten path.  But all is not as it appears.  In reality, the CIA has set up the pardons so that they can notify four other governments who are involved in the satellite situation.  Based on who goes after Backman and kills him, they'll be able to tell who the satellites belong to.  The story revolves around Backman's adjustment to learning the language and culture of the country, and then his attempts to stay alive and escape those who want him dead.

As mentioned in the open, I found this to be one of his better efforts.  The story was interesting, and there was enough mystery involved so as to keep you guessing as to exactly what was going to happen next.  It was also fascinating to see how someone can go from a life of power and money clear down to prison and then work on acquiring street smarts in order to just stay alive.  I felt the ending left quite a bit up in the air and somewhat unresolved, but not so much that it soured the entire story for me.  Basically, it was an entertaining read that contained some enjoyable hours of escape.


Book Review - SQL Visual Quickstart Guide (2nd Edition) by Chris Fehily

Category Book Reviews

To a large extent, I've been able to avoid much SQL work in my regular day-to-day programming.  But with the release of Notes/Domino 7.0, it will be easier to integrate Notes data into a DB2 backend.  That makes SQL expertise much more important.  To help, I got a copy of SQL Visual Quickstart Guide (2nd Edition) by Chris Fehily.  Pretty good book...

Chapter List:  DBMS Specifics; The Relational Model; SQL Basics; Retrieving Data From A Table; Operators And Functions; Summarizing and Grouping Data; Joins; Subqueries; Set Operations; Inserting, Updating, and Deleting Rows; Creating, Altering, and Dropping Tables; Indexes; Views; Transactions; Creating The Sample Database; SQL Keywords; Index

Visual Quickstart books tend to be short on dry, meaningless dronings and heavy on practical "here's how you do ..." material.  This one is no exception.  Fehily has written a book that can be easily jump back and forth between tutorial and reference guide.  You'll initially want to use the book to learn the specific skill, like how to create different types of joins between tables.  You'll end up going back to the material on numerous occasions to either refresh your knowledge or look up a keyword.  And because of the practical nature of the material, you won't spend a ton of time wading through stuff that doesn't directly relate to your job.

Another thing that's very useful in this book is that it's vendor-inclusive.  In the DBMS Specifics chapter, Fehily talks about how the material relates to Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, IBM DB2, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.  This chapter doesn't tell you how to install those software packages, but it does tell you how to enter and run SQL scripts on each platform.  Throughout the book, he also points out when a particular vendor either deviates from the standard, adds a nonstandard feature, or implements a feature in a fashion different than the others.  So while you might be able to find specific SQL books for a specific platform, this will be a great addition for the person who has to interact with a number of relational database vendors on a regular basis.


Book Review - Maran Illustrated Windows XP by Ruth Maran

Category Book Reviews

Late last week, a surprise package from Amazon ended up on my doorstep.  Maran Illustrated Windows XP by Ruth Maran.  It's my first look at a Maran Illustrated book, and I must say I'm impressed...

Chapter List:  Windows Basics; View Files; Working With Files; More Working With Files; Customize Windows; Work With Songs And Videos; Create Movies; Share Your Computer; Optimize Computer Performance; Work On A Network; Browse The Web; Exchange E-mail; Exchange Instant Messages; Index

As far as content goes, this is a Windows XP beginner's book.  It covers all the basics on how to find files, move windows, launch programs, etc.  If that was all this book brought to the table, it'd be just another title amongst others.  But when you open it up, it quickly becomes clear that this is a cut above most entry-level books.  Maran uses copious quantities of illustrations to show the reader exactly how to accomplish each task.  And it's just not the "here's a screen shot" type of graphic.  Each chapter is made up of a number of "how to" and/or tips on how to do stuff.  The leading illustration is more general in nature, such as a computer exposed to show multiple safe deposit boxes, used to show how you can share your computer and keep things private at the same time.  The step-by-step illustrations used to show you how to do something are screen prints, but the specific parts of the screen are circled, red-lined, and numbered, all pointing back to each instructional step.  It'd be nearly impossible to get stuck on a point while using this book.  Add in the heavier paper quality and the rich palette of colors that are used, and this book is almost as enjoyable to look at as it is to work with.

The author, Ruth Maran, is part of Maran Graphics, a family-owned and -run business that produces the Maran Illustrated line of books.  While a book on Windows XP might not be something I'd need due to my prior experience with technology, using their titles on learning to play the piano or guitar would now be a choice I'd look for if I were wanting to learn either of those skills.  This is a book I'd feel totally comfortable recommending to a PC newbie just getting started on Windows XP.  Very nicely done...


Time for... May's Crazy Search Hits...

Category Blogging

I understand it's not quite the end of the month yet, but today is Memorial Day here in the States, and I have the day off...  So you get the hits a day early...  Let's see what warped individuals used to get to Duffber's Random Musings this month...
  • "one wheel" motorcycle - "What is a unicycle, Alex?"
  • which is better domino or exchange 2005 - Well, DUH!
  • ethical issues in lotus notes - There are none...  Eithical issues with Exchange, however...
  • reason to not use Microsoft Access - And he was only looking for one?
  • "reading log" in Microsoft Access - No more...  Mine is now in Notes.
  • ethical problem of ibm lotus - What is it with these searchers?
  • night seizure diabetic - It's one of the things we fear the most...
  • epro conference 2005 - Not this year...  It was great while it lasted.
  • rebel alliance logo - I'm sure you can find Notes/Domino logos over on IBM's site...  :-)
  • Bill Gates roling the world - So John has become a verb now?
  • blog self-mutilation diary - Not here...  I can't even do needles.
  • Darth Vader helmut blueprints - I was more excited to find the Princess Leia metal bikini blueprints...
  • Prozac changed my life - Amen!  Can I get a witness!
  • You're my hero - awww...   thanks!
  • blog maxi pads - One of those "I don't wanna know" items...
  • declining rates of reading - I'm doing my part to keep those rates up!
  • chris miller naked - Chris...  Are you using my blog for "other" traffic?
  • roling stone fonts - More John traffic, I see...
  • Show Butts - You won't find that on my blog!
  • bull inseminator - Well, the first problem is that bulls are MALE!  And I don't think he'll take kindly to being "inseminated"...
  • "chris miller" "the bachelorette" - This is NOT idonotes.com!
  • my "sex life" sucks - I'm sorry.
  • female pow of war torture - After all of our Iraqi prisoner abuse scandals, I don't think others will be terribly sympathetic.
  • hockey and diabetic player - Been there, have one.
  • chihuahuas are rodents or dogs - I'm guessing rodent...

Once again, over 6200 web hits for the month.  And just remember...  I don't create them, I just report them.


Book Review - Beating Back The Devil by Maryn McKenna

Category Book Reviews

After reading The Coming Plague, I found myself fascinated by the people who do disease research.  Beating Back The Devil by Maryn McKenna continues in that vein, and is a good read...

McKenna covers the history and activities of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), which is a branch of the CDC.  These people, who are considered a branch of the military, sign up for a stint which involves intensive training, personal risk, and the knowledge that they may be sent anywhere in the world with a single phone call and no notice.  It's the people in this group that were on the front lines of discovering and fighting Ebola, AIDS, and hantavirus.  The author generally follows a specific group of EIS personnel through their adventures (but not exclusively), so you get to know and understand the personal costs of this type of work.  It's truly amazing that we have people in this country that are willing to risk everything to keep us safe from things we can not see and may not be able to protect ourselves from.  Since many of the disease episodes are relatively recent, it's easy to relate to what's going on in the story, and McKenna does a good job in bringing it all to life.  This is probably one of the advantages of this book over The Coming Plague.  Beating helps cover that ten year gap since Plague was published.

If the subject of disease detection and control is of interest to you, Beating Back The Devil is a must-read...


Book Review - Code Names by William M. Arkin

Category Book Reviews

Through some source which I've now forgotten, someone recommended the book Code Names - Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World by William M. Arkin.  As a reference book, it's OK.  As a reading book, forget it...

Arkin is a journalist and analyst who has spent a great deal of time dissecting and interpreting U. S. military and government operations and structure.  As a result, he's far more knowledgeable than most on what the military is up to.  His stated purpose in writing this book is to give the reader a chance to see and understand the incredibly large number of alliances and operations that make up U. S. military might in today's world.  The book is broken up into four sections after the initial introduction of why the information matters.  The first section lists the cast of characters...  the listing of all the military and government groupings that come into play here.  The next section examines the military relationship between the U. S. and every country in the world.  You can easily look up any country alphabetically and see what type of aid or operations we might be carrying on there.  The third section, and the biggest by far, covers every single code word or code phrase that the author has uncovered in his research over the years (and we're talking thousands).  Most of these you'll never have heard of, and reading the description of each operation gives you some insight as to what matters.  The final section serves as a glossary of all the military acronyms that you might ever run across.

From an analysis standpoint, you'd be hard-pressed to find all this information in a single location anywhere.  It just doesn't exist.  This is probably required reading for every foreign analyst studying U. S. military actions.  From the viewpoint of a book that is interesting to read, it suffers quite a bit.  Granted, it probably wasn't written with the view towards reading it straight through.  Still, the mind starts to go numb after awhile.  I also have to question the "wisdom" of making all this information available in one place.  Yeah, I know the argument is that in a democracy we should be able to have access to this information.  In reality, this just makes it easier for foreign interests to gain intelligence without working for it.  I'll also admit a certain bias to the fact that Arkin is heavily involved in Greenpeace activities.  Since there's some philosophical differences there for me, I'm probably less inclined to give the guy a break...

I'll give the book an "average" review and let you draw your own conclusion.  If you need reference material, you'll like this book and rate it higher.  If you want reading material with discussion and analysis, you won't find much of it here.  And your political leanings will definitely flavor your attitude towards the book...  


Engineers' Conversion Factors

Category Humor

For all you engineers (and other geniuses) who have difficulty converting units:

1. Ratio of an igloo's circumference to its diameter = Eskimo Pi
2. 2000 pounds of Chinese soup = Won ton
3. 1 millionth of a mouthwash = 1 microscope
4. Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement = 1 bananosecond
5. Weight an evangelist carries with God = 1 billigram
6. Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour = Knotfurlong
7. 16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone = 1 Rod Serling
8. Half of a large intestine = 1 semicolon
9. 1,000,000 aches = 1 megahurtz
10. Basic unit of laryngitis = 1 hoarsepower
11. Shortest distance between two jokes = A straight line
12. 453.6 graham crackers = 1 pound cake
13. 1 million-million microphones = 1 megaphone
14. 2 million bicycles = 2 megacycles
15. 365.25 days = 1 unicycle
16. 2000 mockingbirds = 2 kilomockingbirds
17. 52 cards = 1 decacards
18. 1 kilogram of falling figs = 1 FigNewton
19. 1000 milliliters of wet socks = 1 literhosen
20. 1 millionth of a fish = 1 microfiche
21. 1 trillion pins = 1 terrapin
22. 10 rations = 1 decoration
23. 100 rations = 1 C-ration
24. 2 monograms = 1 diagram
25. 4 nickels = 2 paradigms
26. 2.4 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing at Yale University Hospital = 1 IV League
27. 100 Senators = Not 1 decision


And to those wondering, the 2005/05/27 Dilbert strip wasn't about me...

