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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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08/31/2005

So I guess I'm not "l33t"...

Category Everything Else

I was text-messaging on my phone to Ian yesterday about some bank deposit.  I normally start my messages to him by using the T-Mobile website where I can just type via the keyboard to send a message.  I really hate using the phone keypad to reply as it takes too long. 
 
One of the replies I sent to him yesterday using the phone was the sentence "That's what we thought.", only I spelled it "That's what we thot" just to make it shorter.
 
Here's the reply I got back from Ian...
 
"Thot?  Good god they even have pros like you using middle school short hand... poor guy theyve brain washed you."

08/28/2005

Book Review - Java After Hours by Steven Holzner

Category Book Reviews

In most tech language tutorials and how-to articles, you end up getting sample programs and projects that are "formal" or work-related.  But sometimes you learn more about a language if you can work on fun stuff.  Steven Holzner moves into that territory in the book Java After Hours.  There's some stuff in here I'm going to mess around with...

Contents:  Introduction; Making Fish Swim in the Multithreaded Aquarium; Slapshot! The Interactive Hockey Game; The Graphicizer Image-Editing and Conversion Tool; Creating Stunning Graphics with Painter; Chatting on the Internet with the Chat Room; Who's There? Logging Access to your Website with WebLogger; Running Any Program via Remote Control with the Robot; Creating a Custom Web Browser in Java: The Browser Project; Typing Across the Internet: The Intercom Project; Getting a Graphical Weather Forecast: The Forecaster Project; Index

I'll admit that I have to give high marks to any book that mixes Java and my favorite sport...  hockey!  :)

Seriously, Holzner does some interesting things that make this book stand out.  By using projects and examples that are more personal and "fun" in nature, it's much more likely that the reader will become absorbed in the material and pick up the particular concepts almost without trying.  He also uses projects that are graphical in nature instead of relying on cold, dry server-based routines that just print some words on the screen.  It's one thing to learn about multithreading by trying to create "processes" that can run concurrently.  It's a whole different learning experience when the threads are fish in an aquarium, and you can truly watch the threads run and interact.  This is something you don't see often in most books today.  And when you get done with each chapter, you actually have something visible you can look back at and enjoy.

This isn't a book to get if you are looking to learn Java from the ground up.  There's no "from A to Z" progression through the language.  But if you've already learned Java and are looking to learn some new techniques and concepts, this is an excellent "next step" to take in your Java journey...

08/28/2005

Saw "The Brothers Grimm" yesterday in the theater... Save your money.

Category Everything Else

I was coerced into taking the wife to see The Brothers Grimm yesterday.  It's not the type of movie I'd voluntarily go and see, but I figured I might be surprised if I gave it a chance.  

No such luck...  Even the wife hated it.

It's a convoluted mess of a story, a plot line that eluded any of my attempts to follow it on anything more than a broad level.  I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be a parody, a comedy, or some semi-serious attempt at 18th century storytelling.  The characters are strange and I wasn't sure what half of them were doing in the movie anyway.  

I'm not sure I would have even watched this when it comes out on DVD.  Knowing what I know now, the answer would be resounding "no".

08/27/2005

Well... life without a laptop didn't last very long...

Category Everything Else

No, Ian didn't come home...  :-)

I decided that I really didn't like not having a laptop if I'm going to be on the road (i.e., vacation).  So I went out to Fry's today to just "look around"...

Shoulda known *that* wasn't going to work too well!

I came home with a Toshiba S213 laptop, Pentium 4 3.33GHz HT, 15.4" screen, 1GB RAM, 100GB hard drive, DVDRW, and 802.11b/g built in.  And all for the low, low price of $1299!  :)  Throw in a $50 Canon printer that's free after rebate, and I think I did pretty well.

Now if Joe and I present again at Lotusphere this year, I won't end up cutting out the last part of my presentation (Eclipse as an alternative Java IDE for Domino) because my machine was painfully repainting the screen...

08/27/2005

Book Review - Learning Perl (4th Edition)

Category Book Reviews

One of the reasons I don't quite think of myself as a computer geek (although I am) is that I don't know some of the "geeky" languages like Perl.  I need to rectify that some day, and one of O'Reilly's books will help...  Learning Perl (4th Edition) by Randal L. Schwartz, Tom Phoenix, and brian d foy.  This is one of the classic Perl guides, and it's well worth owning.

