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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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07/31/2005

Book Review - Free Software For Dummies by Mary Leete

Category Book Reviews

Are you looking for computer software to write letters, create spreadsheets, manipulate images, or surf the web, and you don't have hundreds (or more realistically thousands) of dollars to send off to a certain computer company in the Pacific Northwest?  There are very good alternatives out there, and best of all, it's FREE!  Check out Free Software For Dummies by Mary Leete.

Contents:
Part 1 - Plunging Into Free Software: How to Use Tons of Powerful, Free Software - Fast!; The Best Places to Get Free Software
Part 2 - Using Powerful, Free Office Software: Word Processing with OpenOffice.org Writer; Formatting Your Writer Documents; Creating Spreadsheets with OpenOffice.org Calc; Juggling Numbers in Calc; Building Databases with OpenOffice.org Base; Creating Reports from Your Database
Part 3 - Exploring the Internet - More Easily, More Securely, and More Featurefully: Surfing and Searching the Web Securely with Mozilla Firefox; Reading E-mail with Mozilla Thunderbird; Publishing Your Own Web Pages with OpenOffice.org Writer; Enjoying Podcasts with iPodder; Making Free Phone Calls with Skype
Part 4 - Using Powerful, Free Multimedia Software: Creating Graphics with OpenOffice.org Draw; Making Presentations with OpenOffice.org Impress; Digital Imaging with the GIMP; Drawing and Filtering Images in the GIMP; Drawing Diagrams with Dia; Creating 3D Animations with Blender; Recording Sound with Audacity
Part 5 - More Powerful, Free Software: Learning with Free Educational Software; Fun with Arcade, Simulation, Puzzle, Strategy, and 3D Games; A Friendly, Free, and Powerful Alternative to Windows XP
Part 6 - The Parts of Tens: Ten Lists of More Great Free Software and Stuff: A Directory; Ten Unreasonable Advantages of Free Software
Appendix: Installing Programs Using KPackage and Installation Wizards; Index

There's a pretty good chance you've heard of some of these packages even before you read the book.  Firefox for web browsing has been all the rage, and GIMP is pretty well-known in the graphics area.  But maybe you didn't know (if you're not an IT geek already) that OpenOffice.org has a office productivity software suite that comes very close to all the functionality you'd get in Microsoft Office.  It even creates output files compatible with Office!  Why spend hundreds if it's not necessary?  Do you need diagramming software like Visio but can't afford a copy for home?  Check out Dia.  In the entertainment section, you can even avoid buying Microsoft's Flight Simulator and Flight Gear instead.  Worried about not having enough scenery for your flying adventures?  Does three DVDs worth of scenery make you feel better?  :-)  Tired of running three different instant messaging clients?  Run just one, Gaim, that interfaces with all three services.

While you could write complete books to teach you how to run any one of these major software packages (OpenOffice.org, GIMP, Firefox), Free Software For Dummies gives you just enough information to allow you to become productive in short order.  If you want to wring every last ounce of functionality from the software, you'll have to explore on your own (or buy another book).  But it's nice that you're not left with "here's a package, here's where you download it, next!".  There's a nice balance between letting you know the software exists and giving you some education on how to use it.

Going through this book, I was once again surprised to see how much of the free software competes with packages from Microsoft.  A book like this must make them a little uneasy should everyone figure out that there are alternatives.  While I know about many of these software alternatives (and use a number of them myself), this book motivated me to check out a few more.  Very good stuff, and very well written.  The book will pay for itself the first time you download a software system and save the cost of the "other" choice...  Recommended read.

07/30/2005

Book Review - The Twelfth Card by Jeffery Deaver

Category Book Reviews

The Lincoln Rhyme series by Jeffery Deaver is one of those ongoing stories that I look forward to with each new installment.  Jeffery Deaver's latest, The Twelfth Card, continues to deliver the goods...

Lincoln Rhyme, a quadriplegic criminologist with a vast array of insight and technology for solving crimes, is brought into a case involving the attempted murder of a 16 year old girl.  She was studying the history of an ancestor who was accused of a crime over 140 year ago.  For some reason, there are persons who don't want the information she's reading to be uncovered by anyone.  Rhyme and his partner, Amelia Sachs, work the crime scenes and try to figure out both who is trying to kill her and what secrets are buried in the letters from the former slave written after the civil war.  

This is one of those stories where you know who the primary killer is, but there are a couple other characters who might also be a threat to the girl.  As you get closer to the end of the story, many of the assumptions that you've taken as fact are challenged.  Pretty soon you're not quite sure who to trust and who is still trying to finish the contract.  The only thing I didn't much care for is that the 140 year old secrets are not revealed until the very end.  While it keeps you reading in order to find out the answers, it got a little frustrating after awhile, not knowing why all this was going on.  I'm not always very patient...  :-)

Good story, good installment...  Looking forward to the next one.

07/30/2005

Book Review - Professional CSS - Cascading Style Sheets for Web Design

Category Book Reviews

Often it's hard to find a good book to take you beyond the "how" of technology and get into the "why".  This one does...  Professional CSS - Cascading Style Sheets for Web Design by Christopher Schmitt, Mark Trammell, Eathan Marcotte, Dunstan Orchard, and Todd Dominey (Wrox).  

Content:  The Planning and Development of Your Site; Best Practices for XHTML and CSS; Blogger: Rollovers and Design Improvements; The PGA Championship; The University of Florida; ESPN.com: Powerful Layout Changes; FastCompany.com: Building a Flexible Three-Column Layout; Stuff and Nonsense: Strategies for CSS Switching; Bringing It All Together; HTML 4.01 Elements; Rules for HTML-to-XHTML Conversion; CSS 2.1 Properties; Troubleshooting CSS Guide; Index

I've spent the last year or so getting into CSS for some site development I've done.  Most of it has been learn as you go, and do whatever works.  But a book like this forces me to take a step back and examine the "why" of site development with CSS.  Each of the authors are seasoned professionals at web site design, and have worked on some of the largest websites out there.  They are well qualified to take an aspect of design (like Blogger's "rounded box corner" look) and go into detail about how it's accomplished.  Along the way, you pick up insights as to how high-end designers think about their craft and how you can start using the same techniques.

I find books like this extremely valuable as I'm more mechanical than artistic when it comes to programming.  I can do a lot when it comes to building functionality, but I'm extremely weak when it comes to designing aesthetically pleasing visual effects.  But I can copy real well.  :-)  Perusing through these pages give me a number of ideas I can implement right away, and I start to look like I know what I'm doing.  

Definitely a book that earns a spot on my shelf at work under close watch and guard against "borrowers"...

07/30/2005

It's early, but let's do July's strange trails that lead to Duffbert's Random Musings...

Category Everything Else

I have a bit of free time, and this post takes forever to generate.  So let's take a look at the search term referrals that led people here during July.  I'm in the mood to see what warped personalities are allowed to use the Internet...
  • chihuahuas dog toilet - I've often wanted to flush one or two of those breed down one...
  • Tom Duff executive compensation - I am happy with what I make, but it's not *that* large...
  • sleeping beauty picture - I laugh every time I see that, as I know it takes them to a pic of Bruce Elgort sacked out at Lotusphere...  :-)
  • hello my name is thomas wilson - Hi, Thomas!
  • why does your gynecologist leave the room as you get undressed? - Good question...
  • what's been googled - Seeing this term while making this post is like getting caught in an infinite loop...
  • just naked - O... K...
  • thomas duff marine corps - You'd be looking for my dad, not me...
  • bruces chums for free - And all this time I've been paying...
  • hops and barley tattoo - *That's* a hardcore home brewer!
  • barry bonds slimmer - Amazing what "lack of supplements" will do in that regard.
  • knoppix shred cat - Knoppix can do a lot of things, but that's one I haven't seen...
  • Stuff par Duff - I don't know what this means, but it has a great cadence...
  • get comfortable not knowing - That's how I feel about my kids sometimes...  I'm more comfortable not knowing...
  • instructions wiping arse - Wow...  the guy has some catch-up to do...
  • i had hair - A long, long time ago...
  • guy on guy spanking - OK...  *that's* warped!
  • phallic world - I hope all you Lotusphere people are happy now.
  • ooohh - aaahh...
  • guy maxi pad stories - I know what caused this one, and it's not as warped as it sounds...  :-)
  • steve ballmer weight - With all that monkeyboy dancing, he shouldn't have a problem...
  • tom breaking legs - Just remember that the next time I ask you for a "favor"...
  • damien katz x-rated - I don't think he's shared that link with the rest of us yet...
  • naked barbie coloring book picture - Some people really scare me, and this would be one of them...
  • how to improve sharepoint - Switch to Lotus?
  • duff blows - Apparently another happy reader...
  • why tai chi sucks - Because your attacker has to be moving in slow motion!
  • creating a duff shoe - Short and wide, dude...  short and wide.

And my favorite for the month...
  • whoo whoo weight loss - That's *exactly* how I've felt this month!


Enjoy!

07/30/2005

Your Windows desktop "after hours"...

Category Humor

I always wondered why my icons were moved around...

http://www.xs4all.nl/~jvdkuyp/flash/see.htm

(thanks, Bas)

07/29/2005

"Duffbert's Latest"???

Category Everything Else

A dear friend of mine (thanks, Chaz!) sent me an email with a link to a site that includes the random phrase "Duffbert's Latest"...

http://www.lumens.nm.ru/viagra_commercial.html

Strange stuff...  :-)

07/29/2005

Book Review - Digital Photography Just The Steps For Dummies by Frederic H. Jones

Category Book Reviews

I think I finally found a book I could give my dad if and when he ever decides to buy a digital camera...  Digital Photography Just The Steps For Dummies by Frederic H. Jones.  It's a very attractive work that doesn't stray from it's purpose.

Contents:
Part 1 - Acquiring Digital Photos: Selecting a Camera and Accessories; Setting Up and Using the Camera; Snapping Digital Pictures; Viewing and Transferring Images; Digitizing Existing Pictures
Part 2 - Editing and Enhancing Digital Photos: Manipulating Image Attributes; Fixing Common Image Problems; Repairing Digital Images; Adding Photo Editor Special Effects; Adding Photoshop Elements Effects; Using Layers
Part 3 - Choosing and Using a Printer; Organizing and Sharing Photos
Part 4 - Special Projects: Taking Close-Up Photos for eBay; Restoring Old Photos; Documenting Your Travels; Creative Mini-Projects; Index

The author's intent is simple:  write a book for people who just want to do stuff with their camera and don't want to read 500 pages to figure it all out.  Jones writes this book as a series of "steps" attached to each "thing" that you would want to do.  Lengthen depth of field?  Five steps to follow.  Reduce battery usage?  Two steps.  Scan a photo using Windows scanner wizard?  Nine steps...  All very easy to follow and you'll get results in short order.