Category Humor

... but the case could be made that it's not far off...

A picture named M2


Microsoft urges Windows users to dump Netscape 8

Category Microsoft

From STLtoday:  Microsoft urges Windows users to dump Netscape 8

Microsoft Corp. is urging Windows users to uninstall the new Netscape 8 Web browser from their computers, saying it damages Microsoft's own Internet Explorer browser.

Microsoft's announcement on Friday came after a Microsoft technician's blog posting a day earlier that said Netscape's updated technology interfered with Internet Explorer's ability to display some Web pages.

Computer users who install Netscape 8 and then go back to using Internet Explorer for browsing may see some Web pages appear blank in Internet Explorer.

The problem particularly affects pages incorporating display technology such as that used for syndication-service feeds.

It must really suck for Microsoft to be on the other end of that problem for once...  I wonder if we'll see an update for IE 6 that causes it to die if people are using Firefox, so that Microsoft can ask you to remove that one too.

There used to be a running joke in the Lotus community that Microsoft's mantra was "Windows isn't done until Notes won't run."  Looks like Netscape has adopted a version of that...  :-)


Messaging Pipeline just doesn't get it...

Category IBM/Lotus

John Dickinson, apologist extrodinare for Radicati, just doesn't get it.  His latest Trends article Notes/Workplace Strategy Is Everyone's Game To Win . . . Or Lose talks about how the Domino "loyalists" are up in arms over her latest report showing confusion about IBM Workplace, and he can't figure out why we're so upset and why we can't accept that Sara Radicati could be right.

Note to Mr. Dickinson...  It has *nothing* to do with her "conclusions" per se.  It has *everything* to do with the fact that she's hyping a "report" based on shoddy analysis that does not conform to accepted research standards.  If she had 300 responses to her survey that were truly random and picked out in an accepted scientific manner, we'd listen.  But 32 responses to an online survey posted on the front page of her website, offering a prize for participation, doesn't cut it.  

*That* is the problem here.  The report is a vehicle for her oft-published views on the demise of Notes/Domino, and the statistics do not stand up to scrutiny.  


Linux people don't much care for Lyons either...

Category Linux

After an all-too-brief hiatus, Daniel Lyons over at Forbes is writing again.  This time he's going after his second favorite target, the Linux/Open Source crowd, with a two-parter on the issue of the Linux kernel source being moved from the version control software Bitkeeper to a new package that Linus is writing.  As per normal, this move is sure to spell the end of Linux and open source software...

The Register apparently picked up this info and ran with it, and of course the Linux crowd is reacting as predicted.  It's nice to see we in the Domino community are not the only ones who have little use for his "reporting".


The joys of being an Amazon Associate...

Category Book Reviews

As you've possibly noticed, occasionally I review a book or two here on my blog.  :-)

In each review, there's a link back to Amazon where the book is listed.  And if you look at the URL format, you'll see the string "duffbertsrand-20" at the end.  So what's that mean, and why do I do that?

Well, I'm enrolled in the Amazon Associate program.  It's a free referral program run by Amazon whereby I get a small commission on any sale from their site if the purchase was made after clicking through one of my links.  The most common type of purchase would be where you see a review that looks interesting, you click the link, and you decide to purchase the book.  In addition to that, anything else you buy during that session also earns a commission.  You can even click through one of my links, immediately go to some other item on Amazon to buy it, and I *still* get a commission.

There are a couple different fee structures, but the most common one is called the Performance Structure.  Each quarter, you get a percentage of the total sales based on the number of items purchased.  If I drive 1 to 20 sales for the quarter, I get 5% of the purchase price.  If the number goes up to between 21 and 90, the percentage increases on all items to 5.25%.  I could conceivably receive 7.5% of all sales if I drove more than 9501 purchases for the quarter...

Not likely...

The associate site allows you to track what items have been purchased, and it's always fun to check out what the account might hold for you each day.  I can't track *who* purchased any particular item (unless you tell me you did it), but I can see what was purchased.  For instance, a fellow blogger asked me about my Amazon links because he wanted to say thanks for some help I gave him.  He clicked through a link to a particular book he wanted to buy, and also bought an iPod while there.  *That* was a nice thank you!  :-)  Yesterday, someone bought five copies of a particular book, which I assume they are giving to fellow staff members.  That's the first time I've seen a single item I listed purchased in bulk.  Granted, not a lot of money, but it all adds up.

In my case, we're not talking thousands of dollars each quarter.  Nor hundreds...  $50 would be good...  :-)  I won't be quitting my day job any time soon.

So...  If you're out on a web site that you enjoy and they have a link to something on Amazon, there's a good chance they're part of the associate program.  Instead of going to Amazon to buy whatever via the normal Amazon link, use their site link to start your session.  It won't cost you anything extra, and it's an easy way to express appreciation for their work.

(P.S. - Don't read that last paragraph as a plea to use my links to buy stuff from Amazon.  I was really trying to speak in the general sense of showing appreciation.  But don't let me stop you, either....)


A question on the "drama" that is the Michael Jackson trial...

Category Everything Else

What's the deal with the gold armband that Jackson wears to court every day?

And why do the reporters continue to add a paragraph on what he's wearing each day, as if that means *DIDDLY SQUAT* on the legal proceedings?

He's a strange duck, and his mama dresses him funny...  move on.


Blindness reported in some taking Viagra...

Category Humor

The big medical news today was that some people have reported blindness from taking Viagra.  This is just *too* easy...

Love is blind?

Mother told you that you'd go blind if you do that?



The InformationWeek article that picked up the Radicati "report"...

Category IBM/Lotus

... is no longer out there.  You click on the story and you get the equivalent of a 404 error.

Now, today I did fill out their "letter to the editor" form and strongly suggested they check out Chris Byrne's article for an alternative view of the validity of the numbers and whether they could accurately draw conclusions from them.  I'd really like to think that they did just that, realized that there were some serious issues, and removed the article.  The proof will be to see if they do the follow-up report that was promised in the original article.  If they don't write that piece and that's the last we hear of the white paper, then my faith in technology journalism will be somewhat restored.

With the exception of Forbes, that is...  :-)


Book Review - Don't Click On The Blue E! by Scott Granneman

Category Book Reviews

Since I've already read and reviewed a couple of books on the Firefox browser, I didn't expect much new material in the latest title to hit the shelves...  Don't Click On The Blue E! - Switching To Firefox by Scott Granneman (O'Reilly).  But to my pleasant surprise, this actually was better than I initially thought...

Chapter List:  The Problem With The Blue E; Installing And Configuring Firefox; Firefox Features; Killer Firefox Add-ons; Advanced Firefox; Other Web Browsers; Firefox Options; Index

First off, it doesn't look like a typical O'Reilly book.  It's a multicolored cover with a full color wolf on the front (there just *has* to be an animal on the front!).  It also doesn't spend a lot of time in the purely technical arena, either.  The tone is much lighter than what you'd normally see in an O'Reilly title.  The author is unabashedly a Firefox fan (and an Internet Explorer basher), so you'll get plenty of opinion interspersed with the facts and details of Firefox.  If you're looking for an unbiased comparison, look elsewhere.  Granneman doesn't have much nice to say about IE.  But it does make for a fun read.

As for content, there's the typical coverage on features, security, flexibility, and all the "selling points" you've heard about Firefox.  But there's also some material that wasn't in every other book.  In the first chapter, he covers the history of browser development from the beginning up until now.  You've probably heard and read all of this before, but having the story all in one place gives you an appreciation for where we've been and how far we've come.  I also liked his coverage of Firefox extensions.  Every author has his own favorite ones that make the browsing experience special.  Reading about how others use Firefox is always useful in that it gives me ideas on how I can alter my browsing experience.  Finally, Granneman does an *excellent* job of referencing all his information at the end of each chapter.  You'll find an abundance of links to additional sites and white papers that will add to your understanding.  Those references are almost worth the price of the book by themselves...

Even if you've already picked up a Firefox book, you might want to consider getting this one also.  It's a fun read that will definitely add to your Firefox knowledge and experience...


Gotta love that latest Radicati white paper...

Category IBM/Lotus

This morning I received an email via Google News Alert highlighting a press release for a new white paper saying how only 20% of IBM customers are planning on implementing Workplace.  Of course, I had to check that out.  And who should be the author of this industry report designed to give us insight to the IT universe and IBM in particular?  Why, Radicati!  

So much for insight...

If you head over to their website, you'll find a link to the report.  It's available for free download, and it's worth every penny.  Note:  You'll have to use IE...  The download link doesn't work in Firefox for me.  Using state of the art statistical analysis, they were able to extrapolate the IT strategy of the entire 60000+ IBM/Lotus customer base from 32 survey responses.  Wow...  these guys are good!  You'll find important things like 8% hadn't even heard of Workplace.  Actually, the math says that 2.54 respondents haven't heard of Workplace, but I'm sure that equates to 4800 IBM customers...  

Now, if you've waded through my *very* satirical post so far, let me direct you to some even more damaging analysis...  Chris Byrne's post titled Lies, Damn Lies, and Radica... oops I mean Statistics.  Chris spoke with a research firm expert on statistical analysis, and the numbers in the Radicati report just don't add up...

If it weren't for the fact that this "report" will get quoted in IT industry media, you could safely ignore it.  But since it will show up somewhere, and since that "somewhere" could be the desk of your boss, make sure you understand what's in this report and why it's not statistically valid.  Best to be prepared...


Book Review - Mapping Security by Tom Patterson

Category Book Reviews

If you're doing business internationally, IT security might be more of a nightmare than you know.  This book does an excellent job of helping you through the mine fields...  Mapping Security - The Corporate Security Sourcebook For Today's Global Economy by Tom Patterson.

Chapter List:
Part 1 - Charting A Course: Why You Picked Up This Book; Establishing Your Coordinates; Building The Base; Enabling Business And Enhancing Process; Developing Radar; Constant Vigilance
Part 2 - Reality, Illusion, And The Souk: Europe; The Middle East And Africa; The Americas; Asia Pacific; Outsourcing And Your Map
Part 3 - Whose Law Do I Break?: Mapping Solutions; Mapping Law; Mapping Technology; Mapping Culture; Mapping Your Future; Local Security Resources By Country; Index

Patterson takes an approach to global technology security that I've never seen before.  He talks about how differing countries, laws, and cultures can all conspire against you when it comes to maintaining (legally!) security for a global organization.  Conceptually you probably know that not all laws are the same as the ones in the United States, but you may not know or understand just how different they are.  For example, if you have a server in France running an HR or a payroll system and you back up the data to a server outside of the country, guess what?  You're in violation of French data security laws.  It's that easy...