Contents:  Introduction; Scalar Data; Lists and Arrays; Subroutines; Input and Output; Hashes; In the World of Regular Expressions; Matching with Regular Expressions; Processing Text with Regular Expressions; More Control Structures; File Tests; Directory Operations; Strings and Sorting; Process Management; Perl Modules; Some Advanced Perl Techniques; Exercise Answers; Beyond the Llama; Index

Randal Schwartz is *the* best-selling Perl author and writer, and it shows in this book.  He knows the subject inside and out, and knows how to communicate that knowledge to an audience.  In Learning Perl, he and his fellow authors set out to cover the material that you'll use 90% of the time in day-to-day situations.  Keeping that as the target, you'll get a lot of value out of working through this title.  Each chapter also has a number of exercises at the end that will help you apply and solidify what you just learned.  You can even cheat and check out the answers at the end, even though the authors beg you not to...  :)

They do assume a background understanding of basic computing and programming concepts, so this wouldn't be the best title if you are looking to learn Perl as your first programming language.  Of course, I don't think many people approach Perl from that perspective anyway, so it shouldn't be a problem.  With that assumption in place, you end up getting into the meat of Perl quickly.  Couple that with a nice conversational approach to the writing, and you've got a book that will take you far.  Oh, and don't ignore the footnotes...  Some useful information (and great humor) is hidden down there...

If you need to learn Perl and you want to get there quickly, Learning Perl is the way to go.  It's stood the test of time by making it to the 4th edition, and there's a reason for that...

08/27/2005

Book Review - OpenOffice.org 2, Firefox, and Thunderbird for Windows All in One by Greg Perry

Category Book Reviews

The software trio that Microsoft would love to vaporize...  OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and Thunderbird.  High quality software, easy to use if you already know the Microsoft equivalents, and best of all...  FREE!  Greg Perry has written a book that will get you up to speed quite well on it all...  OpenOffice.org 2, Firefox, and Thunderbird for Windows All in One (Sams Teach Yourself).  

Contents:  
Part 1 - Writing Words with Writer: Start Here; Learning Writer's Basics; Making Your Words Look Good; Adding Lists, Tables, and Graphics; Using Writer's Advanced Features
Part 2 - Crunching Numbers with Calc: Getting to Know Calc; Working with Calc Data; Formatting Spreadsheets with Calc; Creating Advanced Spreadsheets; Using Calc as a Simple Database
Part 3 - Impressing Audiences with Impress: Learning About Impress; Adding Flair to Your Presentations; Making More Impressive Presentations
Part 4 - Drawing On Your Inner Artist with Draw: Getting Ready to Draw; Improving Your Drawings; Putting on Finishing Touches with Draw
Part 5 - Enhancing Your Work with OpenOffice.org's Other Features: Enhancing Your Work with More OpenOffice.org Features; Organizing Your Data with Base; Browsing the Internet with Firefox; Emailing with Thunderbird
Index

Overall, I think this book is very well done.  The style is such that each chapter has a number of items (all numbered and listed in the table of contents) that focus on a particular task, such as formatting a table or inserting graphics in a document.  These items are cross-referenced back to items you need to know/do before you start, as well as to items that will build on your new skills.  As a result, the book works well as both a tutorial and a reference guide that you can use once you master the basics.  The instructions are easy to follow, and pretty much 95% (or more) of what you'll need to do on a regular basis is covered.  If someone were looking to use OpenOffice.org as their primary productivity suite instead of Microsoft Office, this would be a good book to pick up as your introduction.

My only nit about the book is the inclusion of the Firefox and Thunderbird chapters.  The way it's presented makes it look like Firefox and Thunderbird are part of OpenOffice.org.  They're not.  And if you're buying the book for some significant coverage on those two packages, you'll be really disappointed.  In the 600 pages of this book, you'll get around 50 pages to cover both.  It's almost as if the topics were included in order to ride some of the current Firefox popularity.  In my opinion (and it's simply that...  my opinion), I would have either left those chapters out entirely or expanded them significantly.  If you're wanting to know more about either Firefox or Thunderbird, you'd be much better off buying a separate book that *just* covers that.

Even with the criticism, the book is well worth having.  You'll learn how to cut your dependancies on Microsoft's Office monopoly and save yourself quite a bit of money in the process...

08/26/2005

Book Review - l337 h4x0r h4ndb00k by tapeworm

Category Book Reviews

No, this isn't a malfunctioning keyboard, nor have I decided to join the ranks of kiddie hackers by starting to use "elite" language.  It's the title of a new book by Sams...  l337 h4xor handbook by tapeworm.  For those of you not into "l337", that translates to "Elite Hacker Handbook".  Having gotten *that* piece of information out of the way, I can get on to the review.  And my review is that I really don't know what group this author is trying to target, and I think it fails regardless...

Content:  fitting in; shortcuts; customize; browsing/e-mail; fundamentals; get the f@*! out of my chat room!; advanced automation; paranoia; networks; beyond windows; conclusion

I wanted to like this book based on the title.  Sort of a gritty view of the hacker underworld, revealing "secrets" not commonly written of.  What we get instead is a book that can't decide what it wants to be.  People who are new to computers or confused by jargon (one of the targets from the back cover) won't see much useable info here.  If you're new to computers, the whole "elite" form of typing and word creation will be lost on you, and you'll wonder what the (#@# this person is trying to tell you.  If you already know enough to understand the type of style the author is trying to use, then you'll find most of the information far too basic.  Desktop overviews?  Running defragger?  This isn't news, folks...