For the software manipulation of your pictures, he uses Adobe Photoshop in most of the examples.  At first I thought that if you had some other package, you could just find the menu option that does the same thing.  But for the type of reader that would have this book, they probably just want to follow directions and not dive deeply (yet?) into their graphics software.  So if you don't have Adobe Photoshop, you may not get as much out of this book as you could.

Another thing I like about this book...  It should appeal to a couple different types of photographers.  The person who is making the leap into digital photography can use half the book to figure out how best to take pictures.  The other person who has the camera but wants to start manipulating their pictures can use the other half to get some great digital images to show off to their friends.  And if the bug bites and you get totally wrapped up in this subject, you'll have a solid foundation on which to build...

Nice book, extremely practical, and very easy to use...

07/28/2005

So it's official now... Ian's heading off to the land of the Mouse...

Category Everything Else

He's been accepted into the college internship program at DisneyWorld in Orlando, and he's really excited.  He leaves on August 23 and won't be back until early January.  

And in case you're wondering, I'm doing better with the idea (or I'm still mentally blocking it out at some level).  I've had a week or two to come to grips with the idea.  I'm still concerned, and probably will be continuously for the next five months.  But he needs this (and wants it), we need to let him go, and we'll have to deal with life as it happens.

At least I can talk about it now without getting all choked up.  :-)

07/28/2005

The 2005 Alka-Seltzer US Open of Competitive Eating?

Category Everything Else

This is labeled "a great American event"????

What does that say about us as a society?

In the first five minutes, I watched two grown men attack plates of cheese fries with their hands.  *Pigs* look better than they do...

I can't believe this...

07/27/2005

Book Review - Club Fascistland by Kevin Brink Nielsen

Category Book Reviews

Like most readers, I have my favorite genres for recreational reading.  Murder mysteries, techno-thrillers, crime mysteries, amateur female detective/sleuth, South Florida adventure...  But every once in awhile, I like to read something that is *completely* outside my normal comfort zone.  Usually it's because someone contacts me and asks if I'd be interested in their book, and it's something I'd never find or seek out on my own.  The 2005 version of "out there" reading is Club Fascistland by Kevin Brink Nielsen.  While the lifestyle subject matter is not my thing, the writing is very creative and entertaining...

Nielsen takes the Wizard of Oz story, complete with ruby red footwear, and adapts it to a time not too far in the future (or perhaps even now).  Tod is a down-home farmboy from Kansas (where else?) who isn't really sure of his sexual identity and wants to head off to New Zirconium City (yeah, it's New York in disguise).  His incredibly intelligent friend and pet, Otto the pig, is along for the ride.  On the way there, he picks up Fif, a tomboy savant who's been told she's a boy her entire life, and is just now finding out she's not.  Even though she has no education, she wants to become a doctor.  Then there's Sinjin, the half-human, half-cyborg mercenary who's body is giving out and he really wants a real heart to feel emotions before he dies.  Percy is a macho trucker drawn to homosexual urges but doesn't want to face that truth (and pummels his "love interests" out of guilt every time).  He just wants to come to grips with who he is.  Tod?  He just wants a home where everyone can be accepted for who they are.

The evil witch is played by the mayor of New Zirc City, who wants to shut down all festivities and alternative deviant behavior.  She bans all pleasurable forms of recreation, and has a squad of goons to enforce the rules.  Her counterpart, Rex de Terre, is a billionaire businessman in the city and wants to have things his way instead (like to have people feel good about the city and spend money in his casino).  Tod starts catering to the underground sect, launches wild parties, and puts himself on a collision course with the mayor (Her Horror) to free the city and give people their lives back.  Throw in Madonna as the Fairy Godmother, and you've got a rather twisted ride...

As you can probably tell, this is a book where everyone's lifestyle is acceptable and people should be free to live as they choose.  I'm not going to get into the morality of the message in the book, as I don't want this review to head down that road.  What I will comment on is the quality and creativeness of the writing.  Bottom line, Nielsen has talent.  He does an excellent job in painting pictures with his words, and the characters he creates in the book are outrageously bizarre and funny.  Since his story stays true to the original Oz fable, you pretty much know where the story is going, but you really don't have a clue as to how he's going to get there given the characters running around.  Besides, I have to love an author who uses ellipses (...) more than I do...

If you're in the mood for a different read that's very creative and zany, this might be worth your time...

07/26/2005

"Lotus Notes At The Crossroads"... Try again, Microsoft!

Category Microsoft

Through a friend, I received a PDF copy of a presentation made by Microsoft to business partners titled Lotus Notes At The Crossroads.  This is the type of material they're putting out there to try and get customers to migrate.  Just a couple of slide examples:

Tips And Tricks On Migration
  • Don’t recommend “rip and replace”
  • Messaging and applications can (and are) often migrated separately
  • Application analysis is a great tool
  • Don't shortcut - build full requirements
  • Watch out for Notes quirks
  • Test data migration carefully
  • Keep the faith

and

In Conclusion
  • Let’s move them!
  • Notes customers are at a transition point…and they are starting to move
  • The opportunity is both real and significant
  • Establish the value of the Microsoft solution and then help customers get their heads around the transition

Besides quoting Radicati studies that are dubious and a Converting From Notes To .Net report they pulled from their own website, there's another thing that stood out to me...  The whole thing is about how much opportunity there is for Microsoft and their partners, and not much (if anything) about how this will benefit the customer.  At one point, they talk about how you should aim for replicating the functionality of the current environment.  

And the payback on that to the customer is what?

Just another example of a schizophrenic company that has a number of messages going out at once, and quite honestly can't be trusted to play well with others...

07/26/2005

Using Notes:// URL to open a form for data entry...

Category Software Development

Yesterday I had a request from a user that initially was a "can't do that".  She wanted to be able to put a notes:// URL link in a Quickplace database that would launch a form in a Notes database.  My first statement was that it couldn't be done because a Notes URL link can only open a document, view, or database.  But after an exchange of emails, she gave me some ideas that allowed me to devise a workaround that actually worked!

 

Basically, you set the Notes URL to open to a particular view.  In my case, it's a view that shows no documents and doesn't show up in the navigation outline I have.  It's merely a container for some code in the view's PostOpen event:

 

Sub Postopen(Source As Notesuiview)
 
 Dim ws As New NotesUIWorkspace
 Dim uidocThis As NotesUIDocument
 Set uidocThis = ws.ComposeDocument("", "", "frmInquiry")
 Call Source.Close ()
 
End Sub

 

When the view is called with the Notes URL, the PostOpen code fires.  That does a Compose for a new document and closes the view opened by the Notes URL.  On your Notes client, you're left with an open form ready for data entry and no residual windows open for the rest of the target database.

 

Now maybe this was intuitive to everyone else, but it certainly wasn't to me.  So, I thought I'd share...

07/24/2005

Book Review - Write Portable Code by Brian Hook

Category Book Reviews

If you're building commercial software (or even software for your own company), there's a reasonable chance you'll need to make sure it runs on more than one platform.  Brian Hook's new book Write Portable Code - An Introduction To Developing Software For Multiple Platforms (No Starch Press) should appeal to you.

Contents: The Art Of Portable Software Development; Portability Concepts; ANSI C and C++; Techniques For Portability; Editing And Source Control; Processor Differences; Floating Point; Preprocessor; Compilers; User Interaction; Networking; Operating Systems; Dynamic Libraries; Filesystems; Scalability; Portability And Data; Internationalization And Localization; Scripting Languages; Cross-Platform Libraries And Toolkits; POSH; The Rules For Portability; References; Index

Hook does a very nice job of writing a practical book that looks at software development techniques that aid the ability to port your code to multiple platforms.  While it's not possible to guarantee compatibility in all cases, you can take solid steps to reduce the chances of painting yourself into a corner early on in the game.  From a language perspective, Hook focuses on the C/C++ language, so that's the area where you'll see the most advantage as a coder.  But the other chapters are applicable to just about any environment.  For instance, using a number of compilers set at a very strict message level helps weed out any coding practices that may work in one environment but not another.  In another case, you should carefully choose supporting software libraries (like graphic packages) based on potential portability.  A platform specific library might be easier to use, but it locks you into that environment.  Porting code can then become a complete rewrite instead of a matter of tweaking.  Very important stuff to know and take to heart...

With the ongoing battle between Windows and open source environments, the ability to cater to both might be the difference between life and death in your business.  Write Portable Code might be a really good investment in your survival...

07/24/2005

Book Review - Talk Is Cheap: Switching To Internet Telephones by James E. Gaskin

Category Book Reviews

Want to say good-bye to your plain old telephone service with the high cost of taxes, add-on fees, and long-distance?  Check out James E. Gaskin's book Talk Is Cheap - Switching To Internet Telephones (O'Reilly).  I certainly learned quite a bit from this book...

Contents: How Internet Telephone Calls Work; Your Internet Phone; Free Internet Phone Features That You're Paying For Now; Choosing Your Internet Phone Equipment; Vonage And Other Broadband Phone Carriers; Skype And Other Computer-centric Services; 911, Alarms, And Other Outgoing Calls; Tips, Tricks, And Techniques For Advanced Users; Go Wireless; Index

As more and more people switch to broadband internet access, there's an emerging option for telephony services in the home.  Using your internet connection (DSL or cable), you can switch to internet telephony, also known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and go all digital.  Gaskin does an excellent job in explaining exactly what this is, how it works, and the pros and cons of switching to a service like this.  He's a pretty strong advocate of VoIP, so you can pretty much figure out where his bias is going to lie.

The book focuses on two major types of internet telephony: phone-centric and computer-centric.  In the phone-centric area (using your phone much like before, but only through an internet service) he uses Vonage as the primary example of what to expect.  On the computer-centric side (no telephone, just headphones and speakers attached to your computer), he uses the Skype package as the leader in that area.  In this growing technology area, it's impossible to write a book covering every option such that it won't be out of date before it's printed.  To Gaskin's credit, he does a good job in covering the current playing field, as well as giving enough detail to figure in new options as they emerge.  

Even though you can come away from a book like this thinking all is rosy, that's not quite the case.  There are very well documented customer service issues with Vonage, and no player in the field is mature enough to get it right as often as Ma Bell does.  Still, if you're an early adopter of technology, this is definitely an area you need to check out.  And if you have no exposure to residential VoIP up until now, I'd recommend a copy of this book to get you up to speed quickly.

07/24/2005

Book Review - Data Strategy by Adelman, Moss, and Abai

Category Book Reviews

With the recent spate of data privacy lapses, the subject of data within the organization is getting more visibility.  One book that addresses the overall role of data is Data Strategy by Sid Adelman, Larissa Moss, and Majid Abai.  