Part 2 of the book was very interesting.  He takes some of more significant countries in terms of global and cross-border commerce and scores them with an index value that takes a number of security issues into consideration.  You'll learn that every country, no matter how cheap or technologically adept they are, have significant hindrances that could make or break your business if you're not prepared to deal with them.  Language is a major issue, as well as nationality.  Even though you may be opening up shop in a country that speaks English, you can usually count on the fact that sending an American over to tell them how to run the security is a bad idea.  You need to be able to partner with a local firm or find someone from the country to handle the day-to-day issues in order to make sure all is running well.   Patterson covers this and a lot more in the book, and it's actually interesting reading, too.  He keeps the conversation with the reader moving along at a decent pace, along with interspersing little sidebars on cross-cultural issues that you may never have considered.

IT security professionals who work for global organizations or who have outsourced operations will do well to pick up a copy of this book to make sure they are abiding by all the laws that could affect them.  The book's far cheaper than fines that could be levied by the country whose laws you break.


Book Review - Test Driving Linux by David Brickner

Category Book Reviews

There's always room for a decent Linux book that is focused on getting desktop users to switch over from Linux (especially if the risk is nonexistent).  This book fits the bill...  Test Driving Linux - From Windows To Linux In 60 Seconds by David Brickner.

Chapter List:  Getting Started; Surf The Web; File Management; Music And Videos; Play Games; Email, Organizers, and Instant Messaging; Edit Digital Image; Customize Your Desktop; A Free Office Suite; Manage Your Finances; The Command Line; Great Programs That Aren't On The CD; Pre-Switching Information; Solutions To Common Problems; Index

Brickner has taken the Mandrake distribution and created a Knoppix-like CD distribution called the Move Live CD.  This CD contains a KDE-style desktop Linux environment that can be booted from the CD without touching anything on the hard drive.  It means you can test drive a Linux desktop environment without having to reformat your hard drive or destroy anything you're currently working on.  Great news for the curious who want to understand what all the talk is about.  The author also stays focused on *just* the Linux desktop environment.  It'd be easy to try and write up information on Linux servers, command line stuff, shell scripts, etc.  But that would dilute the focus.  He stays on task and makes sure the book will appeal to the person who doesn't want to become an OS guru, but just wants to get work done using the type of tools they are already familiar with in the Window environment.

I liked the selection of software that was covered.  OpenOffice to replace Office, GIMP to replace any other image package like Paintshop Pro, and GnuCash to replace packages like Money and Quicken.  And best of all, they're all free.  He also spends a fair amount of time on Konqueror, which serves as a file explorer as well as a web browser.  There's no reason you can't use other software like Firefox for web browsing, but he had to draw the line somewhere in order to fit everything onto a single CD.  And remember...  when you turn off the computer, the OS disappears.  This is only to give you the flavor of what Linux is like on the desktop, so that you can make some more intelligent choices if and when you decide to switch.

Very non-intimidating style of writing, and I'd feel comfortable recommending it to nearly anyone wanting to check out Linux...  Except maybe my father...  who has finally figured out where all the Windows stuff is at...  Some dogs are best left sleeping...  :-)


Book Review - Beginning InfoPath 2003 by F. Scott Barker

Category Book Reviews

Those who are reading this review on my blog must be wondering if I've ditched my Notes/Domino roots and migrated to the dark side.  The answer is no.  I just wanted to know a bit more about InfoPath.  To do that, I got a copy of Beginning InfoPath 2003 by F. Scott Barker.  If I were inclined to start working with the product, this would offer a good start.

Chapter List: InfoPath - The Journey Begins; Getting Started Designing with InfoPath; Understanding Data; Creating an InfoPath Form from an Existing Data Source; Utilizing XML and Web Service Data Sources; Working with Controls in General; Looking at Some Useful Controls and Techniques; Working with Sections; Managing Views; Publishing InfoPath Forms; Working with Code in Your InfoPath Form; Getting Started Using Scripts; Working with .NET Managed Code; Real-World Tasks and Coding Examples; Creating and Working with Web Services; Implementing Security; Working with InfoPath and Windows SharePoint Services; Manufacturing Plant Case Study; Answers to Exercises; Index

As I said in the opening statement, I'd feel very comfortable using this as an initial text to start learning InfoPath if that were my next learning chore.  Barker does a nice job explaining the overall concepts behind the product, and then gets into the actual building of applications based on InfoPath.  There's a good mix of examples using various data sources, like Access, SQL Server, and web services.  As a beginning text, this focuses more on the basic form design and how you can build useful forms using wizards and the basic controls.  There isn't the focus on doing a lot of scripting in your application, which is OK as this is labeled a "beginning" book.  In fact, there's a follow-on Wrox title labelled Professional InfoPath 2003.  If that book covers scripting and more of the internals, then I'd consider the coverage in this book to be perfect for the division between the two titles.

It's really tough to not want to get off on a tangent of comparing this technology to the Notes/Domino platform.  But this *is* a book review, not a technology review.  As a result, I'll restrain myself and stop here.  :-)  This is a well-done book, and worth getting if you're going down the Microsoft path of "collaboration" based on their definition of the day...

OK...  that last one just slipped out.  :-)


Remember how I put my foot down about a replacement cat a month ago?

Category Everything Else

Remember how I said that Snoogie would be the only remaining cat, and that we wouldn't get a replacement for Patches?  Remember how I asserted my rights as husband and father of the household to make this edict?

Boo-Boo arrived yesterday...

A picture named M2


Book Review - Aspect-Oriented Software Development

Category Book Reviews

Over the last year or so, I've heard more and more talk about something called aspect-oriented programming, or AOP for short.  Wanting to at least be aware of major trends, I was happy when I received a copy of Aspect-Oriented Software Development by Robert E. Filman, Tzilla Elrad, Siobhan Clarke, and Mehmet Aksit.  Unfortunately, I'm not the right audience for this particular book, and I really still don't know much about the subject.

The book is an outgrowth of a special issue of a software engineering publication back in 2001.  The subject was AOP, and it drew a heavy response of submitted papers and ideas.  Rather than only letting a few of them see the light of day, the authors decided to contact the top researchers in the field and ask them to do a write-up of their special area of AOP interest.  As a result, you now have this book which is a compilation of around 30 of these papers and articles.  The target of the book is for advanced software engineers who want to catch a glimpse of what is going on in the AOP field.  Guess that rules me out...

As with any compilation of articles and papers from different sources, you'll get hits and misses based on communication and writing skills.  If you're the type of software engineer that eagerly awaits Dr. Dobb's Journal each month, you'll probably really like this book.  It appears that by reading all the way through, you'll get a broad range of information that may make you want to investigate AOP further.  If you're like me and you are more focused on working directly with end users to build systems and you have a bent towards practicality over theory, don't start out your AOP experience here.  It seems like AOP could be just as hard to wrap your mind around as object-oriented programming was the first time you heard of it.  If I'm ever to start to understand this subject, I think I'll need an AOP for Dummies title...

If you're an uber-geek who wants to know more about AOP, or if you're an AOP person already who wants to know more, knock yourself out on this book.  If you're wondering what AOP is or what the fuss might be about, I'd recommend that you keep looking.  You probably won't get either of those questions answered by this book at your stage of the journey...


Guess I'm the exception... The new Star Wars movie didn't do much for me...

Category Everything Else

My wife and I went to see the Star Wars movie this afternoon.  We used Fandango to order the tickets on-line for the noon showing, then just walked into the lobby and picked up the tickets without waiting in line.  Very nice...

The second part of the movie was better than the first part, in my opinion.  The dialogue between Padme and Anakin was rather stilted and hard to watch.  The whole "conflicted Anakin" theme seemed to get old and whiny until he actually pledged allegiance to the dark side.  And while many loved the lightsaber battles, I got bored rather quickly and kept hoping that someone would get killed so we could move on...

The ending sequences that tied into the very first Star Wars movie were very well done.  Darth Vader's surgery and helmet fitting.  Watching the Death Star being built.  Luke going off to be raised "on the farm"...  You actually feel you could immediately start episode 4 with no continuity break.

On a scale of 1 (awful) to 5 (must see), this was about a 3.5 for me.  Glad I saw it, but I didn't walk away with any "wow" feelings...


Book Review - Use Cases Patterns and Blueprints

Category Book Reviews

If you're having trouble translating all the book knowledge of use cases into practical application, check out Use Cases Patterns and Blueprints by Gunnar Overgaard and Karin Palmkvist.  A very nice work...

Chapter List:  
Part 1 - Introduction: Use-Case Patterns and Blueprints; Using Patterns and Blueprints in Use-Case Model Development
Part 2 - Use Cases: Use-Case Modeling - An Introduction; Use Cases; Modeling the System Environment; Structuring a Use-Case Model; Include - Reusing Existing Use Cases; Extend - Expanding Existing Use Cases; Include vs. Extend; More on Extend and Extension Points; Use-Case Generalization - Classification and Inheritance; Actor Generalization - Overlapping Roles; Describing Use Cases; Documenting a Use-Case Model; Mapping Use Cases onto Classes
Part 3 - Use-Case Patterns: Business Rules; Commonality; Component Hierarchy; Concrete Extension or Inclusion; CRUD; Large Use Case; Layered System; Multiple Actors; Optional Service; Orthogonal Views; Use-Case Sequence
Part 4 - Use-Case Blueprints: Access Control; Future Task; Legacy System; Login and Logout; Message Transfer; Passive External Medium; Report Generalization; Stream Input; Translator
Part 5 - Common Mistakes: Alternative Flow as Extension; Business Use Case; Communicating Use Cases; Functional Decomposition; Micro Use Cases; Mix of Abstraction Levels; Multiple Business Values; Security Levels with Actors
Glossary; References; Index

The feature I often find most useful in programming books is the liberal use of code samples that can be "appropriated" for your own use.  But that feature seems to disappear quite often when you get into design work.  You have to learn the methodology first, and then you're on your own for trying to figure out how it applies to your system.  No samples, no code to steal, it's just slog away and hope you get it right.  This book allows you to break out of that pattern (no pun intended) when it comes to writing up use cases.  Overgaard and Palmkvist have taken their multiple years of experience with use cases and distilled down a number of repeating "patterns" that are seen over and over in many business systems.  They then name the pattern, explain the type of situation that calls for it, shows the way it would be written up, and then they apply it to a few example uses.  If you're the type of programmer or designer who likes to "look at the answers" to figure out how something is done, this book provides quite a few "answers" for you to study and learn from.

While the book is touted as being for all levels, I don't know that I'd recommend this as a learning guide for use cases.  They do cover the basics, but it just didn't strike me as a good tutorial.  Having said that, this should be the *second* book you buy in order to take your ability to work with use cases to a higher level.


Book Review - Effective C++ Third Edition by Scott Meyers

Category Book Reviews

This is the type of book that should be available to every programming professional in any programming language...  Effective C++ Third Edition by Scott Meyers (Addison-Wesley).