Parts of the book try to go into basic HTML coding and scripting languages.  Again, if you don't know this stuff, this book isn't going to appeal to you in the first place.  If the book appeals to you, you already know this stuff.  "Advanced Automation" gets into more scripting, but again, not at a level which is going to advance the knowledge base of someone who already understands it.  It seemed that with every chapter, the content was at odds with the style and tone of the book, thereby missing the target regardless of what side he chose...

The whole "l337" format really started to annoy me big time after the first chapter.  I admit to not having much tolerance for that anyway.  There were some cute phrases and humorous lines in places, but not enough to make me want to recommend it to anyone.  I can't even recommend it as a parody of hacker culture, because I think the author is really trying to convey useful info.  I just don't think the audience that would find it useful would read the book, and those who would read the book won't find it useful.  

08/25/2005

Book Review - Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs

Category Book Reviews

Kathy Reichs is definitely one of my favorite authors, and I enjoyed her latest...  Cross Bones.  Sort of a Jewish Da Vinci Code...

Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist splitting time between Montreal and North Carolina is drawn into a *really* cold case.  As in a set of bones that looks to be around 2000 years old.  While working on a case involving the murder of a Jewish merchant, a picture of an old skeleton is given to her by an anonymous person who thinks it's the reason the merchant was killed.  Digging deeper (no pun intended), she actually ends up in possession of said skeleton (quite likely found at Masada) and there's a strong chance that the identity of the bones could really mess up some major theology for a number of groups.  Brennan has to stay alive, figure out if the bones belong to Jesus Christ, and try and solve the murder of the merchant, all at the same time.  A number of people would like to see the bones just "disappear", and if Brennan has to disappear along with them, so much the better...

As you can tell, there's some strong parallels to Code in the story.  Jewish history would need to be rewritten if the bones belong to Christ, and the entire Christian faith would collapse if the resurrection is proven to be false.  There are some real "alternative view" scenarios thrown in, so if the story catches your attention you can actually delve into it further.  The ending left a bit to be desired, but overall it was an enjoyable read and a nice addition to the Tempe series.  A nice vacation read...

08/25/2005

Printing attachments in a Notes document via LotusScript...

Category Software Development

At work, I had a project involving a vanilla-type Notes app to store information about system backup and recovery procedures.  The only requirement (that came late in the game) was to be able to print off the documentation to satisfy the auditors.  Fine, except that most of the Notes documents have attachments, and they really want those to print off automatically without manually opening each one.

I trolled the discussion groups and came across some code (forgot the source now) that gave me most of what I needed to make this work.  Their requirement was to be able to handle Word, Excel, Visio, Project, and .txt files (using Notepad).  Here's the code I came up with that seems to work fine.  

I'm sure y'all will let me know any improvements...  You're pretty good about that...  :)

-----------


Sub Click(Source As Button)

    'This routine is set up to scan a document for attachments and then
print them out automatically based on their file
    'extension and associated application.

    Dim ws As New NotesUIWorkSpace
    Dim session As New NotesSession
    Dim dbThis As NotesDatabase
    Dim uidocThis As NotesUIDocument
    Dim docThis As NotesDocument
    Dim embAttachment As NotesEmbeddedObject
    Dim strFileUniqueID As String
    Dim strAttachmentType As String
    Dim strAttachmentName As String
    Dim lngPrintDelay As Long

    Set dbThis = session.CurrentDatabase

    Set uidocThis = ws.CurrentDocument
    Set docThis =uidocThis.Document

    'This prints the actual Notes document prior to printing the
attachments.
    Call uidocThis.Print(1)

    strFileUniqueID = Format(Now, "yyyymmddhhmmss")

    'By traversing all the item elements in the document, all attachments
should be snagged.
    Forall i In docThis.Items
          If i.type = Attachment Then
                Set embAttachment = docThis.GetAttachment(i.values(0))
                strAttachmentType = Right$(embAttachment.Name, 3)
                strAttachmentName = "c:\temp\BRDocPrintAttachment" &
strFileUniqueID

                Call embAttachment.ExtractFile(strAttachmentName)

                Select Case Lcase(strAttachmentType)

                'This routine prints txt files with the Notepad
application running under the /p print switch.  It assumes that
                'Notepad.exe is running in c:\Windows.
                Case "txt"
                      Dim strNotepadLocation As String
                      Dim intTaskID As Integer
                      strNotepadLocation = "c:\Windows\Notepad.exe"
                      intTaskID = Shell(strNotepadLocation & " /p" &
strAttachmentName)
                      Kill strAttachmentName