Content:  Introduction; Data Integration; Data Quality; Metadata; Data Modeling; Organizational Roles and Responsibilities; Performance; Security and Privacy of Data; DBMS Selection; Business Intelligence; Strategies for Managing Unstructured Data; Business Value of Data and ROI; ROI Calculation Process, Cost Template, and Intangible Benefits Template; Resources; Index

The authors strike a nice balance between presenting solid information and keeping it readable.  It's easy to get so wrapped in the subject of "data" that you lose the ability to make the concepts practical and realistic for today's organization.  This book doesn't seem to fall prey to that tendency.  They also cover the whole gamut of how data needs to be handled in an organization.  A reader just starting out in IT would learn why integration is important, why data quality/consistency is paramount, and how to design a data model that can be used by multiple applications.  A person who holds the title of "data analyst" or equivalent will probably know most of this information, but it might be a good refresher in some areas (like on how to manage unstructured data).

The only issue I have with books like this is that they ignore the element of time and demand for application development.  In every company I've worked at, there's always less time than required to do a "correct" job on the application design.  There's also far more demand for applications than there are resources.  If you're not careful, the demands of the data analysis group can paralyze an organization while they try to get everything "perfect".  Meanwhile, nothing gets built.  That's not to say that you can ignore all the information in this book.  It's just that sometimes there are trade-offs you need to make in order to get things done in the real world.

Even with that caveat, this is still a book I'd recommend to someone asking why they have to be concerned with the enterprise view of their data...

07/23/2005

Book Review - The Astute Investor by Eric L. Prentis

Category Book Reviews

I was recently contacted by Eric Prentis, the author of The Astute Investor, asking if I would be interested in reviewing his book.  Always open to new ideas, I gladly accepted.  Although the book could use some polish for copy editing, there's a lot of valuable information here.

Contents:
Introduction
Part 1: Investing Principles and Strategies; Theory and Practice; Equity and Bond Fundamentals; Stock Market Technical Analysis; Trading Psychology; Intrinsic, Market, and Bargain Values; Interest Rate Principles; Interpreting The News; Being Contrarian; The Ten-Step Method For Investing Success
Part 2: Retirement Planning; Discounted Capital Market Theory; Conclusion; Glossary; Bibliography; Index

Unlike regular "mass market" investor books, The Astute Investor is not a quick read with a mindless, formulaic approach to buying stocks.  This book requires you to concentrate and pay attention to ideas and concepts.  Prentice goes into a fairly in-depth explanation of market indices, market theory, and technical analysis and charting.  In addition to explaining the overall concepts, he also goes into the hows and whys behind how those concepts drive what happens in the market today, and how you can avoid falling prey to fallacies that sound right but have underlying flaws.  The chapter on the ten-step method brings together all the previous chapters into an overall plan for picking a stock for investment purposes, and uses eBay as an example to work out the models.  Armed with this material, you'll end up with more hits than misses in your portfolio.

The main downside to this book is the editing.  As a self-published book, there is less emphasis on stylistic consistency and readability concerns.  In addition to a few typos, the content seems to be somewhat choppy in places.  More than once, I wondered if each chapter was a stand-alone piece of work or whether it was all going to mesh into a cohesive whole later on.  While it does coalesce at the end, there's the chance that the reader might be somewhat lost at that point.  And that's really a shame, as the material is important and valuable...

If all you want is a quick way to pick a popular stock to buy and sell, this book will likely not appeal to you.  But for the serious investor, this is information you can benefit from...

07/23/2005

Book Review - Monster by Frank Peretti

Category Book Reviews

It's been awhile since Frank Peretti had a new work out.  His latest, Monster, isn't too bad...

Reed and Beck Shelton are going off to the woods for a weekend of roughing it.  He's hoping this experience will give his wife Beck more self-confidence to overcome her shyness and stuttering problem.  When they arrive at the cabin, it's been completely ransacked and destroyed.  Thinking it might be bears, they camp out a short distance away, but whatever wrecked the cabin isn't gone.  Even worse, there's more than one.  The last thing Reed sees of Beck is her being carried off by some huge creature that looks like Bigfoot.  But try convincing searchers and locals of that.  The conventional wisdom is that a bear is what got Beck, but Reed and a few others are convinced that's not the case.  And as they try and hunt down the creature, there's a good chance that not all the people involved in the search are on the same team...

Peretti is a Christian writer and novelist, and his books have an underlying spiritual theme.  For this one, it's evolution and some of the problems with mutation and adaptation.  It's not a heavy-handed sermon, so you *can* read the book just for the entertainment factor if you'd like.  The story line isn't too far "out there" if you can accept the initial premise of a family of apelike creatures adopting a human into their midst.  I enjoyed watching Beck come to grips with her situation and figure out the "family dynamics" of a species totally foreign to her.

I definitely found it driving me towards the finish to find out how it all turned out.  Peretti will stay on my "should read" list with this book...

07/23/2005

Book Review - Astronomy Hacks by Robert and Barbara Thompson

Category Book Reviews

Robert Bruce Thompson & Barbara Fritchman Thompson have done a very nice job in their book Astronomy Hacks - Tips & Tools for Observing the Night Sky (O'Reilly).  If you are just starting out, the first part of the book should appeal most to you.  It gives you a solid grounding in the science of astronomy and how to find what you're looking for.  For those who have some previous experience, the second part covers the more detailed things, like how to hack your scope as well as accessories that add to your viewing success.

Contents:  Getting Started; Observing Hacks; Scope Hacks; Accessory Hacks; Index

I almost view this as a guide to astronomy rather than a hacks book.  If you were to buy a telescope for your child, this would be a good book to pick up as an accessory.  Hacks such as #1 - Don't Give Up, #2 - Join an Astronomy Club, and #6 - Be Prepared are perfect for getting off on the right foot.  If you know what to do early on, there's far less chance of disappointment.  Perhaps you won't end up selling the telescope a year down the road as "only used twice".  

Scope and accessory hacks are where the pros will start benefiting.  Obviously, you have to know what you're doing to benefit from hacks such as #38 - Tune Your Newtonian Reflector for Maximum Performance or #41 - Counterweight a Dobsonian Scope.  But that's the nice thing about this book.  It's not one that you read once and stash away, never to be opened again.  You'll use it over and over throughout your astronomy "career".

Oh, and just so you're not disappointed...  There are only 65 hacks here instead of the usual 100.  Wouldn't want you to feel short-changed...  :-)

Definitely a "must have" book if you're a star-gazer or if you have inklings to take up the hobby...

07/23/2005

Lance Armstrong... what a Tour...

Category Everything Else


After riding more than 3400 kilometers over 19 days, Lance was able to beat Ullrich by over 20 seconds in the final time trial over 55.5 kilometers.  Even better, he added nearly two minutes to his lead over Basso.  


What more can you ask for in your parting competition?  You win a stage, your team wins the team time trial, you have two teammates take stages for the first time ever, and you go out wearing the yellow jersey for the 7th straight year.


Sipping the champagne riding into Paris tomorrow will probably be the most fun he's had as a professional rider.  

07/23/2005

Book Review - Spring Into Technical Writing for Engineers and Scientists by Barry J. Rosenberg

Category Book Reviews

I wish I had this book available to me about three years sooner...  Spring Into Technical Writing for Engineers and Scientists by Barry J. Rosenberg.  I'd be much further ahead in my writing skills, that's for sure...

Contents:  
Section 1 - Planning to Write: The Quest; Audience; Documentation Plans
Section 2 - Writing - General Principles: Words; Sentences; Paragraphs and Sections; Lists; Tables; Graphics; Professional Secrets
Section 3 - Writing - Specific Kinds of Documents: Manuals; Web Sites; Proposals; Internal Planning Documents; Lab Reports; PowerPoint Presentations; E-Mail
Section 4 - Editing and Producing Documents: Editing and the Documentation Process; Fonts and Typography; Punctuation; Glossary; Bibliography; Index

The Spring Into series is designed to cover topics in one to three page chunks, short enough to quickly allow the busy professional to get what they need to know.  Rosenberg does an excellent job in this book of taking a subject that many people dread or outright hate and making it palatable and doable.  He doesn't target the professional writer or English teacher who needs to know about dangling particles and such.  This is just down to earth, practical advice.  I think that many people will get the most out of section 3 which goes into specific writing situations (reports, email, etc.).  Since that's where many people in the business world live, the example-driven nature of those chapters will pay back the time investment of the reader in short order.

As someone who enjoys writing and has worked on it over the last couple of years, there was quite a bit that I already knew when I read the material.  The problem is that I had to pick it all up by experience.  This book would have saved me an immense amount of time in getting better (as well as saving my readers the pain of having to watch me grow).  Still, there's a lot here that I either didn't understand or have to be reminded of constantly.  Take active vs. passive voice...  I *still* can't get rid of that habit...  :-)

If I were the manager of a group of techies who need to use the written word to communicate to users and clients, I'd spend the money to get them all a copy of this book.  The techies may not thank you directly, but their customers sure will...  :-)

07/22/2005

Book Review - Mapping Hacks by Schuyler Erle, Rich Gibson, and Jo Walsh

Category Book Reviews

I found another book that's excellent if you're into maps and software that creates them...  Mapping Hacks - Tips & Tools for Electronic Cartography by Schuyler Erle, Rich Gibson, and Jo Walsh (O'Reilly).  You can have a lot of fun with this one...

Contents:  Mapping Your Life; Mapping Your Neighborhood; Mapping Your World; Mapping (on) the Web; Mapping with Gadgets; Mapping on Your Desktop; Names and Places; Building the Geospatial Web; Mapping with Other People; Index

What's nice about this book is that it's not all about installing some large mapping software package and then learning how to use it.  Mapping Hacks covers a wide array of mapping techniques, tricks, and hacks that can be used by anyone willing to sit down and try things out.  For instance, the first hack (#1 - Put a Map on It) shows you how to use the online mapping services and how to hack together a URL to add mapping to your website.  Ever wondered how those driving direction sites work?  Hack #2 - Route Planning Online - sheds light on that one.  They even go so far as to cater to the ultra-geek and explain how to build a car navigation system that "will consume all your time and money, but make you the envy of all your nerd friends".  Gotta love it...

Like O'Reilly's other mapping book, this is printed in color, so you get a lot of information from the context of the figures and graphics.  Nicely done.  The book is also larger than a normal Hacks title.  There's the standard 100 entries, but there's around 525 pages to it.  You get a lot of detail on some of the more complex hacks, which in my opinion adds a lot of value to the book.  

A perfect book for those looking to get their feet wet on the subject, as well as for those who are more experienced but want to learn a few new tricks.  Very nicely done...

07/22/2005

Book Review - JBoss - A Developer's Notebook by Norman Richards and Sam Griffith, Jr.

Category Book Reviews

J2EE development is often seen as highly complex, and setting up the J2EE server from various vendors is nearly as bad.  A good alternative to get running quickly is JBoss, a complete open source J2EE server which is designed to cut through all the complexity and vendor add-ons.  A quick guide to get it running and working with it is JBoss - A Developer's Notebook by Normal Richards and Sam Griffith, Jr.  (O'Reilly).  