Chapter List: Accustoming Yourself to C++; Constructors, Destructors, and Assignment Operators; Resource Management; Designs and Declarations; Implementations; Inheritance and Object-Oriented Design; Templates and Generic Programming; Customizing new and delete; Miscellany; Beyond Effective C++; Item Mappings Between Second and Third Edition; Index

Before we go too much further here, let's have some full disclosure here...  I'm not a C++ programmer.  This leads to a logical question...  What am I doing reviewing a book on C++, then?  Well, I've been in IT for over 25 years and I am a professional software developer.  I also read a boatload of tech books each year, too.  As a result, I can usually tell if a book is going to be worth the money and if it will deliver on the promises it makes.  This one does.

If you look at all the Amazon reviews for the second edition of this book, you'll see that everyone agrees it is excellent material.  I'll assume the technical information in this edition is just as good.  Beyond that, there's a lot to like about the style here.  Meyers doesn't attempt to "teach" the language.  He assumes you know the fundamentals.  His items are focused on how to better understand a particular feature or concept so that you'll be more effective as a developer (hence the title).  The writing style is very readable, so it's easy to pick up the concepts between that and the code examples.  Something that I found really unique and useful is pretty minor but it works so well.  Relevant code and the "Things To Remember" recap at the end of each item are in red text.  Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it makes a world of difference in having your eyes drawn to that which is most important.  Considering most programming books are black and white, a dash of red really stands out.

If you're a C++ developer with some experience under your belt, this really is the next book you need to take your development to the next level.  The people who maintain your code after you and the people who use your programs will thank you.


Book Review - Using Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 by Jonathan Hassell

Category Book Reviews

If for whatever reason you've made the decision to implement Microsoft's Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 package, a good place to start might be Jonathan Hassell's Using Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 (Apress).

Chapter List:  Introduction; Installing SBS 2003; Initial Configuration; Exploring Windows Server 2003; Exploring Outlook 2003 and Exchange Server 2003; Windows SharePoint Services Techniques; Exploring SBS Standard Security; Using Remote Access Features; The Shared Fax Service; Monitoring SBS Server Health and Performance; The Indexing Service; Index

To be honest up front, I'm not a huge Microsoft fan.  In fact, as a IBM/Lotus professional, you might even say I'm a bit antagonistic towards them.  But realistically, there are a number of reasons why small businesses might want to implement SBS 2003.  Hassell's book would be a good starting point for a power user who wants to become the default system admin, or for an experienced admin who wants to get started with SBS 2003.  He does a pretty good job of explaining the setup of most of the moving parts, and it's done well enough to ensure a reasonably good likelihood that you'll be up and running when you're done.  Now *because* there are so many moving parts (like SharePoint, Exchange, etc.), this is not the book you'd turn to if you have to get into some major troubleshooting.  You can only do so much in 250 or so pages, and Hassell doesn't try to go overboard.  As a result, the book maintains a good focus on what it sets out to do.  But if something does go wrong, you'll be doing on-line research or be visiting Amazon to get the 1000 page book that covers nothing but Exchange, SharePoint, etc.

To the right audience, this book serves its purpose well.  It won't be the only book on your shelf (nor should it be), but when you get done with it, you'll know what it is you don't know...


Book Review - Winners Never Cheat by Jon M. Huntsman

Category Book Reviews

In today's often cutthroat business practices, it's important to remember the lessons we all learned when we were young.  To help, read this short book...  Winners Never Cheat - Everyday Values We Learned As Children (But May Have Forgotten) by Jon M. Huntsman.

Chapter List:  Lessons From The Sandbox; Check Your Moral Compass; Play By The Rules; Setting The Example; Keep Your Word; Pick Advisors Wisely; Get Mad, Not Even; Graciousness Is Next To Godliness; Your Name Is On The Door; The Obligation To Give Back; The Bottom Line

Jon Huntsman is the chairman and founder of Huntsman Corporation, which was the largest privately held chemical company in the world prior to going public in 2005.  Jon built the business from a small operation in 1970 to what it is today...  a multi-billion dollar firm.  But instead of using business practices all too common these days (think Enron or Worldcom), he built the organization based on solid moral principles that everyone knows are intrinsically right.  A handshake and promise is something to be kept.  You should surround yourself with people who have and live the same ethics and value that you have.  Giving back to the community and those less fortunate isn't a nice thing to do... it's a moral obligation.  It'd be all too easy to write this off as simplistic platitudes that are easier said than done.  But Huntsman has proven they do work, and there are numerous examples in the book that offer proof.

This isn't a 400 page book that requires days of patient determination to get through.  It's a small-sized practical book that's only 185 pages, and each chapter and concept shouldn't take more than 10 to 15 minutes to read.  But once read, and if contemplated and applied, they will change your life in more ways than you can count.  A highly recommended read...


Book Review - Alone by Lisa Gardner

Category Book Reviews

Based on the recommendation of a fellow blogger, I picked up a copy of Alone by Lisa Gardner.  Wow...  *this* is a crime thriller!

Bobby Dodge, a Massachusetts State Trooper who is part of a SWAT-like team as a sniper, is called out on a domestic dispute involving a man welding a pistol against his wife and child.  Dodge ends up firing and killing him based on his judgement that the guy was about to shoot the wife.  He quickly finds out that the man was the son of a very prominent judge who hates his daughter-in-law, wants custody of the child, and is charging Dodge with murder.  The dead guy's wife has her own issues, relating back to a kidnapping when she was young.  She was buried alive for 28 days and abused at the hands of a pedophile before she was found by hunters.  This has left her emotionally damaged and unable to adequately care for her child who is continually ill.  While the whole shooting appears to be a typical hostage situation, the facts dictate that there might be more than meets the eye.  The wife might be an innocent victim or a cruel manipulator that set Dodge up to fire.  And Dodge is falling apart trying to figure out the truth...

This is by far one of the best crime thrillers I've read in a long time.  This is one of those stories where an incident happens, the facts have a number of interpretations, and you're left twisting back and forth trying to figure out who's innocent and who's guilty...  who's telling the truth and who's lying.  Throw in a number of wicked plot twists, and you don't know *what* to think until the final few pages.  This is one of those "couldn't put it down" type books because I really didn't have a clue as to how it was all going to be resolved in the end.  

This is a "must read" if you're into the crime genre.  This is also yet another author that I haven't read in the past, and now I'm *really* jazzed to go get her other books.  If they're anything like this one, I have some prime recreational reading ahead of me...  


Google, IBM/Lotus To Ally On Enterprise Search Effort

Category IBM/Lotus

From CRN: Google, IBM/Lotus To Ally On Enterprise Search Effort

Excerpts from the article:

Starting Wednesday, users downloading the popular Google Desktop from Google.com will be able to use its integral search capabilities to scour their Notes inboxes.

"Google today is an end user tool. While it's obviously used by people in enterprises, it's mostly used by consumers so it's first desktop product was targeted at consumer use. Now they're launching an evolution of the product with enterprise capabilities," said Sean Poulley, vice president of business development for IBM's Lotus group.

It is an interesting deal, especially because at Lotusphere in January, IBM Research showed its own "Tamnun Juru" Notes search capability. IBM Software has also billed its Information Integrator's search capability as the business analog to Google Web searches.

Poulley said there will be many user options for search. "This is not an either/or kind of thing," he said.

Ain't choice grand?  :-)

Seriously...  Kudos to Google for making the tool work with Notes, and major kudos to IBM for not shutting out non-IBM solutions (unlike other vendor tendencies...)


Book Review - Design Patterns Explained by Alan Shalloway and James R. Trott

Category Book Reviews

Trying to understand design patterns based on most texts can be as painful as poking yourself in the eye.  The book Design Patterns Explained - A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design (2nd Edition) by Alan Shalloway and James R. Trott is considerably easier on your eye and your pain threshold...

Chapter List:  
Part 1 - An Introduction to Object-Oriented Software Development: The Object-Oriented Paradigm; The UML - The Unified Modeling Language
Part 2 - The Limitations of Traditional Object-Oriented Design: A Problem That Cries Out for Flexible Code; A Standard Object-Oriented Solution
Part 3 - Design Patterns: An Introduction to Design Patterns; The Facade Pattern; The Adapter Pattern; Expanding Our Horizons; The Strategy Pattern; The Bridge Pattern; The Abstract Factory Pattern
Part 4 - Putting It All Together - Thinking In Patterns: How Do Experts Design?; Solving the CAD/CAM Problem with Patterns
Part 5 - Toward a New Paradigm of Design: The Principles and Strategies of Design Patterns; Commonality and Variability Analysis; The Analysis Matrix; The Decorator Pattern
Part 6 - Other Values Of Patterns: The Observer Pattern; The Template Method Pattern
Part 7 - Factories: Lessons from Design Patterns - Factories; The Singleton Pattern and the Double-Checked Locking Pattern; The Object Pool Pattern; The Factory Method Pattern; Summary of Factories
Part 8 - Endings and Beginnings: Design Patterns Reviewed - A Summation and a Beginning; Bibliography; Index

The traditional definitive text for design patterns was written by the Gang of Four.  It goes into great detail, but it can be very abstract and hard to put into practical terms for beginners.  Design Patterns Explained departs from the largely theoretical information and tries to get as concrete and as practical as possible.  The authors pick a number of useful patterns and concentrate on those few entries as opposed to trying to cover everything.  They put forth a few case studies and use those to explain the pattern being discussed.  This tends to make it much easier to understand why the pattern works well for the problem at hand, and how it translates into Java code.  Also, it's written in first-person format with plenty of personal insights and opinions.  This also helps to make the text much more readable than most.

In addition to just covering the patterns and how they are coded, the authors also talk about the mindset needed to think and design in patterns.  This is an aspect of design patterns that I normally don't see covered well (if at all) in most other books.  If you combine the focus on thinking in patterns along with the practical information on the most common ones, you get a book that delivers quite a bit more value than most in this niche.  

While any serious design pattern student will want to get the Gang of Four book, this volume would be a much better way to get started...


Book Review - Devil's Corner by Lisa Scottoline

Category Book Reviews

The kind folks over at HarperCollins sent me an advance reader copy of Lisa Scottoline's newest novel Devil's Corner.  This is another author that I haven't read before, but will probably end up doing catch-up reading on her titles...

Vicki Allegretti is an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and she's due to interview a confidential informant on a case related to an illegal gun sale.  But things go horribly wrong when she arrives at the meeting house only to find two guys who have broken into the house and murdered the informant.  During the confrontation, her partner is killed and she almost joins him in death before the killers decide to flee.  In the process of interviewing leads on the killing, she assaults a prisoner and is suspended from her job.  But instead of just taking the safe road, she decides to conduct her own investigation so that the case doesn't get dropped.  To get into the parts of the city where the crime occurred, she has to team up with the person she assaulted, and thus starts an unlikely personality pairing that will either pay off or get them both killed...