                'This routine prints Excel files.  It assumes that Excel
is installed on the machine doing the printing.
                Case "xls"
                      Dim ExcelApp As Variant
                      Dim ExcelDoc As Variant
                      Set ExcelApp = CreateObject("Excel.Application")
                      Set ExcelDoc =
ExcelApp.Workbooks.Open(strAttachmentName)
                      Call ExcelDoc.PrintOut
                      Call ExcelDoc.Close(0)
                      Call ExcelApp.Quit
                      Set ExcelApp = Nothing
                      Kill strAttachmentName

                'This routine prints Word files.  It assumes that Word is
installed on the machine doing the printing.
                Case "doc"
                      Dim WordApp As Variant
                      Dim WordDoc As Variant
                      Set WordApp = CreateObject("Word.Application")
                      Set WordDoc =
WordApp.Documents.Open(strAttachmentName)
                      Call WordDoc.PrintOut
                      Call WordDoc.Close(0)
                      Call WordApp.Quit
                      Set WordApp = Nothing
                      Kill strAttachmentName

                'This routine prints Visio files.  It assumes that Visio
is installed on the machine doing the printing.
                Case "vsd"
                      Dim VisioApp As Variant
                      Dim VisioDoc As Variant
                      Set VisioApp = CreateObject("Visio.Application")
                      VisioApp.Visible = False
                      Set VisioDoc =
VisioApp.Documents.Open(strAttachmentName)
                      Call VisioDoc.Print
                      Call VisioApp.Quit
                      Set VisioApp = Nothing
                      Kill strAttachmentName

                'This routine prints Microsoft Project files.  It assumes
that Microsoft Project is installed on the machine doing the printing.
                Case "mpp"
                      Dim ProjectApp As Variant
                      Set ProjectApp =
CreateObject("MSProject.Application")
                      Call ProjectApp.FileOpen(strAttachmentName)
                      Call ProjectApp.FilePrint(1)
                      Call ProjectApp.FileClose(0)
                      Call ProjectApp.Quit
                      Set ProjectApp = Nothing
                      Kill strAttachmentName

                'And if the attachment doesn't have a recognized
extension, we tell the user to print the attachment manually.
                Case Else

                      Msgbox "This routine doesn't recognize " +
strAttachmentType + " file types.  Please print the attachment manually."

                End Select
          End If
    End Forall
End Sub

08/25/2005

Why I share my personal trials, struggles, and triumphs...

Category Blogging

One blog I read often is Tom Peters, and he has an entry in his blog today that resonates strongly with me.  He shared that his mother passed away, along with thoughts on depression and a number of other "non-business" subjects.  When asked why he chooses to be personal, he gave this answer in the first paragraph...

A few of you have been surprised that I've been talking about depression, my Mom, etc. There are two reasons. First, I think Blogs should be personal & authentic. Hey, we're a Community! It's the Whole Damn point! Learning, Growing, Musing, and Caring together.

And *that's* why I share more than just "what happened at work today"...  We "head-in-the-sand" Notes people have to stick together...  :)

08/25/2005

And Lotus Notes/Domino has had presence awareness for *HOW* long???

Category Microsoft

From eWeek:  Microsoft Pushes Presence for Business Applications

 The Microsoft brass believes real-time collaboration means a lot more than just instant messaging.

To push real-time technologies into the business applications space, the Redmond software vendor is making available to Visual Studio developers a set of controls and code samples that can be used to build presence directly into their applications.

Only Microsoft can get away with a catch-up feature being touted as something new and exciting...

Though I admit to being a little dismayed that the IBM marketing of Notes/Domino can't get this same type of visibility for stuff that is *truly* revolutionary...

08/23/2005

We'll miss you, Ian...

Category Everything Else

A picture named M2

(and I promise to try and make Cam give you back your mini-fridge when you come home...)

08/22/2005

Book Review - Switching to VoIP by Ted Wallingford

Category Book Reviews

It seems like Voice over Internet Protocol, aka VoIP, is starting to become much more mainstream.  Not only are businesses switching over, but now you can set up your home phone access to use VoIP (aka "broadband") technology.  Ted Wallingford has done a nice job in explaining the business side of the possibilities in the book Switching to VoIP - A Solutions Manual for Network Professionals.