Contents:  Installing and Running JBoss; Deploying an Application on JBoss; Creating a Complete Application; Connecting to a Real Database; Applying Security; Logging; Configuring Persistence; Managing and Monitoring JBoss; Rolling Out JBoss; Index

The Developer's Notebook series is a quirky format using a gridlined page with scribbled font text in the margins.  You'll even find the occasional "water ring" on a page where a sweaty glass was set down.  They're also small and to the point.  It's not a step-by-step comprehensive tutorial, nor does it attempt to explain every last iota of information on the subject.  It's a series of subjects followed by paragraphs of "How Do I Do That?" and "What Just Happened?" write-ups.  This leads to a high degree of practicality and hands-on material.

Richards and Griffith have created a book that will be immensely useful to people who have some J2EE background or have worked with other J2EE servers before.  By following the material, the reader can get the essentials necessary to start playing with JBoss in a matter of a couple of hours rather than days.  If this is your very first exposure to J2EE, you won't get a lot of handholding here.  There is the assumption of a certain level of background information.  And if you're going to be using JBoss as a production-level J2EE server for your organization (yes, you *can* do that!), you'll probably want an additional book that goes into much more depth.  But if you come in with proper expectations, it's a great resource.

Nice format, good writing, and a lot of meat packed into a small volume.  Good job...

07/22/2005

Would you trust your online education to this group?

Category Humor

A picture named M2

07/21/2005

Book Review - Web Mapping Illustrated by Tyler Mitchell

Category Book Reviews

The ability to generate maps from your data has long been something pretty much restricted to companies with deep pockets.  But Google seems to have sparked an interest in mapping software, and there are plenty of open source tools out there that will allow you to create your own Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  O'Reilly's come out with a book that will be a "must have" if this is an interest of yours... Web Mapping Illustrated by Tyler Mitchell.

Contents: Introduction to Digital Mapping; Digital Mapping Tasks and Tools; Converting and Viewing Maps; Installing MapServer; Acquiring Map Data; Analyzing Map Data; Converting Map Data; Visualizing Mapping Data in a Desktop Program; Create and Edit Personal Map Data; Creating Static Maps; Publishing Interactive Maps on the Web; Accessing Maps Through Web Services; Managing a Spatial Database; Custom Programming with MapServer's MapScript; A Brief Introduction to Map Projections; MapServer Reference Guide for Vector Data Access; Index

There are a number of things I like about this book.  For one, he shows how you can build systems that rival expensive GIS packages using ordinary open source software.  His main focus is on MapServer, along with any other software out there that fills any necessary gaps.  Using this book, you should be able to get MapServer up and running in your environment.  The next thing that's good is that you can start to gain the understanding of the terminology of mapping technology.  Above the normal techno-babble needed in order to work with any software system, mapping systems have their own jargon.  Web Mapping Illustrated helps to educate you on that jargon within the context of working with the software.  Finally, a departure from the normal O'Reilly "animal cover" books...  This one's in color!  Printing this in black and white would have ended up losing a lot of meaning and information in the examples.  Seeing a hi-res full-color map of the Okanagan Mountain Park fire of a few years back really grabs your attention and makes you realize just what level of power you have available to you...

Even if you're using a commercial GIS in your job, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this book and expand your horizons a bit.  Or even map them out while you're at it...  :-)

07/20/2005

Book Review - Project 2003 Personal Trainer by CustomGuide

Category Book Reviews

Learning to use Microsoft Project is one of those things I know I *should* know but don't.  Project 2003 Personal Trainer by CustomGuide has now become the latest "just in case" addition to my bookshelf at work...

Content: The Fundamentals; Entering the Task List; Entering and Assigning Resources; Viewing the Project; Working with Tasks; Working with Resources; Working with Costs; Balancing the Project; Updating Project Progress; Checking Project Progress; Working with Reports; Working with Multiple Projects; Index

As a software developer, I work on a number of projects.  But fortunately, the type of development I do is normally not such that it requires the overhead of having to use Project to plan it out.  And if it does, I've been lucky to have a project manager to handle all that.  I know at some point my luck will run out, however.  Project 2003 Personal Trainer is a practical, example-/exercise-driven approach to learning the basics of the software.  The philosophy behind CustomGuide is "I listen, I forget; I see, I recall; I do, I understand".  Therefore, the entire book is set up to have you actually *do* stuff with Project in order to understand how it works and to learn how to make it go where you want.  There's a CD included that is a Project 2003 simulator, so you can still learn the software even if you haven't plunked down a check to Microsoft for Project.  This is really nice, in that it gives you maximum flexibility on where you can set up your learning environment regardless of software licensing issues.  I can't think of too many better ways to get up to speed more quickly than with this material.

Don't expect that this book will be a long-term reference volume, though.  If you are a full-time project manager who is going to live in Project, this book will get you moving quickly.  But if you want to learn the fine intricacies of a Gantt chart, you'll need to look elsewhere.  That's not to say that this book falls down in that area.  It's just not meant to be the end-all repository of all things Project.  Get this book, get your feet wet, develop some basic competency, and then decide if you need to go deeper.  

I'll be keeping this book on my work bookshelf and watching it closely to make sure it doesn't disappear...

07/19/2005

Book Review - Tour de France For Dummies by Phil Liggett, James Raia, and Sammarye Lewis

Category Book Reviews

Yes, there's a Dummies title for just about everything.  And since we're now in the 3rd week of the Tour de France, I figured it was about time to finish up Tour de France For Dummies by Phil Liggett, James Raia, and Sammarye Lewis.  And yes, I learned quite a bit.

Content:
Part 1 - A Bicycle Race Unlike Any Other: Answering All Your Tour Questions; Understanding the Tour de France Race Routes; The Races within the Race
Part 2 - How the Race Is Run and Won: It's All about the Team; More Tour Rules Than You Ever Wanted to Know; Understanding Race Strategies
Part 3 - Loving the Ride - A Man and His Bike: Who Are These Guys and How Do They Do It?; Spending a Day in the Life of a Rider; Having the Best Equipment in the Bunch
Part 4 - Watching the Race: Perfecting the Art of Spectating from Home; Going to the Tour - A Brief Guide
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten Greatest Riders in Tour History; The Ten Most Important Tours in History; Ten Unique Tour de France Statistics; Ten Dramatic Tour de France Moments; Ten Great Tour Climbs and Mountaintops; Ten Other Important Races; Glossary; Index

Let's set expectations...  I ride a bike maybe a couple times a year, and strictly for recreation.  Like many other Americans, I became interested in the sport and the Tour through Lance Armstrong's story.  I'd like to think I'm moderately educated on how the Tour works, the different jerseys, a bit of the strategy, and so forth.  But when it comes to understanding how riders are picked, the logistics for running the team for three weeks, and how the team cars work, I'm lost.  This book really helped clear that up.  In a very understandable and readable format, Liggett, Raia, and Lewis take you from the very basics (like jersey colors) through tactics and history.  At worst, you'll come away knowing about the peleton and the maillot jaune.  But in all likelihood, you'll finish with a much greater and deeper appreciation for what these supreme athletes go through to just finish the Tour, much less compete to win.  It's rather awe-inspiring...

The only complaint I have about the book is fairly minor, but it really started to get on my nerves after awhile.  The editing of the book is a bit uneven.  I don't know if it's due to trying to blend three authors into a single volume or if it was a rush job to get it out before the event.  For instance, if a new French word is introduced, like musette (feedbag), I don't need the word musette (feedbag) explained to me every time it occurs.  The first time I learn about the domestique going back to get musettes (feedbags) for everyone on the team, that's fine.  After that, I should probably know what musette (feedbag) means.  Let it go!  Same thing with the Discovery Team (formerly the US Postal Service Team).  I can make that translation myself after the first five times.  And if you say US Postal Service Team (now the Discovery Team), I'm guessing I could have figured that out.  

So, if you're still a bit confused about all the hoopla during three weeks in July, this book will definitely clear it up for you.  If you're an experienced rider, you may still pick up a few factoids you didn't know....  A good read.

07/18/2005

Book Review - Knoppix Pocket Reference by Kyle Rankin

Category Everything Else

If you've had your eyes opened to the power of Knoppix as a Swiss Army knife of administration tools, Rankin's latest book will be the quick reminder guide of how best to use it...  Knoppix Pocket Reference.

Contents:  Introduction; Cheat Codes; Special Knoppix Tools; Install Knoppix to the Hard Drive; Image or Erase a Drive; Linux Security Response; Linux System Repair; Windows System Repair; Remaster Knoppix; Experimental Features; Final Words; Acknowledgements; Index

Pocket references are small (this one is less than 100 pages), so they are not good introductory guides to the subject at hand.  This one is no different.  If you're simply playing with Knoppix in order to see what desktop Linux is all about, you can easily pass on this book.  You'll get a bit more out of it if you're looking to run Knoppix a bit more regularly (by installing it on your hard drive or saving configurations between reboots).  Still, Knoppix Hacks would probably be a better title to better understand those techniques.  Where this book shines is when you decide to use Knoppix as a bootable OS to allow you to administer and repair systems that are no longer working correctly (both Linux *and* Windows).  Since you don't have to have a bootable sector on your hard drive to use it, you can get Knoppix up and running from a CD and then use it to repair the underlying hard drive.  If you have a virus or rootkit installed, a Knoppix boot will allow you to get a clean system up and running which can then check out the hard drive for repair.  Knoppix Pocket Reference will help remind you of the steps you need to take to accomplish some of these tasks.  You're only getting the core commands with very little fluff, so you can quickly hone in on the trouble spot.

This is the book I'd recommend as a follow-up purchase to Knoppix Hacks.  If you decide to use Knoppix in the ways that the Hacks book reveals, Knoppix Pocket Guide will be the volume that you refer to until the commands are burned into your memory.

07/17/2005

Book Review - Spies Among Us by Ira Winkler

Category Book Reviews

So just how safe are you and your company/organization?  My guess is, not very.  Spies Among Us by Ira Winkler will definitely drive home that fact...

Contents:
Part 1 - Espionage Concepts: How To Be A Spy; Why You Can Never Be Secure; Death By 1000 Cuts; Spies And Their Friends; How The Spies Really Get You
Part 2 - Case Studies: Spy vs. Spy; Nuclear Meltdown; Fill'er Up!; The Entrepreneur; The Criminal Face Of The Internet Age; Crimes Against Individuals
Part 3 - Stopping The Spies: Taking Control; Taking Action; Index

Winkler is someone who does "attacks" for a living.  He routinely is hired by companies to do threat assessment on their systems and locations, and unfortunately he is often successful with far too little effort.  These assessments could be just a simulated attack to gain access to secured locations and systems that could then be compromised, clear up to security of nuclear facility information and terrorist attacks on fueling facilities at airports.  It's that last one that is scary, in that it was done in a post-9/11 environment, and went off without a hitch.  We're just not in the "security mindset" in most cases.