Scottoline was formerly a trial lawyer and apparently now watches court cases for entertainment (and potential story ideas).  Her in-depth knowledge of the legal system and how things actually work shows through in this novel, as I got the feeling that she has been here before.  Watching Allegretti try and balance her work and personal life is interesting, as her romantic interest may or may not be all he's cracked up to be.  And I really liked the interplay between her and Reheema, the girl she assaulted.  Matching up an urban black street-smart girl with a suburban Harvard grad leads to rather sticky situations that neither can relate to but that both have to work through.

Solid writing, good pacing, a story with some meat, and a few plot twists to boot...  Can't ask for much more in a recreational crime thriller read.  


Managing The Business Risk Of Blogs...

Category Blogging

Richard Schwartz and Christopher Byrne co-authored an article in Compliance Advisor titled Managing The Business Risk Of Blogs.  If you and/or your company is trying to figure out how and where to draw the lines, this is a very nice place to start...


Book Review - Beginning Shell Scripting by Eric Foster-Johnson, John C. Welsh, and Micah Anderson

Category Book Reviews

Shell scripting is one of those things I keep telling myself I need to learn but never quite get around to it.  The Wrox book Beginning Shell Scripting by Eric Foster-Johnson, John C. Welsh, and Micah Anderson might be the book I end up using to get me there.

Chapter List: Introducing Shells; Introducing Shell Scripts; Controlling How Scripts Run; Interacting With The Environment; Scripting With Files; Processing Text with sed; Processing Text with awk; Creating Command Pipelines; Controlling Processes; Shell Scripting Functions; Debugging Shell Scripts; Graphing Data With MRTG; Scripting For Administrators; Scripting For The Desktop; Answers To Exercises; Useful Commands; Index

This book has something for just about every beginning user.  As a "Beginning" Wrox book, it's meant to take you from no knowledge to basic competency.  Normally when you think of shell scripts, you think Unix.  But this book goes beyond that.  The authors include just about every OS in their coverage.  Unix and Linux users are obviously taken care of, as I'd expect.  But they also address Mac OS X users so that they can start to delve under the covers of their operating system.  They even include Windows users by having them download the Cygwin software.  Overall, the focus is on the Bourne shell, but special features of the others (like C, bash, and Korn) are also addressed as they come up.  Overall, you get coverage on just about everything you could want as a beginner.

With the combination of "Try It Out" and "How It Works" examples in the book, beginners should quickly be able to do something with their new knowledge.  To me, that's always the sign of a good beginning level book on a subject...  get the reader doing something productive quickly.  Beginning Shell Scripting meets that criteria.


Book Review - UML For Mere Mortals by Robert A. Maksimchuk and Eric J. Naiburg

Category Book Reviews

I don't care what the experts say...  UML isn't intuitive nor is it "easy" to read.  Learning to use it can be intimidating.  UML For Mere Mortals by Robert A. Maksimchuk and Eric J. Naiburg is a very nice way to get your feet wet on the subject...

Chapter List:  Introduction to the UML; Business Models; Requirements Modeling; Architectural Modeling; Application Modeling; Database Modeling; Testing; Is That All There Is?; How Do I Get Started Using The UML?; Where Can I Learn More?; Glossary; Answers To Review Questions; UML Diagrams and Elements; Index

I've read a few books on UML, and it's pretty easy to get bogged down in all the rules and minutiae.  UML is one of those things that can have the experts arguing about fine distinctions that you'll never experience in your working career.  In this book, you can forget all that.  The authors don't try to teach you absolutely everything there is to know.  The goal is to focus on practical usage and cover those things that you'll most likely run up against in real life.  And in my opinion, they nail that goal.  Most of the subtopics within each chapter have a topic heading that is a question.  The questions are ones that you'd encounter as an actual student of UML (like how do I model my business using the UML?), and that tends to make sure the subject matter stays practical and useful.  There are also a number of very good sidebars that cover lessons learned, real world experience, things to watch out for, and "deep dive" items that cover things in a bit more depth.  There are even review questions you can use to see how much you've retained.  All in all, a good format and packaging of the material.

This is the first "Mere Mortals" title I've read, and I don't think it will be my last.  I see this as being a book that you'd use to get up to speed quickly on a subject.  It could also be used to learn what you don't know.  If I knew nothing about UML, this book, read straight through, would give me the context for everything else I need to learn.  Books like that are really valuable, and this one would be a great addition to your UML bookshelf if you need to go in that direction...


Book Review - Surviving PC Disasters, Mishaps, and Blunders by Jesse M. Torres and Peter Sideris

Category Book Reviews

When things go wrong with your PC and/or on-line existence, you need quick help in figuring out how to fix it (or how you should have stayed out of it in the first place).  Surviving PC Disasters, Mishaps, and Blunders by Jesse M. Torres and Peter Sideris (Paraglyph Press) makes for some pretty interesting reading.

Chapter List:  Theft and Loss; Hardware Disasters and Mishaps; Software Disasters and Mishaps; Network Disasters and Mishaps; Wireless Networking; Internet Fraud; Spam; Surviving Viruses; Junkware: Malware, Adware, and Spyware; Email and Other Internet Hazards; Travel Mishaps and Disasters; Power Adapters and Batteries; Backup and Recovery; Digital Lifestyle Hazards; Piracy; Index

Each chapter starts with a list of "disasters to avoid" and "mishaps and blunders to run from".  Within each chapter, there are subtopics that will teach you about certain things (like how data theft occurs, how to prevent and detect data theft, etc.).  The rest of the chapter is made up of "how do I" questions that address topics within the chapter.  Throw in quite a few "horror story" sidebars based on real life experiences from the authors, and you have a pretty readable and practical book.

It was tempting to originally think of this book as a troubleshooting guide...  a resource you would turn to when you had to fix something.  But really, it's more of a "be prepared" guide.  Reading this material *before* you need it will save you a heap of head- and heartaches.  This isn't the book that contains a bunch of technical step-by-step instructions on how to get into hardcore repair of your wireless router.  It may help you, but it's best to use the material to stay out of trouble in the first place.  And the digital lifestyle hazards chapter is *definitely* better to use as preventative medicine.  It's easier to reset a PDA than shut down a stalker...

Good material for those who are not uber-geeks who live in cyber-space.  It's a book that could easily pay for itself in short order...


Book Review - Agile Java by Jeff Langr

Category Book Reviews

It's getting more and more difficult to do Java books that offer anything that's unique.  But Jeff Langr has succeeded in finding a niche with Agile Java (Prentice Hall).  It's a book I could definitely recommend...

Chapter List:  Introduction; An Agile Overview; Setting Up; Getting Started; Java Basics; Strings and Packages; Class Methods and Fields; Interfaces and Polymorphism; Inheritance; Legacy Elements; Exceptions and Logging; Maps and Equality; Mathematics; I/O; Reflection and Other Advanced Topics; Multithreading; Generics; Assertions and Annotations; Swing, Part 1; Swing, Part 2; Java Miscellany; An Agile Java Glossary; Java Operator Precedence Rules; Getting Started with IDEA; Agile Java References; Index

The basics of the book are pretty good.  You have fifteen "lessons" that cover the material in the book, as well as three bonus lessons on Swing and other miscellaneous subjects.  I really like the way he takes a single example (a student information system) and uses that throughout the entire lesson material.  It gives good continuity and you don't have to readjust your focus for each lesson.  The exercises at the end of each lesson follow a different example all the way through (a chess program), so you have a couple of different ways to learn, but it remains consistent throughout.  He also doesn't try and cover absolutely everything in the Java universe.  He picks the important stuff you need to know and realizes that you'll have to get the rest of the stuff on your own.  This means that the book is approachable and doesn't become another 1500 page doorstop.

The uniqueness in the book comes in with the "Agile" part of the title.  Agile methodologies, like extreme programming (XP), are lightweight in nature and don't require that every last detail be spec'd out before starting the coding.  There's a large emphasis placed on testing with tools like JUnit in order to prove that changes in the code don't break anything.  With the test framework in place, you can also focus on refactoring your code without fear of introducing unknown errors.  Langr shows early on how JUnit tests need to be integrated into your code, and that follows through the entire book.  As a result of that and of using a single example, there are plenty of opportunities to refactor your code and then to use the JUnit test to make sure everything still works.  This slant on Java coding is something you rarely see integrated into the process of learning Java, and it's probably long overdue.

Even without the focus on unit testing and refactoring, it'd be a decent tutorial book.  With that focus, this book becomes a recommended tool to use to learn Java.  Good job...


Another reason why I don't trust the "kinder, gentler" Microsoft line...

Category Microsoft

From Brian Benz's blog...  New Position At Microsoft: IBM Strategist/Director of Competitive Strategy

Lines like this tell the story:  You will play an essential role in assisting with the business planning aspect of running our perception changing and compete campaigns (BPR, WWSMM, PRISM, Strategy Day, Board of Directors quarterly presentation, etc.)

This is why I don't buy the evangelist spiel coming from the Scobles and Devendorfs of the world.  

To be clear, I don't have a problem with Microsoft having a position like this.  If you have as much spare money sitting around as Microsoft does, it makes sense to have a specific high-level person focusing on one of your largest competitors in a number of areas.  Just don't expect me to buy the pap that Microsoft is now more focused on integration and cooperation instead of domination.


Book Review - Phishing by Rachael Lininger and Russell Dean Vines

Category Book Reviews

Phishing is the scourge of the internet right now.  Rachael Lininger and Russell Dean Vines have done a pretty good job in helping individuals and companies understand the problem with their book Phishing - Cutting The Identity Theft Line (Wiley).

Chapter List: Phishing for Phun and Profit; Bait and Switch: Phishing Emails; False Fronts: Phishing Websites; Are You Owned: Understanding Phishing Spyware; Gloom and Doom: You Can't Stop Phishing Completely; Helping Your Organization Avoid Phishing; Fighting Back: How Your Organization Can Respond To Attack; Avoiding the Hook: Consumer Education; Help! I'm a Phish! Consumer Response; Glossary of Phishing-Related Terms; Useful Websites; Identity Theft Affidavit; Index

It used to be I'd see one or two "requests" a week to update my personal information for places like eBay or Citibank.  Now it's closer to two or three a day.  I'm well aware that these phishing attempts are scams meant to commit identity theft, but apparently we internet-savvy people are in the minority.  Lininger and Vines have written a very readable and understandable guide to phishing that can easily be given to nearly anyone to help them protect themselves.  The uninitiated will quickly grasp the idea that they shouldn't be responding to emails like these, and as a result they'll be much safer.  People who are internet-savvy will learn the tricks that are used by the phishers to make links appear to be something other than what they truly are.  Even organizations can benefit from the chapters on what they should do if they find that their servers have been co-opted to run a phishing scam.  

Very practical material with the benefit of being a book that's fun to read.  This is information that needs to be in the hands of all internet users these days...


OK... Lyons is still kicking around, it appears...