Contents:  Voice and Data - Two Separate Worlds?; Voice over Data - Many Conversations, One Network; Linux as a PBX; Circuit-Switched Telephony; Enterprise Telephone Applications; Replacing the Voice Circuit with VoIP; Replacing Call Signaling with VoIP; VoIP Readiness; Quality of Service; Security and Monitoring; Troubleshooting Tools; PSTN Trunks; Network Infrastructure for VoIP; Traditional Apps on the Converged Network; What Can Go Wrong?; VoIP Vendors and Services; Asterisk Reference; SIP Methods and Responses; AGI Commands; Asterisk Manager Socket API Syntax; Glossary; Index

I think the biggest thing to keep in mind when approaching this book is the target audience.  While there are a few books out there on "internet telephones" that talk to the consumer, this isn't one of them.  The tag line of "for Network Professionals" is the key here.  While you don't have to be a network guru to read this book, some level of familiarity with network and telephony concepts would help.  Someone either working with the communication systems in a company or heading up a communications department would be a perfect match here.  You'd probably even do alright if you just have an interest in the subject, as Wellingford does a good job taking what can be complex material and making it understandable.  An admirable task in itself...

What makes this book stand out from other books I'd expect to see is that it doesn't just dwell on jargon and theory.  There are a number of projects included in the book so you can get your hands dirty actually working with the technology.  Add to that the fact that the author uses an open source PBX system called Asterisk for the exercises.  So now you have no reason in terms of cost for not diving right in.  

Although I'm not necessarily the target audience for this book, I'd have no problem recommending it to someone looking for material that covers this subject.  The book is very well written, and after finishing it you should have a very firm grasp of the essentials.  You might even know enough to start yourself on your next career path...  :)

08/22/2005

Ian leaves for his DisneyWorld internship tomorrow...

Category Everything Else

He'll be fine...  He'll be fine...

I'll be a mess...

He'll be fine...  He'll be fine...

08/21/2005

Give it up, Gillmor... Notes *isn't* dead!

Category IBM/Lotus

In his Between The Lines blog, Dan Farber talks about a meeting with Dave Winer and Ray Ozzie at the OPML Roadshow.  The entry is fine until we get down to this piece:

My colleague and chief inquisitor Steve Gillmor asked Ray whether Lotus Notes was dead, or something like that. Ray responded to the contrary, noting that Notes has lots of developers who are very skilled with the tools and LotusScript, and will be busily employed for years to come. In other words, Notes–which is 20 years old if you count the five years Ray and team spent developing the product before it shipped–is a legacy application. And we are still trying to figure out what IBM Workplace is, which include Lotus Notes…

Will Gillmor and company ever accept the fact that Notes isn't dead, it's not going away, and it's not a legacy application???

08/21/2005

Book Review - The Complete Idiot's Guide to Growing Your Business with Google by Dave Taylor

Category Book Reviews

As you probably know, I like books.  And there are a number of books I think should make an appearance on a person's bookshelf depending on their area of expertise.  But there are a small number of books I think are absolute musts to be read, digested, and applied.  I had the pleasure of reading one of those books this week...  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Growing Your Business with Google by Dave Taylor.  It is truly that good...

Contents:
Part 1 - The Business Case for Google: Increasing Your Business Visibility; The Benefits of Increasing Your Visibility with Google; What Is Google Anyway?; Learning About Google Search; Disassembling the Google Search Engine
Part 2 - Building Your Google Plan: What's Your Core Business?; Living in an Online World; Your Business Website; Assessing Your Competitors; Keeping Track of Customers
Part 3 - Improving Your Online Business Site: The Basics of Building a Good Business Site; Developing Online and Offline Content; Stretching Your Marketing Dollars; Secrets of the Online Marketing Masters
Part 4 - Promoting and Growing Your Online Business: Content, Content, Content!; Becoming a More Popular Site; Becoming an Online Expert; Advertising Your Business with Google AdWords; Making Money with Google AdSense; The Advantages of Affiliate Programs; Avoiding Dumb Online Promotional Mistakes
Part 5 - What's Next on Your To-Do List?: Growing and Expanding Your Content; The Future of Findability
Appendixes: Websites Worth Exploring; Glossary; Index

Short of writing a two or three page review, it's really hard to cover all the things I like about this book.  First off, Dave Taylor is a talented writer who is able to cut through hype and jargon and convey useful information in a compelling manner.  In Growing Your Business with Google, he takes the reader through how Google works, and how it can be leveraged by businesses and web site owners to drive traffic (and dollars) their way.  With the concepts and understanding conveyed here, you'll learn how best to structure your site to show up and stand out in search results.  Even better, Dave doesn't resort to cheap tricks and unethical methods to accomplish these goals.  The recommendations are all solid techniques that work well and won't get you in hot water with search sites.

The chapters that concentrate on Google's AdWords and AdSense programs alone would justify the cost of the book.  You'll learn how to launch an effective advertising campaign by bidding on keyword searches through AdWords.  On the flip side, you'll also learn how to incorporate AdSense advertising into your site so as to make money on directing people to useful information.  There are no unreasonable promises that you can build a site specifically to generate AdSense revenue and retire early.  It's just solid information that helps you monetize portions of your site and add to your overall revenue stream.