But rather than just go on about how easy it is to hack and crack systems, he also offers plenty of advice on how best to build a security program that is effective (both from a cost and result perspective).  Each of the case studies ends with a summary that shows how something like this could happen, as well as what vulnerabilities were found and exploited.  That piece by itself would be worth the cost of the book.  But the final two chapters are where you'll benefit most.  Winkler covers a multitude of counter-measures (personnel, physical, operational, technical) that can be implemented in order to have a more secure environment.  The final chapter then explains how to implement a comprehensive program based on the value of your information and the amount of risk present.  Rather than just saying "do this, this, and this", you get a customized approach based on your own unique situation.  Really good stuff...

As he states early on in the book, there's no way to be 100% safe and secure.  But you can do far more than "hope for the best".  This is the book that can help you understand just how dangerous things can be and how at risk you are...

07/17/2005

Book Review - Rain Storm by Barry Eisler

Category Book Reviews

Another book I took on vacation for relaxation was Rain Storm by Barry Eisler.  Now *this* was a fun read...

John Rain is a paid assassin who does work for organizations like the CIA.  But he does have a moral code and principles by which he operates, so he's not into killing for killing's sake.  In this novel, Rain is hired to make a middle eastern arms dealer appear to die of "natural causes".  Everything is going relatively well with the assignment until he discovers that the woman with the dealer is also apparently an agent who is after something.  When they finally end up coming face-to-face during an abortive attempt to kill the dealer, he decides to pull back in order to figure out who she is, who she works for, and how important it might be for him to work with her in order to get close to the target.  But she's not terribly forthcoming with the entire story on her side, so Rain isn't quite sure who to believe and what to do.  Things get much more interesting when an assassination team shows up at his location with the express purpose of doing *him* in.  So now he has to determine if she is trying to get rid of him, or if there's another layer of organization that considers him a "loose end" that must be tied up.  

This was one of those novels where you know that no one is completely who they seem to be, and double- and triple-crosses could happen at any moment.  Rain is a likable character, and it's easy to start empathizing with him as he attempts to do his job and figure out who he can trust (and who he can't).  The only reason I can't give this a five-star rating is that there is a considerable plot thread that harkens back to an earlier installment of the series.  While it is possible to just read through it and go with the flow, you can't help but think there is an element of color or depth that you're just not getting.

This book is really a good read, and I recommend it.  But if you have the opportunity, read the 1st and 2nd books in the series.  I think it will allow you to follow this story much more deeply than I did...

07/17/2005

Book Review - U. S. S. Seawolf by Patrick Robinson

Category Book Reviews

While off on vacation, my dad recommended I read a book he had just finished...  U. S. S. Seawolf by Patrick Robinson.  Not terribly bad if you're into submarine warfare novels...

China's doing some major saber-rattling with Taiwan, and the U. S. decides to send over their best sub to do a little research on a new sub the Chinese are getting ready to launch.  They are supposed to avoid detection at all costs, but unfortunately that doesn't happen.  They venture too close to a Chinese destroyer that has deployed a towed sonar array, and the wire gets wrapped in the propellers.  The sub and crew are captured and taken into custody, and the plan is to get as much info out of them before they are killed.  But since one of the officers is the son of the President, all stops need to be pulled out in order to mount a rescue and destroy the sub before the Chinese can fully study the technology.  In comes the Navy Seals, and a daring rescue is mounted.  Typical long odds, death-defying mission that, of course, succeeds...

I didn't think it was a bad read for a summer afternoon.  If you're into these types of novels, you've read the plotline a thousand times before.  If you want to finely dissect the story and poke holes in it, then it can fall apart in a number of locations.  But if you just want to suspend reality for a short while, you can find it here.

07/17/2005

Back, rested, relaxed, and ready to go...

Category Everything Else

We had a great four days at our family reunion...  lots of rest, relaxation, and reading...  It's a great group to spend time with, as no one has any agendas or expectations.  And we *like* each other! :-)

Talked a lot, got caught up with what's going on in the family, read, rode bikes, etc...  We even had a visitor who dropped in to check out the festivities.  And if you think he's as close as it looks, you're right...

A picture named M2

07/14/2005

Off for a long weekend and family reunion...

Category Everything Else

Catch you in a few days...

07/13/2005

Book Review - eBay Hacks by David A. Karp

Category Book Reviews

If you use eBay (as a buyer or seller), this is the "user's manual" that should be part of your signup...  eBay Hacks by David A. Karp.

Contents: Diplomacy and Feedback; Searching; Bidding; Selling; Working with Photos; Completing Transactions; Running a Business on eBay; The eBay API; Index

Most Hacks titles consist of 100 tips and tricks related to the subject matter being discussed.  In eBay Hacks, you get an extra 25 for your money.  What a deal!  :-)  Regardless of whether you're a complete newbie to eBay or you actually run an eBay storefront, you'll find things in here that will save you time and money on a regular basis.  Reading the chapter and hacks on feedback, I learned that there are ways to prevent negative feedback even after it's been given.  Since so much of who you are on eBay relates directly back to your feedback rating, this can be a critical factor in getting buyers to trust you (or others to sell to you).  The chapter on bidding went into the act of "sniping", or bidding at the last second, so that you can stand a much better chance of not being overbid at the last second.  I didn't realize there are third-party services that will do this for you automatically.  No wonder I've lost some things I really thought I had nailed.  Karp even goes into how best to compose photos that will draw people to your auction rather than send them away for something that looks more appealing.

Obviously, you can use eBay without this book and information.  I'm sure you'll do fine.  But the first time you find an auction miscategorized (because you were looking for that condition) and you launch a bidding strategy that gets you the deal of a lifetime for next to nothing, you'll wonder why you waited so long.  Good stuff here...

07/13/2005

Book Review - Velocity by Dean Koontz

Category Book Reviews

In the midst of an emotional crisis that was preventing me from sleeping, I decided to pick up Dean Koontz's latest novel Velocity that I recently picked up from the library.  Less than 24 hours later, I was done with the book.  This is Koontz at his best...

Billy Wiles is a bartender just living a normal life.  Everything changes when he goes to his car one night after work and finds a note.  The author of the note says he will kill one type of person if he takes the note to the police, or he'll kill another type of person if Wiles chooses to do nothing.  He's relatively convinced that this is some sort of joke, until the first murder occurs.  The notes keep coming, and Wiles has to either solve the mystery of who's doing the killings, or make unwilling choices as to who lives and who dies.  Complicating the entire quest is how the killer has made the killings appear to be something done by Wiles himself.  So he can't go to the police, and the killer seems to be one step ahead of him at all times.   The final showdown involves whether Wiles can preserve the life of his comatose fiancee and not die in the process...

Koontz has evolved so much as a writer over the years.  His early works (often done under pen names) were heavy on the supernatural and bizarre.  While I liked the books, I wouldn't recommend his stuff unless I knew the reading habits of the person who was getting the opinion.  The edgy work has mellowed, and many of the novels in the last three or four years have been more mainstream and entertaining.  Even so, his stories sometimes seemed to be a vehicle for showing how creatively he could turn a phrase.  Velocity puts all that to rest.  The story-line is compelling and doesn't let up much.  While you start to think you know "who dun it", some whipsaw plot twists towards the end keep you entirely off balance.  

I could easily view this as the best Koontz novel I've read (and I've read them all).  Many of my favorite authors seem to lose their appeal and edge over time.  Koontz is doing just the opposite... getting better with age.

07/13/2005

Thank you one and all for the care and support...

Category Everything Else

It's amazing how much better one can feel when they have some sleep under their belts...  :-)

I've been much more together today.  I really appreciate all the words of support left on yesterday's emotional dump post.  I got a really nice email from a good friend with some perspective, and I even just got off the phone with Chris Miller who called to see how I was doing.  This is a great community, and it never ceases to amaze me how one can feel supported from virtual friends worldwide, many of whom I will never meet face to face.

Thank you, one and all.

07/11/2005

Ian heading off to Florida to be a Disney intern? Probably...

Category Everything Else

I'm a little shellshocked this evening...  

Sue's been reading about the DisneyWorld college intern program and she's convinced it would be a good thing for Ian.  Since he didn't go away to college (partially grades, partially his diabetes), she's concerned that he's missed out on a key part of growing up.  Ian understands the Disney "magic" from all the trips we've taken down there, and he's often thought that working there would be an interesting experience...

So, we found out that they were doing a presentation at Portland State today, and Ian filled out the app.  Sue was thinking that enrolling in the spring session (starting in January) would be a nice start.  He arrived an hour early due to a miscommunication, and was able to get a mini-presentation by himself.  He also interviewed on the spot (normally not done for a couple of weeks).  It sounds like they offered him a slot on the spot.  He'll have to get official confirmation and such, but so far it looks like a very real possibility...

Starting in August...  *AUGUST*!!!!

I'm not ready for this!  There are so many "what if's".  He's never been out on his own before.  What if he has a problem with his diabetes?  He'll be 3000 miles away!  

Realistically, this is probably a perfect way for him to get an "away from home" experience.  It's a pretty controlled environment, he'll have roommates, he'll be working a lot and attending classes, etc...

Still...  My oldest will be leaving home for five months, and I won't be there to protect him.  My eyes are getting just a wee bit damp thinking about this.

And like a true geek, I'm wondering how he'll be able to have internet connectivity for the five months he's down there.  Anyone have a low-end laptop they'd like to loan us for 1/2 a year?  :-)

I think I knew this would happen some day, but I didn't expect it to happen in a matter of weeks.

07/11/2005

Stop! An IT Spending Manifesto

Category Everything Else

Michael Sampson has written a great piece on his Shared Spaces blog titled Stop! An IT Spending Manifesto 2005 - 2007.

It's time for CIOs, IT Managers, and IT Professionals to stop wasting money on technologies that are mature and that offer limited opportunities for business improvement. That means immediately stopping spending on: ...

This should be required reading for every CEO...  Nice job, Michael!

07/11/2005

Internet may come to your power outlet

Category IBM/Lotus

From CNNMoney: Internet may come to your power outlet

Utility operator CenterPoint Energy Inc. and IBM will team up to test new technologies for delivering high-speed Internet access over electrical powerlines, the companies said Monday.

CenterPoint said its BPL pilot will run through this August, after which it will evaluate consumer response and the merits of a larger deployment.

Last week Current Communications Group, which develops BPL services, raised a reported $100 million in financing from a diverse group of investors including Google Inc. (up $0.69 to $296.23, Research) and Goldman Sachs to fund the deployment of its technology.

Broadband services over electrical lines are seen as an attractive alternative for rural areas where traditional broadband delivery mediums like cable and telephone lines do not or can not reach.