Category Everything Else

A couple of days ago I wondered what had happened to Daniel Lyons over at Forbes since he hadn't been heard from in nearly a month.  It appears that not only is he still writing, but his type of questioning hasn't changed.  Colin pointed out a posting related to a major journalistic brouhaha over at SYS-CON publications (like LinuxWorld) that has caused a number of editors to resign in protest.  In the posting, he talks about how Lyons contacted him with questions for a story, and the questions are in the same flavor as what Chris Byrne got hit with.  In effect, Lyons has his story slant predetermined, and the mean old bloggers need to be slapped down.  James Turner took the same route as Chris did, and made sure that his side of the questioning was shown early as to blunt the effect of any slant that will appear in Forbes.

So, we IBM/Lotus fanatics shouldn't feel picked on.  Lyons doesn't like bloggers in general, doesn't like IBM specifically, doesn't like Linux much either, and the open source movement is a bunch of tree-hugging radicals who live in a fantasy world.  

But in his book, Microsoft certainly rocks!


Book Review - Estimating Software-Intensive Systems by Richard D. Stutzke

Category Book Reviews

Even though I tend to work on rapid application development projects, there are many occasions where formal software estimation and tracking methodology is either required or is a very good idea.  Richard D. Stutzke's book Estimating Software-Intensive Systems (Addison-Wesley) will give you all you need to know about the subject...

Chapter List:
Part 1 - The Essentials: Introduction; Planning A Warehouse Inventory System; A Basic Estimating Process - The Linear Method; Measurement and Estimation; Estimating Techniques; Estimating Annual Maintenance Costs
Part 2 - The Details: Preparing to Estimate (Precursors of Estimation); Estimating Software Size - The Basics; Estimating Software Size - The Details; Production Processes (Project Life Cycles); Bottom-Up Estimating and Scheduling; Top-Down Estimating and Allocation; Parametric Models; Estimating Risk Reserves; Calculating Cost and Price - The Basics
Part 3 - Closing the Feedback Loop: Collecting Data - Basics; Tracking Status; Updating Estimates; Consolidating and Applying Your Knowledge
Part 4 - Handling Large Projects: Crafting a WBS; Earned Value Measurement; Collecting Data - Details; Calculating Costs and Bid Price
Part 5 - Estimating Products and Processes: Determining Product Performance; Determining Product Quality; Measuring and Estimating Process Performance; Ranking and Selecting Items
Appendix A - Roles and Responsibilities for Estimation; Appendix B - Measurement Theory and Statistics; Appendix C - Measures of Estimation Accuracy; Appendix D - Summation Formulas for Series; Appendix E - Excel for Estimators; Acronyms; Glossary; Bibliography; Index

The author, as you can tell from the table of contents, pretty much covers the entire realm of how to estimate time and cost for software systems.  Each chapter comes equipped with diagrams and forms that would assist you in applying the concepts.  Also, you get a recommended reading area at the end of most chapters that can point you to additional writings if you need to dive deeper (although this stuff is pretty deep already).  What's nice is that the author has a wealth of experience both in teaching and doing, so he interjects real-life examples along the way which bring some reality to what can be a rather dry subject.

I'll admit I'm not likely the best or intended target for this type of book.  While I've been developing software systems for a long time, it's more at the departmental level using RAD environments.  In many cases, I'd spend more time following a fraction of these estimating processes than I'd do actually building the system!  Conversely, multi-million dollar projects and/or government projects *do* need this level of detail and tracking.  Joe Coder in his cubicle cranking code will find applicability in some areas when it comes to understanding how to estimate their areas of the software.  The best benefit will be for the official project managers or lead engineers who are responsible for defining the system, coming up with time and cost estimates for the overall effort, and then managing the project to meet those projections.  Just about every process and technique that will be required for estimating is probably covered or touched on in some way here.

Given those parameters, I'd say it's a pretty good book for the intended audience.  At 900+ pages, you won't finish it in a weekend, but you'll probably learn and grow with it, referring back to certain sections often as you move forward.


IBM Backs Firefox In-house

Category IBM/Lotus

From ZDNet: IBM Backs Firefox In-house

Other than the obvious fact that this is a big win for Firefox usage, this should also bode well for having better Firefox compatibility on IBM/Lotus products.  Since IBM is known for having internal staff use the latest and greatest releases of their own software, problems with compatibility should surface pretty quickly.



Boy... Daniel Lyons over at Forbes sure went silent...

Category Everything Else

After his "opinion-editorial" piece about IBM being in denial over Notes, and after riling up the Notes faithful back in early April, he's done one article since then (another IBM piece about sputtering growth engines).  It's been nearly a month since his last article of any sort that I can find on Forbes online, and he didn't even cover the IBM earnings shortfall (which should have been a dream assignment for him).

He had contacted a number of bloggers asking questions that indicated another follow-up article was coming and/or was imminent (Lotus bloggers and Radicati).  The tone of the questions indicated that he had already reached his conclusions (not pretty), and Chris Byrne went so far as to post and answer his questions publically to ensure that both sides got told.

I'm just curious as to what happened to him...  Is he just off editing stories for others?  Is he off writing another novel?  I certainly feel he violated journalistic boundaries by inserting himself into the "Denial" story by contacting Bruce Elgort's employer to complain about Bruce's "letter to the editor".  

Having written this, his next story will probably appear tomorrow...  :-)


Book Review - Company Man by Joseph Finder

Category Book Reviews

Based on the recommendation of a few fellow Amazon reviewers, I decided to pick up a copy of Company Man by Joseph Finder for some recreational reading.  I'll be going back out to pick up some of his earlier works...  This was a good read.

Nick Conover is the CEO of a small town company that's a big name in the office furniture industry.  He was well liked before having to lay off 5000 people based on pressure from the owners.  Now he's "Nick The Slasher" and everyone in town pretty much hates him.  To complicate issues, his wife was killed in an auto accident, and he's left to raise his two kids who are having drastically different reactions to her death.  The troubles in Nick's life start when someone continually breaks into his gated community home and spraypaints graffiti on the walls.  It escalates when someone kills the family pet.  The cops aren't doing much to help due to Nick's standing in the town.  It all comes to a head when he has to defend his property and family with a gun against the person who is a likely suspect in all the other break-ins.  But the shooting isn't one that can be legally justified, and he makes the mistake of working with his corporate security director to cover it up.  Tension mounts as the cops start connecting threads that lead back to him, and his budding romance with the daughter of the victim is making things complicated.  His company is also crumbling as it looks like he's being left out of the loop to sell the company to a Chinese firm.  Who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, and who can be trusted?  

As I said in the opening, this was a good read.  Even though Nick is a sympathetic character who hated the layoffs, you understand why the town hates him.  The detectives working the case are a mismatched pair as opposite as they can be, but perseverance and justice prevail in order to dig out the truth of the matter.  There are also some pretty nice twists thrown in along the way, and I personally found it hard to figure out how exactly the story was going to turn out.  Pacing was good, and it was refreshing to not see a religious main character portrayed as a fanatic or deranged psycho.

I'll be putting Finder on my list of "must read" authors based on this book, and now I have to fill up my library hold list with his earlier writings.  I love finding a good new author...  :-)


Nice to see the talent staying put...

Category IBM/Lotus

A few weeks back, we all learned that Rocky Oliver is closing down his consulting gig and going to work for IBM as a new member of the Business Transformation team working with some of the new Workplace technologies.  Now today we find out that Bob Balaban is joining him.  Great news for the Lotus community, in my opinion...

There have been a number of high-profile people who have moved from IBM/Lotus to Microsoft in the past few years.  These were either direct moves or hirings after they left IBM for whatever reason.  And of course, these moves were seen as "proof" that the brain drain from IBM was accelerating and that Notes/Domino was doomed.  DOOMED, I TELL YOU!

Sorry...  got carried away there...

Even lately, Rocky's move to IBM was spun by some as an indictment of the lack of Notes/Domino job opportunities for consultants and contractors (regardless of what Rocky posted on his site).  Bob has some of the same reasons Rocky has, and no doubt the gloom and doomers will be setting the RPMs to 78 on this latest news.  

But here's what I think (for those who care)...  The rock stars of Notes/Domino development see the future, like it, and are diving in head first.

Rocky and Bob are two of the most accomplished developers and personalities in the Notes/Domino world.  Developers, writers, speakers, you name it.  You're in the minority if you've not heard or read something by these guys.  The fact that they are passionate about Notes/Domino, have taken the time to understand where Workplace is going, and want to blend their current skills and future opportunities should be seen as a positive endorsement for the direction of Lotus technology.  These are not guys who are being forced to take a job just to pay the bills while they look for something better.  They've been at the forefront of Notes/Domino for more years that many of us have even known about Notes/Domino.  They're not afraid to critique and criticize IBM, and they've had significant input into where we are today.  I don't expect that to change, and I trust their judgement and opinion as to where things are headed...

Congrats, Rocky and Bob...  I look forward to learning your insights in the not-so-distant future.


Yes, I'm another year older today...

Category Everything Else

Since Joe Litton decided to spread nasty rumors about me being nearly 50 (he is, I'm not), I figured I needed to chime in and correct any misconceptions...  I'm 44 today.

Just type slow and loudly so I can hear you.  :-)


Book Review - The Zen of CSS Design by Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag

Category Book Reviews

If you've already picked up the basics of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and want to see what is *really* possible, check out The Zen of CSS Design by Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag (New Riders).  This is a unique book...

Chapter List:  View Source; Design; Layout; Imagery; Typography; Special Effects; Reconstruction; Closing Thoughts; Index

This book covers the topic of CSS in an unusual fashion.  Dave Shea came up with the idea for a web site called csszengarden.com.  The basic premise is to have a standard HTML file, complete with class and id tags that can not be changed.  The goal is to then use a CSS style sheet to apply unique styles and graphics to the page, resulting in some stunning visual displays of web design.  But the basic thing to remember is that the page content doesn't change, just the CSS design file that's applied to it.

Shea and Holzschlag take some of the more unique designs that have been submitted and use them to explain various CSS concepts and techniques that can be used to push your design efforts beyond the ordinary.  The techniques are very well documented, as well as giving explanations on what will and will not work in the major browsers due to differences in CSS rendering.  Since so much of the design is driven by choices in graphics and typeface, you'll also be exposed to quite a bit in the way of design concepts, how to choose and render text, different graphic formats, and so on.  While none of the information would be considered a complete reference work on any given subject, you do have enough information to apply the technique and continue on from there if necessary.

In addition to being a book to teach technique, it also does a wonderful job in providing inspiration.  If you're looking for ideas to create a site that stands out, a leisurely perusal of the pages (or of the website) will offer up endless ways to reach that goal.  "You can do that?" will be a phrase that escapes from your lips on a number of occasions.

Beautiful, instructional, and inspirational...  This should probably be the second or third CSS book you buy once you buy a tutorial and/or a reference guide.  A recommended read...