Finally, Dave Taylor practices what he preaches.  I consider him a "virtual colleague" based on chats and email exchanges I've had with him.  I also follow his blogs and see how he's put everything into place on his sites.  Rather than being an author who jumps on the hot topic du jour, he is truly an expert in this area, and he writes what he knows.  As a result, you can trust what he says, because it's actually worked.  I'll even testify to the fact that I've increased the AdSense revenue on my site by a factor of 4 based on his recommendations.  I'm nowhere near his traffic levels and income totals, but the information *does* work...

If you're a large company, your marketing communications department should read this book.  If you're a small business or a website owner who wants more "findability" (and more dollars), you *absolutely* need to read this book.  You'll be "the complete idiot" if you don't...

08/21/2005

A little early morning Enron humor...

Category Humor

Forwarded to me by Bruce...

-----

A city boy named Kenny, moved to the country and bought a donkey from an old farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey to him the next day. But the next day, the farmer drove up in his old truck and told Kenny, "Sorry, son, but I have some bad news, the donkey died."

Kenny replied, "Well then, just give me my money back."

The farmer said, "Can't do that. I went and spent it already."

Kenny said, "OK then, just bring me the donkey."

The farmer asked, "What ya gonna do with a dead donkey?"

Kenny, "I'm going to raffle him off."

The farmer said, "You can't raffle off a dead donkey!"

Kenny said, "Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anybody he's dead."

A month later the farmer met up with Kenny and asked, "So, what happened with the dead donkey?"

Kenny said, "I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at $2 a piece and made a profit of $898.00."

The farmer said, "Didn't anyone complain?"

Kenny replied, "Just the guy who won, so I gave him his $2 back."

Kenny grew up and eventually became the chairman of Enron.

08/20/2005

Book Review - Windows XP Cookbook by Robbie Allen and Preston Gralla

Category Book Reviews

Generally speaking, I don't like to mess with my operating system.  I want to use stuff *that runs on* my OS, but I just want the OS to be there and work.  But of course, that's an unlikely situation for an IT professional.  O'Reilly has released another title in the Cookbook series that I really like...  Windows XP Cookbook by Robbie Allen and Preston Gralla.  This is the type of book that may not be needed every day, but when you do need it, it's something that must happen NOW.

Contents: Introduction; Operating System Installation and Maintenance; Managing Hardware and Devices; Installing, Uninstalling, and Working with Applications; Customizing the Interface; System Properties, Startup, and Shutdown; Disks, Drives, and Volumes; Files, Folders, and Shares; The Registry; Processes, Tasks, and Services; Digital Media; Network Configuration; The Internet; Wireless Networking; User, Group, and Computer Accounts; Event Logs and Log Files; Security and Auditing; Performance Tuning; Backup and Recovery; Crashes and Errors; Summary of Windows XP Versions and Service Packs; Index

Windows XP Cookbook follows the traditional format for an O'Reilly Cookbook title.  There's the problem, followed by a solution and discussion of the problem.  There's also a "see also" paragraph that points you to more information related to the particular issue being discussed.  Allen and Gralla have done some nice things with this title that definitely enhance its usefulness to a wider range of readers.  First off, they realized that not everyone likes to perform a task the same way.  Some want to use the graphical user interface (GUI), some want to show off their command line skills (CLI), and some want to script the whole process so that they can run it automatically.  Whenever possible and wherever applicable, the authors provide all three methods for each recipe.  All the script examples use VBScript since we *are* dealing with Windows.  But in a great concession to the Perl junkies, there's a companion website that has all the VBScript examples done in Perl.  What more can you ask for?  You even get pointers to third-party software that fills a particular niche better than Windows XP does by itself.  

I was a little concerned that the book would spend most of its time catering to the sysadmin crowd, leaving us "power users" wishing for more.  Nope...  There's a very nice mix of admin and desktop recipes, enough that both groups can feel like they've gotten their money's worth even if they don't cross over between the two.  Just during my initial review, I finally found how to set the properties on a particular feature that I used in Windows 2000 but that eluded me in Windows XP.  That definitely gained my attention and trust in short order...

Since I normally don't get to tweak a lot of stuff on my work computer in terms of the operating system (nor do I want to), this book will stay at home within arm's reach of my desktop machine.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this book and I are going to become close friends over time...

08/20/2005

Book Review - The Best Software Writing I by Joel Spolsky

Category Book Reviews


I recently received a copy of
The Best Software Writing I by Joel Spolsky.  As with his other book, it's an entertaining read with a number of enlightening insights into what I do for a living...