I know this has been oft-discussed as "the next big thing", but it never quite seems to take off...  Now with tech companies the likes of IBM and Google getting involved, might its time be here?

07/10/2005

Book Review - Make Easy Money with Google : Using the AdSense Advertising Program by Eric Giguere

Category Book Reviews

Google's AdSense program has allowed anyone to make money from their website.  Eric Giguere attempts to explain how this is done in the book Make Easy Money with Google : Using the AdSense Advertising Program.

Content:  Making Money with Google; Understanding AdSense; Finding Something to Say; Getting Ready to Say It; Designing Your Site; Building Your Site; Becoming an AdSense Publisher; Publishing Ads on Your Site; Making Money from Your Site; Expanding Your Horizons; Index

This is one of those books that I have a hard time figuring out how to rate.  On the positive side, Giguere does a good job showing what the AdSense program is, how it works, and how to get set up with it.  There is also quite a bit of material on how advertising works, as well as how companies can "bid" on keywords to make sure their ads show up more frequently when certain content is displayed.  The whole book is done as a conversation between the author and a couple of people who are asking him how to make money on the web.  If you have a website and want to learn about the AdSense program, this part of the book will appeal to you.

The problem I have with the book is focus.  In my opinion, far too much of the book is spent on explaining web sites, domains, and how to go about creating a website.  The people I know who have started using AdSense to pick up a few dollars from their site *already have a site*!  I don't need an explanation about domains, choosing a site name, and instructions on how to build a page.  Been there, done that a *long, long* time ago.  The only way I could recommend this book in its entirety would be if someone was looking for a money-making opportunity, and didn't know squat about websites.  And if that's the case, focusing on building a website merely to support your AdSense efforts seems a very tall order...

Nice styling, easy to read, and good information about the AdSense program.  Unfortunately, well over half the book was off-target in my opinion...  Caveat emptor...

07/10/2005

Microsoft's Ballmer tells lurvely partners to stick it to IBM

Category Microsoft


From The Register:  
Microsoft's Ballmer tells lurvely partners to stick it to IBM

A pumped-up and sweating Ballmer informed Microsoft's Worldwide partner conference on Sunday morning that IBM is a spent competitive challenge that is pushing sub-par software
, while he worked the crowd's concerns over IP and patents by talking of so-called "rumors" that Linux violates more than 200 patents.


Let's see...  Gates recently admitted that they never matched Notes in many areas of collaboration, and Ballmer says IBM is pushing sub-par software...


What does that say by inference about Microsoft's offering?  :-)

07/10/2005

Book Review - Peter van der Linden's Guide to Linux

Category Book Reviews


One of the benefits to being an active reviewer is that you occasionally get sneak previews of books that are not yet published.  Prentice Hall sent me a draft manuscript copy of
Peter van der Linden's Guide to Linux due to be published in August.  While good for all Linux distros, it will be especially valuable if you're focusing on Linspire.

Contents: Hello Linux; Running the Linux Live CD; The KDE Desktop; Onto the Net; All About Email; Web Tools; Adding Software; More Applications; Filesystems and Optical Storage (CDs and DVDs); Sharing On Your Local Network; Keeping Your Data Private; Installation and Boot; Malicious Windows Software; Making Your Hardware Obey You - BIOS and Device Drivers; Sample Output from WiFi Network Commands; Commands for the Command Line; Disk Basics and Partitioning; Troubleshooting With Strance


Since Peter has focused on Linspire, the target audience is going to be Window users who want to switch over to Linux without becoming a geek.  I think he hits that target dead on.  The style of the book is extremely readable.  There's plenty of content that Joe Average will be able to read and understand, and as a result will be able to start using the Linux desktop quite effectively.  Jane Power User will also benefit, as there is also material that gets into more difficult concepts like file sharing using packages such as Samba.  Even if Joe isn't ready for that on day one (Joe just wants to surf the 'net and read email), he'll be able to refer back to the book on numerous occasions to push his limits.


When the book is published, there will be a bootable Linspire CD included that will allow you to try out Linspire without making any changes to your current hardware.  Bootable CDs like Knoppix bring up a Linux environment that runs completely from memory without making physical changes to your hard drive.  If you think that Linspire is a distro that you'd like to use, getting this book will be the logical first step in your evaluation process.  You'll learn if your system can run Linspire, and then you can experiment with the desktop GUI before making your final commitment.


Very well done work, and I'm looking forward to the final version of the book.  This will be a nice addition to the world of Linux books, and it will be a highly recommended purchase if you're going with Linspire.

07/10/2005

Book Review - The Software Development Edge by Joe Marasco

Category Book Reviews

Last night I finished an interesting book on software project management...  The Software Development Edge by Joe Marasco.  It's a series of essays that cover the gamut of "herding cats"...

Contents:
Part 1 - General Management: Beginning at the Beginning; Computational Roots; Mountaineering; Managing
Part 2 - Software Differences: The Most Important Thing; Modeling; Coding; Getting It Out the Door
Part 3 - The Project-Management View: Trade-offs; Estimating; Scheduling; Rhythm
Part 4 - Human Element: Politics; Negotiating; Signing Up; Compensation
Part 5 - Thinking Laterally: History Lesson; Bad Analogies; The Refresh Problem; Not So Random Numbers
Part 6 - Advanced Topics: Crisis; Growth; Culture; Putting It All Together; Acknowledgements; Index

Unlike many project management books, this is not a "how to" or a methodology volume.  It's a series of essays from someone who's been in the trenches for far longer than many have been coding, and he's sharing his wisdom and insights with the reader.  So if you're hoping to get a new set of steps to follow, you'll be sadly disappointed.  You need to go into this book with an open mind, and look for a few nuggets of truth that will reinforce a point or open you up to a new way of thinking about an aspect of your job.  For me, I found the chapter on Crisis (equating troubled projects with a five day old dead fish) and the chapter on History Lessons (comparing software development to a 350 year old ship that sank) quite insightful.  Truth may not always be in the place you expect it...

I can't say that every chapter held my interest.  In Growth, Marasco talks about how the growth of resources on a software project can be projected and managed (and how it gets out of control if you're not careful).  Supplemented by a whole lot of statistics and graphs, I quickly got lost and disinterested.  That's not to say that the material isn't correct or helpful, just that some of it is more readable than other parts...

Definitely worth reading if you're responsible for project management in your current position.  It won't be a book you refer to every day on your job, but it will cause you to think about some aspects of your career in a different light...

07/09/2005

Book Review - Fit for Developing Software by Rick Mugridge and Ward Cunningham

Category Book Reviews

Plenty of interesting innovations in software development have come out of the open source movement.  One testing innovation is covered in the book Fit for Developing Software by Rick Mugridge and Ward Cunningham.

Contents:  
Part 1 - Introducing Fit Tables: Communicating with Tables; Testing Calculations with ColumnFixture Tables; Testing Business Processes with ActionFixture Tables; Testing Lists with RowFixture Tables; Testing with Sequences of Tables; Creating Tables and Running Fit; Using Fitnesse; Expecting Errors; FitLibrary Tables; A Variety of Tables
Part 2 - Developing Tables for RentAPartySoftware: Introducing Fit at RentAPartySoftware; Getting Started - Emily and Don's First Table; Testing a Business Process - Cash Rentals; Tests Involving the Date and Time; Transforming Workflow Tests into Calculation Tests; Story Test-Driven Development with Fit; Designing and Refactoring Tests to Communicate Ideas; Closing for Nonprogrammers
Part 3 - Introducing Fit Fixtures: Connecting Tables and Applications; Column Fixtures; Action Fixtures; List Fixtures; Fixtures for Sequences of Tables; Using Other Values in Tables; Installing and Running Fit; Installing FitNesse; FitLibrary Fixtures; Custom Table Fixtures
Part 4 - Developing Fixtures for RentAPartySoftware: Fixtures and Adapting the Application; Emily's First Fixture; Fixtures Testing Through the User Interface; Restructuring the System for Testing; Mocks and Clocks; Running Calculation Tests Indirectly; Closing for Programmers at RPS
Part 5 - Custom Development: The Architecture of Fit; Developing Custom Fixtures; Custom Runners; Model-Based Test Generation
Part 6 - Appendices: Background Material; Book Resources Web Site; Fit and Other Programming Languages; Bibliography; Index

Framework for Integrated Tests, or Fit, is a technique that uses Excel tables to show and track test results of software programs.  The test conditions are set up along with the expected results and stored in a directory.  Then with the use of a framework, the tests can be automatically run and the results recorded in the tables with color coding.  Green means the test passed, and red means that the returned results differ from the expected results.  The whole process is very beneficial on a number of counts.  For one, you work closely with the end users to determine the rules and results.  This leads to better understanding of what the software should do.  In addition to that, you now have a way to automatically run any programming changes against a test suite to be sure that all the conditions still pass muster.

While I'm still a little hesitant to recommend the technology, the book is very well done.  It covers the Fit software in detail with plenty of question/answer sections that take the knowledge from theory to reality.  They also walk the reader through a scenario of how Fit might be used in a real situation.  My hesitation about the software is that it seems to be made up of many different open source software products that have been wired together for Fit.  Wikis, Java code, and even a software package designed to read Excel spreadsheets (Poi).  The authors mention that Poi is still under development and may not work in all situations.  That would scare me off for wide-scale implementation.  

Even with my caveats, I still would recommend the book for anyone wanting to explore this area...

07/09/2005

IMPORTANT READ, PEOPLE!!! - Look out IBM, here comes Microsoft's OzFest

Category Microsoft

From The Register: Look out IBM, here comes Microsoft's OzFest

If the following is true (and I have no reason to believe it's not), you had best be prepared to counter some major spin/FUD coming out of Redmond in September...

Microsoft is gunning for IBM's Lotus Notes users in an effort to quadruple the size of its ISV partner community around the Office desktop productivity suite.

The company will launch a sales and marketing campaign in September that encourages 100m Notes customers to build their future collaborative software applications and services on Office and SharePoint Portal Server.

Microsoft believes it can exploit what it perceives to be uncertainty and concern among users over the future of their platform caused by IBM's newer Workplace strategy.

By targeting Lotus Notes users, Microsoft believes it can create new business opportunities for ISVs and services companies, thereby growing its network of certified Office partners from 1,600 to around 6,000. Microsoft provided the numbers in an attempt to clarify comments made earlier at the Worldwide partner conference around plans to expand its partner ecosystem by a factor of four.

"We are hearing that with Workplace technology there has been a decent amount of concern from Lotus Notes customers about what the future holds for them," Microsoft corporate vice president for the information worker product management group Chris Capossela told The Register on Friday.

One spot where Microsoft hopes to lure Notes customers and potential partners is in the area of increasingly richer search technology. Capossela said search would be one of the key developments in Office 12, due in the second half of 2006.