Book Review - PSP - A Self-Improvement Process for Software Engineers by Watts S. Humphrey

Category Book Reviews

As an IT professional and software developer, I'm all for standards and processes.  PSP - A Self-Improvement Process for Software Engineers by Watts S. Humphrey (Addison-Wesley) outlines a personal methodology for improving your development efforts.  But it's definitely not applicable to all environments...

Chapter List:  The Personal Process Strategy; The Baseline Personal Process; Measuring Software Size; Planning; Software Estimating; The PROBE Estimating Method; Software Planning; Software Quality; Design and Code Reviews; Software Design; The PSP Design Templates; Design Verification; Process Extensions; Using The Personal Software Process; Index

From an overall perspective, I think the concepts in here are good and the book is well-written.  Watts has devised a methodology that a developer can apply on their own to improve their coding, estimating, and defect resolution skills.  This is done by extensive measurement and recording of statistic and time taken to accomplish certain tasks.  These numbers are transferred to forms that can then be statistically analyzed to see the trends and make corrections in your techniques based on personal problem areas.  The advantage that this methodology offers is that you don't have to get buy-in from an entire department in order to implement it.  Conversely, PSP can be extended to apply to a team development environment in order to improve everyone's ability to work and develop code as a group.

Where I start to have issues is that it doesn't translate well to all environments.  It's best applied to situations where you're developing programs with actual lines of code (like Java or C++) that allow you to do things like count lines of code, program sizes, or function points.  It doesn't address rapid application development (RAD) environments like Lotus Notes/Domino very well, as "lines of code" is often next to nothing.  Graphical design techniques that code underlying "plumbing" will make your numbers seem very small.  Counting and tracking defects could be useful, but once again you'll often have to ignore stats related to defects per program size.  You'll also need to be pretty comfortable with statistics to work with this methodology, as Watts gets into some pretty large formulas to generate the "score" of some of the tracking measures.

This is one of those books where if I were coding 15000 line Java programs, I might be really excited.  Developing in a RAD environment makes me see a lot of this as unnecessary tracking for tracking's sake.  But if you're a "true software engineer" in the most traditional sense, you'll probably find things in here that you'll want to try out.


Book Review - Developing Feeds with RSS and Atom by Ben Hammersley

Category Book Reviews

I got an opportunity to review another RSS/Atom title called Developing Feeds with RSS and Atom by Ben Hammersley (O'Reilly).  This is a pretty focused title targeted for developers.

Chapter List:  Introduction; Using Feeds; Feeds Without Programming; RSS 2.0; RSS 1.0; RSS 1.0 Modules; The Atom Syndication Format; Parsing and Using Feeds; Feeds in the Wild; Unconventional Feeds; Developing New Modules; The XML You Need for RSS; Useful Sites and Software; Index

The author spends just a little time talking about the whys of RSS/Atom feeds and then dives into the guts of each of the specifications.  For the developer looking to learn how to develop a syndicated feed, this focus will probably be highly appreciated.  Another interesting part of the book is explanations of the politics behind the three main standards (RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, and Atom).  Unlike most naming standards, RSS 2.0 isn't an update of RSS 1.0, and Atom is a third beast that must be accounted for.  When you read the history of how each one came into being, it makes a bit more sense as to how we got into this position.  Doesn't make it any easier to accommodate things, but at least you can understand it.

From a programming perspective, most of the code is done in Perl with a smattering of Ruby and PHP mixed in.  I personally would have liked to see a bit more attention paid to Java, but I guess you can't have everything.  You can at least use the programs to get ideas on potential solutions even if you don't use/know Perl.  

Overall, a good treatment of an important technology in today's internet environment, and a book that will be useful as you start to add syndication into your applications.


Book Review - Beginning RSS and Atom Programming by Danny Ayers and Andrew Watt

Category Book Reviews

The rise of blogging has caused RSS technology to become extremely important in today's computing environment.  To more fully understand this subject, I took a look at Beginning RSS and Atom Programming by Danny Ayers and Andrew Wyatt (Wrox/Wiley).

Chapter List:
Part 1 - Understanding the Issues and Taking Control: Managing the Flow of Information - A Crucial Skill; Where Did Information Feeds Start?; The Content Provider Viewpoint; The Content Recipient Viewpoint; Storing, Retrieving, and Exporting Information
Part 2 - The Technologies: Essentials of XML; Atom 0.3; RSS 0.91 and RSS 0.92; RSS 1.0; RSS 1.0 Modules; RDF - The Resource Description Framework; RSS 2.0 - Really Simple Syndication; Looking Forward to Atom 1.0; What Is Atom?
Part 3 - The Tools: Feed Production Using Blogging Tools; Aggregators and Similar Tools; Long-Term Storage of Information; Online Tools; Language-Specific Developer Tools;
Part 4 - The Tasks: Systematic Overview; Modeling Feed Data; Storing Feed Data; Consuming Feeds; Parsing Feeds; Producing Feeds; Queries and Transformations; The Blogging Client; Building Your Own Planet; Building a Desktop Aggregator; Social Syndication; Additional Content; Loose Ends, Loosely Coupled; What Lies Ahead In Information Management
Appendix A - Answers To Exercises; Appendix B - Useful Online Resources; Appendix C - Glossary; Index

This book was actually a whole lot more than I expected...  As a blogger, I want to be sure the RSS feed I produce is valid and readable by newsreader clients.  I just expect my newsreader to take care of things for me.  But instead of just covering *how* to produce an RSS feed, the authors cover the entire spectrum of RSS technology.  You get the history of RSS/RDF/Atom as well as some discussion of why they came into being.  So for someone who isn't familiar with RSS at all, they'll quickly pick up all the necessary background to understand why this whole thing is critical.  Then after covering the formatting of the different RSS standards, they move into consumption issues.  While you may not be interested in building your own aggregator, understanding how your feeds will be used leads to a much better solution up front.  Add in plenty of code examples, file snippets, and exercises to extend your knowledge, and you have a pretty complete coverage of the topic.

If you're only interested in details on building a feed, this book might not be quite as focused as you'd like.  But if you're just getting into RSS from a programming perspective, this would be a good choice to give you an overall understanding.


Book Review - Honeymoon by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

Category Book Reviews

After reading Patterson's last lackluster novel (London Bridges), I was hesitant to take on Honeymoon by James Patterson and Howard Roughan.  I was pleasantly surprised and Patterson made a nice recovery.

Nora Sinclair is a beautiful interior decorator who harbors a deadly secret.  She kills her lovers for their money (and you find that out right up front).  After her latest "tragedy", her activities come to the attention of an investigator who has to try and figure out if 1) she is killing the men and 2) how he can prove it.  Using a variety of disguises and covers, he's digging into her life, but she's getting suspicious that perhaps everything isn't as it seems.  Things get even more tense when the investigation crosses a line and the two develop a physical chemistry that definitely complicates life.  The question quickly becomes whether the investigator will uncover the truth before he becomes the next victim.  

As I mentioned earlier, this was a much better novel than Patterson's last effort.  While there's a little convolution with a subplot that comes into play later in the novel, the holes are not so big as to be able to drive a truck through them.  The action starts off in the first couple of pages and doesn't let down at any point in the story.  It was one of those books I just kept turning the pages on in order to find out what the next twist would be.  Pretty good stuff, and I'm cautiously optimistic that London Bridges was an aberration and not the beginning of a trend.


Book Review - Ant - The Definitive Guide (2nd Edition) by Steve Holzner

Category Book Reviews

With a number of the books I review, there's there assumption that the reader knows and uses Ant to build the projects and run the program.  Since I don't know Ant, I got a copy of Ant - The Definitive Guide (2nd Edition) by Steve Holzner (O'Reilly).  This should fill my knowledge gap nicely...

Chapter List:  Getting Started; Using Properties and Types; Building Java Code; Deploying Builds; Testing Builds with JUnit; Getting Source Code from CVS Repositories; Executing External Programs; Developing for the Web; XML and XDoclet; Optional Tasks; Integrating Ant with Eclipse; Extending Ant; Index

Most of the Definite Guide books are light on hand-holding and heavy on covering all the aspects of the subject being discussed.  This guide also dives right in, but there's enough coverage of the basics to allow a newbie such as myself to actually understand the basic structure of an Ant file and get started.  That basic information is quickly built on, and in little time you're able to do most of the tasks you'll ever encounter for an Ant build.  I was always a little intimidated when I'd see Ant examples in other books, but now I have the tools I need to understand and use it.

I was also a little surprised (and highly pleased) to see how well Ant integrates with Eclipse.  Rather than just sitting down in front of Notepad, you can take advantage of all the niceties of the Eclipse IDE in order to get an accurate and syntactically correct Ant file in short order.  Being able to run the Ant file from within Eclipse is also pretty cool.

This is another one of those books that will be under close watch at my desk to make sure it doesn't get "borrowed".  This book will end up becoming a best friend in short order...


Book Review - A Complete Guide To PivotTables by Paul Cornell

Category Book Reviews

I've heard the term PivotTables in Excel, but I don't have a clue as to what they do and how they work.  I figured that meant it was time to review a book on that subject.  I got a copy of A Complete Guide To PivotTables - A Visual Approach by Paul Cornell (Apress).  I'm now sold on the value of them...

Chapter List: What Are PivotTables?; Creating PivotTables; Working With PivotTable Components; Using PivotTables In The Real World; Working With PivotCharts; Analyzing Multidimensional Data With PivotTables; Programming PivotTables; Appendix; Index

This book is very focused on one thing...  PivotTables (duh!).  Don't expect to get a tutorial in Excel, and a basic level of familiarity with Excel is assumed.  From there, the author talks about how data can be analyzed in Excel, how those analysis methods can break down under large amounts of data, and how PivotTables are designed to address those deficiencies.  With an abundance of screen shots and examples, Cornell takes you through the processes of building PivotTables using the wizards, manipulating the parameters to get just what you're looking for, creating charts from that same data, and finally some basics on how to manipulate PivotTables using VBA.  

For me, the book was ideal.  I'm not into heavy data analysis techniques, and I knew nothing about the topic.  After going through the material, I'm actually to a point where I could use this feature of Excel now.  If people are looking for in-depth data analysis topics or every little tip and trick out there on PivotTables, they might be disappointed.  I'd have liked to see a bit more on the programming aspect, as I can use that to interface my data in Lotus Notes into PivotTables in Excel.  I can probably do it now with what was in the book, but more is always better.

Given the right audience, this is a good choice of material on the subject.  I certainly learned a lot...


Book Review - Web Services Platform Architecture

Category Book Reviews

Web services has grown beyond just the basics, and there are a number of new standards emerging.  To keep up from an architectural standpoint, a good choice might be Web Services Platform Architecture by Sanjiva Weerawarana, Francisco Curbera, Frank Leymann, Tony Storey, and Donald F. Ferguson (Prentice Hall PTR).