Joel Spolsky has gathered a number of blog entries, essays, and speeches that showcase (in his opinion) the best writings by software professionals.  He feels (and I have to agree) that most programmers and developers will avoid writing at all cost, and as a result are not very good at it.  You end up with either indecipherable ramblings or dry monotone typing that is akin to enduring some form of medieval torture.  And I confess...  I probably have strayed into both those areas a few too many times for the sanity of my readers.  But by showcasing techno-geeks that can write coherently and with a touch of humor and entertainment, Spolsky hopes to raise the overall level of writing competency in the industry.  I don't know if he'll be successful, but it definitely can't hurt...


Because the writings cover a wide range of topics, there's something for everyone.  Or conversely, not everything will appeal to every reader.  "Style Is Substance" by Ken Arnold is (for me) a great piece that advocates making programming style a built-in element of a language.  Think of the time you'll save by killing off all style wars up front.  The cartoon piece "Excel As A Database" will cause all developers to think Rory Blyth must work somewhere in their company with their users.  And "A Quick (And Hopefully Painless) Ride Through Ruby (With Cartoon Foxes)" will, although rather strange, give you more information about Ruby in a shorter period of time than you ever thought possible.  On the other hand, "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" by Clay Shirky was something I seemed to have to slog through.  You may well have just the opposite reaction on any or all of these.  It's one of the fun things about this compilation...  :)


While you can obviously go out and find all this stuff on-line at the various sites, odds are you won't find what you don't know about.  Joel brings together a nice mixture of thoughts and concepts, all packaged within an expert writing style.  If you're a professional developer, you probably should pick up a copy and see how writing can be done well...

08/18/2005

You know you have too many books to review when...

Category Book Reviews

... you have to split the pile because there is risk of serious injury if an earthquake occurs or someone gets too close to the desk...

08/18/2005

Whoever ordered the six Linux/Knoppix books from Amazon by clicking through on a link from here?

Category Everything Else

Thanks!

08/17/2005

Book Review - The Art of Intrusion by Kevin D. Mitnick and William L. Simon

Category Book Reviews

It's always interesting to read about hackers and crackers from the perspective of someone who was completely immersed in that community.  That person would be Kevin Mitnick, and along with William L. Simon he wrote The Art of Intrusion.  Pretty entertaining and enlightening material...

I'll forego the normal content list I do on tech book reviews, as it wouldn't be terribly helpful here.  Mitnick has compiled a series of true stories (or as true as he can verify given the activities being covered) related to different aspects of hacking, cracking, and physical/cyber intrusions.  After each story, there's a short Insight section, followed by Countermeasures and The Bottom Line.  Insight tries to recap the issues and mindset that exist behind the specific incident.  Countermeasures talks about how a business or individual can protect themselves from this type of hack.  And finally, The Bottom Line is a "call to action" to motivate the reader (and society as a whole) to take serious steps to change things.

I think the most unnerving story was the social engineering tale of a professional hired by a casino to assess their physical and computer security.  Instead of waiting for the expected start date, he began the assessment early and pretty much was able to go anywhere he wanted (which was everywhere he wasn't supposed to be).  Rather than be grateful, the casino quietly paid him and asked him to leave, as the state of Nevada would not have looked kindly on that lack of security.  It was all too easy to see how someone who "looks" like they belong can go unchallenged...

Being that the Insight/Countermeasures/The Bottom Line sections take only three or four pages out of each of the ten stories, I don't know how much "hard knowledge" you'll take away from this book.  It's not like there are myriad checklists and software packages recommended in order to secure your environment.  It's more likely you'll come away with a bit more understanding of how a hacker mind works and what you're up against.  From there, you can decide just how much you need to do to avoid becoming an incident in volume 2...

08/14/2005

Book Review - Red Hat Fedora 4 Unleashed by Paul Hudson, Andrew Hudson, Bill Ball, and Hoyt Duff

Category Book Reviews

Looking for a single volume that touches on just about everything related to Red Hat Fedora?  Here you go...  Red Hat Fedora 4 Unleashed by Paul Hudson, Andrew Hudson, Bill Ball, and Hoyt Duff.  

Contents:
Part 1 - Installation and Configuration: Introducing Fedora; Preparing to Install Fedora; Installing Fedora; Post-Installation Configuration; First Steps with Fedora
Part 2 - Fedora Desktop: The X Window System; Managing Software and System Resources; On the Internet - Surfing the Web, Writing Email, and Reading the News; Productivity Applications; Multimedia Applications; Printing with Fedora; Games
Part 3 - System Administration: Managing Users; Automating Tasks; System Resources; Backing Up, Restoring, and Recovery; Network Connectivity; Internet Connectivity
Part 4 - Fedora As a Server: Apache Web Server Management; Administering Database Services; File and Print; Remote File Serving with FTP; Handling Electronic Mail; Setting Up a Proxy Server; Remote System Access with SSH and Telnet; Managing DNS; LDAP; News Servers and Mailing Lists
Part 5 - Programming Linux: Using Perl; Working with Python; Writing PHP Scripts; C/C++ Programming Tools for Fedora
Part 6 - Fedora Housekeeping: Securing Your Machines; Performance Tuning; Command-line Masterclass; Advanced Yum; Managing the File System; Kernel and Module Management
Part 7 - Appendix: Fedora and Linux Internet Resources; Index