Pre-empting Office 12, IBM in May took steps to beef-up search capabilities in Notes working with Google to produce Google Desktop Search for Enterprise. The software searches Notes in addition to Office, AOL and Internet Explorer files.

Microsoft’s campaign represents the company's latest attempt to unseat Notes as companies' choice of corporate messaging and collaborative backbone. Microsoft spent much of the 1990s launching code migration wizards to move users of Lotus Development's Notes software to its, then, new Exchange Server and Outlook.

Capossela said things are different this time around, though, as Microsoft is preaching a message of co-existence with Notes instead of rip and replace.

"We will be getting customers to build [new applications and services] using SharePoint rather than Lotus Notes or Workplace and keep Lotus Notes in maintenance mode." Capossela said.

Things certainly will be different this time for more reasons than one: in a twist of irony, or higher pay packages, Ray Ozzie, the man credited with creating Notes, is now working for Microsoft to help enhance Microsoft Office's peer-to-peer and collaborative capabilities, after Microsoft bought Ozzie's Groove Networks earlier this year.

07/09/2005

Microsoft Extends Competitive Sales Tool

Category Microsoft

From CRN:  Microsoft Extends Competitive Sales Tool

 Microsoft on Saturday told Certified and Gold partners that they now have free and unlimited access to presales technical support.

The offering extends Microsoft's Competitive Sales Assistance hotline,which enables partners to close hotly contested sales against Novell Linux and IBM Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino.

Smart move on their part...  extending front line competitive sales support to business partners in one location.  Although I find it interesting that they offer this at the same time they are preaching a "kinder, gentler" Microsoft that really just wants to play well with others.  :-)

07/05/2005

Analyst Reports - Framing The Discussion...

Category Microsoft

I've had this entry bookmarked for awhile in order to blog it, and I keep forgetting about it.  But finally...

Joe Brockmeier's ZDNet blog:  Framing The Discussion - Linux vs. Microsoft

I know a lot of us, having seen the farce and folly that often accompanies sponsored analyst reports, wonder why a company such as IBM or Microsoft would even bother if the results are met with such derision...  I think Brockmeier has the answer:

Microsoft seems to realize that many people take its sponsored studies with a grain of salt. So, why would the folks in Redmond — or any other vendor, for that matter — go to the trouble to finance a study that they know will be dismissed as biased?

Microsoft knows that it's unlikely that the majority of IT professionals will take the results at face value, once they learn that a study has been sponsored by the vendor. But, by releasing the study anyway, Microsoft has a chance at framing the discussion.

07/05/2005

Book Review - From Chunk To Hunk by Fred Anderson

Category Book Reviews

Since I've started my weight loss program, I decided to get around to reading a book my boss was reading at work...  From Chunk To Hunk - Diary Of A Fat Man by Fred Anderson.  While I can tell some people will hate this book, I absolutely loved it...

Anderson was a *very* overweight 371 pound guy who found his "pain point" after watching a TV show about a leg amputation.  The amputee was in the emergency room with a very gross leg due to diabetes complications, and they ended up removing it.  Anderson saw that (he was diabetic also) and could tell that was not far away from his future unless he did something different.  He ditched the Little Debbie snack cake he was munching on, and set out on his quest to drop below 200 pounds.  Instead of finding some faddish diet or starving himself, he started eating nutritious food in portions that were "normal" for what a person should eat (not what *his* concept of normal was).  He also started moving around and becoming more active.  Between reduced calories and increased activities, he was able to change his whole mental image of who he was, how he related to food, and in the end dropped all the weight he was looking to lose.

Other than the fact that I loved reading his writing style, I also appreciated the insight of weight loss from a guy's perspective.  There are no weight loss success books out there by women who will talk about the very real subject of "man boobs"...  what weight loss can do for your love life...  along with the hysterical episode of purchasing a girdle after his skin removal surgery...  Great stuff!

Some people won't like this book as it's not a cookie cutter "program" that tells you what to eat, when to eat it, and guarantees success.  Most American weight loss programs treat symptoms and not the underlying condition and mindset that got you into the situation in the first place.  And once you're off the program, the weight comes back.  Anderson's approach is perhaps the only true way to have permanent weight loss with no drastic risks...  Move more, eat less, and understand your relationship with food...

If you're a guy trying to lose weight, I'd highly recommend this book.  Even though you may be following a different plan (like I'm following Jenny Craig), the mental aspects of what happens are still the same...

07/04/2005

Live 8... Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest...

Category Everything Else

How can we as a society say we care about hunger and poverty, when we support "competitive eating circuits"?

The ability to stuff 50+ hot dogs into your body in 12 minutes is *not* a sport.  You may "train" for it, but it's not a sport, and you are not an athlete.  Add in the other "champions" like donut eating champs, hard boiled egg eating champs, sweet corn eating champs...  

*Sweet corn eating champs*...  that's a claim to fame???

I'm still convinced that people who do this have a moral, ethical issue...

07/04/2005

Book Review - Eclipse Distilled by David Carlson

Category Book Reviews

With Eclipse becoming extremely popular as an integrated development environment, there have been a number of books published to help you learn the tool.  I recently received a copy of Eclipse Distilled by David Carlson, and it's a pretty good addition to the collection...

Contents:
Part 1 - Getting Started: A Java IDE and So Much More!; Hello Eclipse; Managing Your Projects; Customizing Your Workbench; Rapid Development; Java Project Configuration; Debugging Your Code
Part 2 - Getting Agile: Characteristics of Agile Development; Updating the Eclipse IDE; Continuous Testing with JUnit; Refactoring Your Code; Continuous Integration with Ant; Team Ownership with CVS; Coding Standards; Index

If you're looking for a book that covers a large number of the features of the Eclipse IDE, this book will be a good choice.  In addition to covering all the technical details for installation, options, and "how to" things like refactoring, the author also covers how Eclipse works with various other common programming tools like JUnit and CVS.  It's not a definitive guide on these other software packages, but you'll get a good grounding on how they integrate.

What this book *isn't* is a tutorial guide to learning Eclipse.  There are a number of Eclipse books that will walk you through a number of examples of how the package works and how to write code with it.  This book really doesn't do that.  You'll find out a lot about all the different options, but it's not like a "step 1, step 2, step 3" presentation.  I really don't consider this a detriment to the book.  If I wanted a tutorial, I could find one.  But if I want a book that shows me all the mechanics and let's me figure out how to apply them to my needs, the "Distilled" approach works great.

I like the book, but I can see how some people might not be enamored with the lack of sample code.  If you're going in with your eyes open, you should be fine...

07/04/2005

Book Review - Cinderella Man by Jeremy Schaap

Category Book Reviews

After hearing all the hype behind the movie Cinderella Man, I decided to get a non-Hollywood version of the story.  The book that fulfills that need is Jeremy Schaap's Cinderella Man - James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History.  This is an incredible story of perseverance and determination...

If you're unfamiliar with the story, it basically takes place during the years of the Great Depression.  Braddock grew up in an environment where fighting and sparring was second nature.  Once he figured out that boxing was something he could excel in, he started to fight for money.  Keep in mind that boxing back in the 20's and 30's was *the* sport of the people.  Crowds of 60 and 70 thousand to watch matches was not uncommon.  A champion in the sport was treated as the king of the world.  Braddock was well on his way to climbing that peak until he broke his powerful right hand.  It never got a chance to heal properly, and his sole weapon started to become ineffective.  After losing a number of fights against boxers he should have dominated, he decided he had had enough and quit.  Unfortunately, the depression robbed him of any savings he had earned during his career and he had no other skills to fall back on.  He finally ended up on the relief program and was working at whatever job he could find on a daily basis down on the docks.

Contrast that with Max Baer.  Baer was a highly skilled boxer with looks and personality.  His career was somewhat rocky at first, but then he started a four year winning streak that made him one of the most well-known personalities in the world.  But for him, boxing was simply the means by which he could have fine food, wine, and all the women he wanted.  Even though his training was half-hearted at best, he was still able to dominate the heavyweight ranks.  

The stories start to converge in 1934.  Baer is the world champion, and Braddock is working on the docks.  But all that hard work has led to a leaner, more fit Braddock.  His right hand has healed, and his left, always a non-factor, is now as strong as his right.  He is signed to fight on two days notice against someone who needs a "name" fighter to go against but who won't beat him.  Braddock surprises everyone by dominating him.  After two more fights where he wins in impressive fashion, circumstances align to place him against Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world.  Baer sees this as nothing more than other victim of his boxing prowess, while Braddock sees this as the culmination of everything he's worked for his entire life.  As the bout gets closer, Baer starts to sense that perhaps he's underestimated Braddock.  In the ring, Braddock takes everything Baer can throw at him but is still able to box and dominate the champion.  At the end, he's declared the winner by unanimous decision and caps the most unlikely upset in boxing history.

Schaap does a great job painting the story in relation to how society functioned back in the 20's and 30's.  It's hard to imagine today how much prestige boxing champions had, as the sport has lost a lot of its popularity.  But back then, Braddock's "Rocky"-like story captivated the nation and gave the common man, struggling to make ends meet, a symbol of hope.  If this were nothing more than a Hollywood story, it'd be a good one.  The fact that it is a factual recreation of real events makes it even more inspiring.  A great read...

07/03/2005

Book Review - Eclipse AspectJ

Category Book Reviews

Since my last attempt to get a book to learn about AspectJ wasn't very productive, I decided to try again with Eclipse AspectJ: Aspect-Oriented Programming with AspectJ and the Eclipse AspectJ Development Tools by Adrian Colyer, Andy Clement, George Harley, and Matthew Webster.  *Much*, much better...

Content:
Part 1 - Introducing Eclipse, AspectJ, and AJDT: Getting Started; First Steps in AJDT; Extending The Application; More AJDT
Part 2 - The AspectJ Language: An Overview Of AspectJ; Straight To The Point; Take My Advice; Inter-Type Declarations; Aspects; Using The AspectJ API
Part 3 - Putting It All Together: Adopting AspectJ; Advanced AJDT; Aspect-Oriented Design; Command-Line AspectJ; AspectJ Language Quick Reference; Next Steps; AJDT Icons Reference; Index

To give you an idea of how much better I liked this book...  I learned more in the preface than I knew after going through the other book I reviewed.  :-)

There's a lot to like about how this book is done.  Part 2 - the coverage of the actual language - is more than adequate to give you the reference material you need in order to learn the language.  With each concept like pointcuts and advice, you get a tutorial of the feature, examples of how it actually works, as well as reference material for the methods and properties it uses.  There's probably enough here to get you quite far down the learning path.  But coupled with parts 1 & 3, it's more than enough to get you fully competent in the language.  Part 1 gives you plenty of knowledge and grounding in how to use Eclipse to start coding an AspectJ application.  They have a nice example of an insurance application that helps bring the theory into practice.  Part 3 was a nice touch, too.  Since AspectJ is designed to work *with* your object-oriented applications, this section helps you plan out how you can actually start applying the new skills in your environment.  Since aspect-oriented programming (AOP) hasn't yet achieved any critical mass, there's little chance you'll be able to apply it in an all-out fashion.  But using the material in part 3, you'll be able to plan out some pilots and situations where you can get your feet wet.  Very cool...