Chapter List:
Part 1 - Introduction: Service-Oriented Architectures; Background; Web Services: A Realization of SOA
Part 2 - Messaging Framework: SOAP; Web Services Addressing
Part 3 - Describing Metadata: Web Services Description Language (WSDL); Web Services Policy
Part 4 - Discovering Metadata: Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI); Web Services Metadata Exchange
Part 5 - Reliable Interaction: Reliable Messaging; Transactions
Part 6 - Security: Security; Advanced Security
Part 7 - Service Composition: Modeling Business Processes: BPEL
Part 8 - Case Studies: Car Parts Supply Chain; Ordering Service Packs
Part 9 - Conclusion: Futures; Conclusion; References; Index

It used to be you only needed to know a few basic things about web services, like WSDL, SOAP, and maybe UDDI.  But now there's a whole new slew of standards and acronyms for web services, usually starting with WS- (WS-Policy, WS-Addressing, and so forth).  The first step you need to take is to figure out what the new standards are and how they fit into the overall picture.  The authors do a good job of this in the book.  They present an architectural diagram that shows the whole SOA stack of where each piece fits.  Then they have each "part" of the book cover the current and new web services standards that fit in that area.  For instance, when you read the section on discovering metadata, you'll get the explanation of both UDDI (the common current standard) as well as coverage on WS-MetadataExchange, which is where things are going.  That combination of current and future standards makes for a strong understanding of the technology as well as the opportunity to compare and contrast quite easily.

This isn't a book I'd recommend to someone who wants an in-depth understanding of any single standard that's covered.  The information is just detailed enough to give a system architect the skills they need to design an application using the technologies, but not enough to answer all the "how do you glue this to that" questions a coder would ask.  But I'd still recommend it to the coder and the architect so that they'd learn what it is they don't know, and learn how to frame all the details in their further studies.

Good material, and one of the more current and up-to-date titles out there...


Book Review - Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes For An Answer by Michael A. Roberto

Category Book Reviews

I received an advance copy of an interesting book a week or two ago...  Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes For An Answer: Managing For Conflict And Consensus by Michael A. Roberto (Wharton School Publishing).  It's an insightful book on how to effectively promote a culture of open decision-making.

Chapter List:  
Part 1 - Leading The Decision Process: The Leadership Challenge; Deciding How To Decide
Part 2 - Managing Conflict: An Absence Of Candor; Stimulating The Clash Of Ideas; Keeping Conflict Constructive
Part 3 - Building Consensus: The Dynamics Of Indecision; Fair And Legitimate Process; Reaching Closure
Part 4 - A New Breed Of Take-Charge Leader: Leading With Restraint
Endnotes; Index

In our results-oriented and media-driven society, nearly all decisions made by an organization (be it corporate or government) are analyzed by whether they worked or not.  This leads to the focus on trying to choose the "right outcome".  Roberto takes a different tack, and focuses more on how to form the right environment to allow good decisions to be made.  Using examples such as the Bay Of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Columbia space shuttle accident, he analyzes how the environment surrounding the decisions led to outcomes that varied greatly in their effectiveness.  Roberto advocates a consensus style of decision making, where all issues are openly discussed and debated without politics and position flavoring who can advance what ideas.  Easier said than done, however.  Through either forceful personality or complete abdication of responsibility, too many important decisions are hamstrung by lack of input due to fear or intimidation.  Using the techniques in this book, a leader can learn how to effectively structure the group to get the type of free-flowing information exchange that ensures all information is available prior to a choice being made.  

The author also realizes and accurately points out that there are different types of leadership techniques that have to be employed at different times with various groups.  There are times where s/he might have to remove themselves from the initial discussions to make sure their personality doesn't overpower the flavor of the debate.  Other times it might be necessary to be very active to be sure that all the groups who have the important information are heard regardless of their position or rank.  It's a fine line to walk, but one in which the resulting decisions will be of a much higher quality and outcome.

Regardless of whether you're a CEO or a supervisor, the techniques and framework discussed here will help you to be a more effective leader in these times of ever-changing environments.  Definitely a recommended read.


Book Review - Survivor In Death by J. D. Robb

Category Book Reviews

One of my favorite series...  Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb in the "In Death" series.  The latest is Survivor In Death, and as usual I enjoyed it a lot.  Not quite her best, and a slightly different structure, but still good...

Dallas gets tagged on a scene where a family has been murdered at night in a military-style operation.  Everyone's throat is cut except for the daughter, who happened to be down in the kitchen getting a soda and was overlooked.  She's able to call 911 and crawls through the blood of the parents to hide in the shower of the master bathroom.  When Dallas finds her there, it brings back all the pain and suffering of her own abusive childhood, and she has to figure out how to deal with that.  The child is taken into Dallas and Rourke's home for protective custody until they can find the killers.  But few clues are left, and people related to the case are getting killed as the murders try and finish their job.  Dallas has to figure out who did the killings, why the family was killed, keep the girl safe, and not have a total emotional breakdown in the process.

This story seems to deal with more human emotion than most in the series.  The child's situation and how Dallas responds to her is a central theme in the book.  Summerset, the butler, also plays a much bigger role here than in most of the books.  The strange part is how little time is spent viewing the actions of the killers.  Often the story lines play out on both sides (cop vs. killer) and merge together at the end.  In Survivor, it's almost as if the killers are simply decoration for the emotional conflict playing out in the Rourke household.  Not necessarily bad, but not quite the same fast-paced action as I'm used to seeing.

Definitely a good read, and I still rate this as one of my all-time favorite series.  This one's just a bit different, however...


I still say that Barry Bonds isn't coming back to baseball... ever.

Category Everything Else

So now we have the third knee surgery this year.  I have no doubt that it was a legit infection and such, but that's a whole lot of cutting on a knee that's past 40.  And with the additional steroid testing in place, it will likely be harder to get around the rules barring such substances.  Right now, Bonds is relatively "safe" because he's not playing and probably isn't being tested either.  If there was any illegal 'roid use, he's getting an excellent chance to clear his system.  

And on the off-chance I'm wrong (it *does* happen occasionally) and Bonds *does* return, I'd look for a slimmer physique, explained away by the change in workout routines forced on him by the extended layoff.  And I wouldn't be surprised to see his numbers dip to a mere fraction of his previous yearly totals, once again explained by his lack of knee strength affecting his swing and timing.

And *still* we'll hear no admission of any sort of illegal substance usage...  :-)


Book Review - Before and After Graphics For Business by John McWade

Category Book Reviews

I'll take any and all help I can get when it comes to doing graphical design for a website.  I got the book Before and After Graphics For Business by John McWade (Peachpit Press), and it's a wealth of ideas and concepts.

Chapter List: Newsletters; Stationery; Logos & Identity; Sales & Forms; Charts, Reports, Calendars, & Maps; Index

Like all good (or at least what I consider "good") books on graphic design, this is a lavishly illustrated volume that does a great job on taking "before" examples of business literature and giving them a make-over to enhance their image and design.  McWade does an excellent job in explaining the use of fonts, colors, and spacing in creating designs that convey a consistent theme and image for the company.  Along the way, you pick up a working understanding of typesetting vocabulary, like kerning and leading.  By the time you get done, you might actually understand what that "art-y guy" in the next cubicle is talking about...

The other thing I appreciate about this book is the large number of examples.  While you wouldn't necessarily want to "borrow" exact images and logos that he's created, you can easily follow how he's built them and the techniques you can follow to come up with your own ideas.  I actually came away from this book thinking I could possibly come up with a redesigned logo for my blog site.  I don't know that I *will*, but I think I could now.

This is one of those books I'll take into work and make sure no one walks off with it...


Book Review - Small Websites, Great Results by Doug Addison

Category Book Reviews

I recently got a review copy of a book that proves a website doesn't have to be big to be effective...  Small Websites, Great Results by Doug Addison (Paraglyph).  Good information for *all* sites, not just small ones...

Chapter List: Building Small: A New Approach for Successful Websites; What Makes A Great Small Site?; Creating a Focus for Your Site; Use the Right Design and Navigation Format; Tips and Techniques for Content and Functionality That Users Love; Small Site Approach to Web Marketing; Strategies for Turning Visitors into Customers; Getting What You Need from Your Web Designer; Keeping Your Small Site Up-to-Date; What to Do When You've Outgrown a Small Site; Small Sites for Professional Services; Small Sites for Trade Services; Small Sites for Specialty Products; Small Sites for Artists, Writers, and Performers; Small Sites for Restaurants; Index

There really is no barrier to entry for the Web any more.  For virtually nothing (and in many cases it *is* nothing), you can have a web site to advertise your company, service, or product.  But just because you *can* create a site doesn't mean you should be doing it yourself.  There's an art and a science to it, and just doing what you think looks good may be worse than doing nothing at all.  Addison makes the case that not every website has to have hundreds of pages and use every bleeding edge technology known to web developers.  The goal is to remember your audience and serve them with your site, not yourself.  And in most cases, that means keeping the site small, clean, and focused.

While much of the author's focus is towards small entities keeping the website under control, the overall advice pertains to all websites.  Using gratuitous features like flash splash pages turns off potential customers and everyday employees alike.  Having to decipher navigation icons is an irritant to any web user.  Making sure all your visual cues are consistent is just good common sense for all sites.  As a result, this isn't just a book that you should get if you're a freelance designer.  It's one that will come in handy in your job at Megacorp as you try and design functional pages that are useful and elegant without being obnoxious.

Good common sense, and plenty of material that's applicable to all sites.  A recommended read...


Book Review - The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett

Category Book Reviews

You want to be truly frightened about your health?  Read The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases In A World Out Of Balance by Laurie Garrett.  A friend loaned me his copy of this book after I had read a book about the flu epidemic in the early 1900's.  This book, written in 1994, covers a number of diseases from all over the world, as well as the stories of the individuals who constantly risk their lives to combat the deadly viruses.

Although the book is over 700 pages and the information is over a decade old, it's still a compelling read.  The stories of the CDC doctors who fought bureaucracy and ignorance are inspiring.  To go into countries and cultures where the per capita health care expense is $2 and try to conduct research is mind-boggling.  In many of the stories, every common health care practice we take for granted is nonexistent.  Syringes are reused without sterilization 100's of times each day as it's the only needle they have.  Highly contagious cases are placed in the same room as common injuries, and soon everyone is infected and dying.  And logistically, there's no way to prevent any of this.  Garrett tells of whole countries where the majority of the inhabitants are infected with diseases like AIDS, and the numbers go nowhere but up.  She does an excellent job of telling the stories of how diseases like Ebola, Marberg, and the hanta virus outbreak started, were researched, and how they are currently fought.  Even more frightening is learning how quickly these viruses develop resistance to the common drugs used to treat them, sometimes in as little as one generation of the outbreak.  And as the treatment choices become fewer and more expensive, the outlook becomes more grim for both third-world countries and our own system.

The passage of time hasn't made the picture any brighter, and many of the views put forth in the book are still well on their way to fulfillment.  After reading this book, it's easy to understand how such diseases like SARS and avian bird influenza strike fear into the medical establishment.  It's a wonder we're not all dead already.

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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