Even as a way to get a high-level understanding of AOP, this book works very well.  To take the next step from high-level understanding to competency, you'll have everything you need right here.  I'd definitely recommend this book for anyone wanting to delve into this area...

07/03/2005

Book Review - Spring Into Linux by Janet Valade

Category Book Reviews

There's obviously no lack of books to help you learn Linux.  One of the latest entries into the arena is Spring Into Linux by Janet Valade.  If your goal is to get up and running quickly, this book will help...

Contents:  Understanding Open Source Software; Choosing a Linux Distribution; Getting Ready to Install Linux; Installation; Interacting with Linux; Using Your Desktop; Using the Command Line; Linux Accounts; File Management; Applications and Programs; Word Processing; Spreadsheets; Graphics; Printing; The Internet; Multimedia; Email, Messaging, and News; Editing Text Files; Shell Scripts; Regular Expressions; Command Reference; Index

As with most successful books, this one has a particular style that helps to maintain the focus on quickly getting up to speed.  Each chapter consists of "chunks", which are one to two pages of material covering a specific topic or skill.  Each chunk starts at the top of the page, so it's pretty easy to find what you're looking for.  Also, the chunk titles are also listed in the table of contents, so finding the topic for reference purposes is pretty easy.  Due to the space constraints for each topic, there is a higher ratio of text to pictures than you'll find in a lot of other books.  So if you want a lot of step-by-step pictures, you might not do too well here...

The distribution coverage, while not exhaustively complete, does hit many of the major ones...  Fedora, Mandrake, and SuSE.  Again, this will not give you a complete reference to absolutely every option in your distribution of choice, but that's not the purpose of this book.  It's enough to get you up and running.  From there you can learn more of the details over time.  There's a good mix of command line to desktop GUI material here, so you should learn enough in the way of skills to allow you to switch back and forth when necessary.  And in addition to the OS material, Valade also covers some of the more significant desktop applications that are needed by nearly every computer user.  Applications such as OpenOffice and GIMP will allow you to be as productive on the Linux desktop as you are in a Windows environment.

For the right audience, this is a book I'd definitely recommend.  It's focused, concise, and it will get you active with the software in short order...

07/03/2005

Book Review - Maran Illustrated Guitar

Category Book Reviews

Maran Graphics has once again come out with a book that absolutely rocks...  Maran Illustrated Guitar.

Content:  Guitar Basics; Getting Ready To Play; Reading Music; Playing Basic Chords; Playing Barre Chords And Power Chords; Playing Single Notes; Articulation Techniques; Playing Rock Guitar; Playing The Blues; Playing Folk And Country Music; Playing Classical Guitar; Buying A Guitar; Guitar Accessories; Guitar Care And Maintenance; Home Recording; Quick Reference; Index

As with all other Maran Illustrated books, they've done an excellent job combining clear photos and instructive illustrations to guide you during the learning process.  They even use multiple exposure photos with "ghosting" to show fingering sequences so that you can tell what movement should be combined with finger positioning.  Very nicely done.  In addition to just showing you how to play, they also cover the history of guitars and the masters of the instrument.  It ends up giving you an appreciation for the instrument that you don't normally see in a "how to play" book.  I like how they go beyond mere mechanics to show you how to care for your instrument, from stringing to cleaning to transportation.  Basically, this covers the entire spectrum of the subject.

I've often wanted to learn to play the guitar.  My wife plays and one of my sons play.  I can't say that I have a lot of time to learn it right now, but at least I now have the main tool I need to help me get there when I'm ready.  Excellent book, and highly recommended if you want to learn to play...

07/03/2005

More on the eJobs portal in Dubai

Category IBM/Lotus

From Strategiy:  IBM, Dubai eGovernment launch new job portal

This is part of the same news release, but it has a couple more paragraphs at the end that are worth reading...

“We believe the new portal will bring us many benefits as we start to strengthen our work processes across different levels and follow up more easily on the various tasks at hand. Lotus Domino is all about making collaboration easier and that is exactly what will help us have an edge in providing employment services in this market,” continued Al Shair.

The technology supports automatic bilingual translation of all CVs and job postings uploaded on the portal and allows for the integration of the portal with Dubai eGovernment’s eLearn portal that offers e-learning courses in IT, Business and Professional Development, as well as Desktop and Office Productivity. The eJob portal also offers advanced features that allow job seekers and employers to communicate directly and schedule interviews online once one party has expressed interest in the other.

“We are proud to be part of this project, which will bring real value to citizens in Dubai and outside. IBM’s Lotus Domino software will allow the Dubai eGovernment to rapidly introduce new features and services to the eJob portal, extend its functionalities and grow and evolve its activities,” said Bashar Kilani, software group manager, IBM Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan.

I like it...  :-)

07/02/2005

Book Review - Act of War by Dale Brown

Category Book Reviews

Dale Brown's latest novel, Act of War, makes for a decent, entertaining read...

After a nuclear backpack bomb blows up a major oil refinery in Texas, the United States goes on a major offensive against terrorism.  Part of the change includes the formation of a new force to battle terrorists using unconventional tactics and weaponry.  This includes a new exoskeleton cyborg machine that gives it's human wearer incredible strength and abilities.  The designer of the weapon wants to start running off to other areas and countries to track down the people who launched the nuclear attack.  But they are getting a lot of resistance to doing their job, and it seems to be coming from the highest levels of the White House.  The question is whether there's a mole advising the president, and if so, will this new force be able to gain enough approval to actually prevent a second attack...

Contrary to some of the other feedback on Amazon, I enjoyed this book.  It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good.  It takes quite a bit of time to figure out who might be pulling the strings and setting the group up for failure, and everyone is a potential suspect.  The cyborg technology was interesting, and while improbable, does give one a chance to imagine "what if".  I think what was best about the book is that it shows how easy it would be to launch devastating attacks against America, and how difficult it would be from a logistical standpoint to prevent it.

07/02/2005

Nice use of Notes/Domino in Dubai

Category IBM/Lotus

From Khaleej Times: eJob portal to benefit local, expatriate job seekers

DUBAI - The Dubai government will create new opportunities for job seekers and employers in the Emirate through the eJob portal that aims to provide enhanced employment services for both locals and expatriates in the public and private sectors.

Job seekers can now post their CVs on the bilingual eJob portal (http://ejob.dubai.ae/), previously servicing local citizens in the public sector only, and search for available full-time and part-time vacancies, while employers will be able to advertise positions and access a rich database of candidates, searching for those with the qualifications and skills needed for their businesses.

"The all round expansion and development activities taking place in Dubai have created numerous employment opportunities in the emirate, attracting individuals not only from across the region but from many other parts of the world to visit Dubai and seek jobs here. By opening up our services to the expatriate community and the private sector, job seekers all around can now use the portal to explore the job market in Dubai, while organisations can take advantage of a larger pool of skills that is made available to them through the portal," said Salem Al Shair, eServices Director, Dubai eGovernment. "This is very much in line with our vision to bring new growth opportunities to Dubai through the use of advanced technologies."

The new eJob portal was developed by the IBM Software Group Services, using IBM's Lotus Domino software.

Nicely done...

07/02/2005

What was I thinking? June's strange search hits...

Category Blogging

It just dawned on me... it's July 2nd, and I didn't go over any of the search hits that sent people here.  It's a pit to get old and start losing track of time and reality...

So what strange things appear in the 6400 or so search hits in June?
  • i m adult my wife in diapers - There apparently is an entire subculture out there I'm totally unaware of...  and thankful for it.
  • it sucks getting old - Somedays, that's an accurate statement.
  • harriet klausner scam - Klausner is the #1 reviewer at Amazon, and most are convinced that she's not entirely on the up and up.  She claims to be a speed reader, but *nobody* reads and writes 90 reviews in a single day.  There are quite a few examples where people have compared her review to the book jacket cover, and it's remarkably similar.  There are also a number of reviews with significant factual errors (like, did she even *read* it?).  And to top it off, everything to her is a great book.  I don't know that I'd call her a scam, but I don't think she's actually that useful as a reviewer either.
  • brill beer - I'm still convinced that Ed has a whole separate life that none of us know about...
  • viagra blindness told you - ;-)
  • krause brian penis - Huh?  Not here...  I don't even know who he is!
  • when is barry bonds coming back? - I still contend the answer is "never".
  • stuffed butts - I'm trying to "destuff" mine, thank you...  You can follow the progress over at http://lessduffbert.blogspot.com.
  • dont tell thomas - Don't tell me WHAT?
  • unobfuscating .net code - Easy!  Use Domino...  :-)
  • how many books do you read in a year? - Lots...  and you?
  • black wind of death is set to attack us - So should I even be worried about losing weight then?
  • "enron" "Jeff McMahon" "where" "now" - "You" "don't" "need" "all" "the" "quotes" "..."
  • car foam death - Obviously a story set at a car wash...
  • "you know you're short when..." - you're 5'4"...
  • migrating from domino to exchange - One word...  "don't".
  • Andrew Pollack outsource - They're gunning for you, Andrew...  :-)
  • what thomas the devil look like - I'm not *that* bad!
  • "Fifty is the new Thirty" - And pretty soon it will be "Don't trust anyone over 60".
  • come off of fluoxetine - Perhaps someday, but not yet.
  • i lost weight on prozac - I'm jealous...
  • how to move up in Amazon ranking - Write more reviews, duh!
  • quick duffbert - I'd love to know the reasoning behind that one...

06/30/2005

Went and saw War Of The Worlds this evening...

Category Everything Else

My wife was wanting to see it, so I (of course) made sure that was in the plans for this July 4th weekend.  Without getting into any commentary about Tom Cruise's erratic behavior of late, the best I can give the movie is a "so-so"...

It doesn't take long for the creatures to make their appearance, so it's not like you're waiting half the movie for something to happen.  That was a positive.  The special effects were OK and fit the movie, but nothing that just made you sit back and say "whoa!".  The plots a little thin, but there's a fair amount of suspense going on most of the time...

I guess my biggest gripe involves a number of "how come" moments.  Now, I'm not terribly astute on picking up obvious disconnects and such.  But for instance...  These creatures make their presence known with freak lightening storms that create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that fries all electronics.  Every car in Cruise's neighborhood is disabled...  except the Caravan that he "borrows" from the neighborhood mechanic.  The pulse even takes out his wristwatch, but some idiot is using a camcorder to film the monster during the first rampage.  Huh?  There's "creative license" and then there's "how wide was that plot hole?"

Relatively entertaining, and it will probably do OK on opening weekend.  But I don't think it's going to have much staying power past that.  It's a "see once" movie...

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