At over 1100 pages, this isn't the book you'd give to a typical Windows user to make the switch over to Linux...  :-)

As you can see from the contents, Fedora Unleashed touches on nearly every area of Linux at some level.  Using this book alone, you could easily get a Linux server and/or a Linux desktop environment up and running on your computer.  Depending on your particular needs, you could then dive into server related topics like file sharing, LDAP, or running a web server.  If you're just wanting to break out of the Windows monopoly and run a desktop OS not controlled by Microsoft, you would spend more time in Part 2 where the desktop Linux environment is covered.  While you could definitely find more detailed books on specific areas of Linux, Unleashed allows you to get a working knowledge of a broad swath of the subject.

The book also comes with a DVD containing the Fedora 4 distribution so you can easily start to dive right into your own Linux build.  This definitely beats having to find, download, and burn a number of CD .iso files before you can get started.  While the downloads are free, having all the media ready to use adds to the value of the book...

Since I haven't yet upgraded to Red Hat Fedora 4, having this book around will put that task higher on my priority list...  Good volume for anyone wanting to learn and understand Linux...

08/13/2005

Book Review - Broken Prey by John Sandford

Category Book Reviews

Traditionally I've always enjoyed John Sandford's "Prey" series, but the last couple of installments didn't do much for me.  I'm not sure if it was burnout or what, but there was a declining level of interest.  I picked up his latest, Broken Prey, wondering if this was one of the last I'd read.  I'm happy to report that things appear to be back on track, and I really enjoyed this one...

Davenport is called into a case involving a woman who is found next to the river, her body whipped to shreds and "posed" at the scene.  Unfortunately, this is just the start.  When a man and his son are found murdered at their home, and the bodies display many of the same characteristics of the first killing, they know they have a serial killer on the loose.  By following all the evidence and DNA, they pretty much know who is doing the killings.  That is, until hard cold facts prove otherwise.  Things take a much deeper turn at that point, in that they know they are being played by the killer, and everything they thought they knew is now up in the air...

This was a definite page turner.  There are a number of potential suspects, and you could well make a case for any one of them being the killer.  And given the way the book is written, you might even think you have it figured out.  But Sandford weaves some great misdirection and 180 degree turns into the story, and pretty soon you're as confused as Davenport is.  

If you've missed the last couple of Prey novels, this is the one you need to pick up to get started again.  It's well worth the read...

08/12/2005

Book Review - PC Pest Control by Preston Gralla

Category Book Reviews

Since I live and breathe computer stuff, I'm pretty much up to speed on how aware someone needs to be when it comes to PC security.  But every once in awhile, I'm forced to look at a PC through the eyes of someone who really doesn't understand what's going on...  like my father...  But there's finally a book I could give a typical user to allow them to sort through the nasty world of personal PC security...  PC Pest Control by Preston Gralla.

Content:  
Overall Protection: Your PC Is Not Your Own; Where You're Vulnerable; Pest Prevention and Monitoring; Killing Pests
Fighting Specific Pests: Throw Internet Explorer Out the Window; Adware, Spyware, and Home Page Hijackers; Viruses, Trojans, and Bots; Email, Worms, and Instant Messaging; Spam, Spam, and Spam; Protecting Your Identity and Kids Online; Wireless and Home Networking Dangers
Appendix: A Field Guide To Pests

Gralla has written a book that approaches PC security at a level that can be understood by nearly anyone that uses a computer.  Terms such as "spyware" and "bots" will no longer be something that causes your Uncle Joe to scratch his head in total confusion.  There's a clear explanation of the different security risks, what they do, how to tell if you have that problem, how to fix the issue, and how to monitor and prevent the problem in the future.  There are also references to a number of additional software packages that can be downloaded (free and for purchase) to fill the security gaps that are inherent on Windows systems.  Spending $25 on this book will pay for itself immediately when you learn what anti-virus and anti-spyware software is and how you need to have it running on your system.  To me, it's second nature.  To Uncle Joe, it's a complete unknown.

If the information wasn't so valuable, I'd probably ding the book on a minor nit that started to annoy me after awhile.  There's the tendency to repeat the same commentary on something over and over.  For instance, whenever the spyware software CoolWebSearch is mentioned, it's followed by "may well be the most reviled piece of spyware in existence".  Fine the first time, OK the second, after that it was distracting.  Same thing with the advice about upgrading to SP2 if you're running Windows XP.  I really don't need to see that as the recommended solution to nearly everything (even if they do try to make it humorous after awhile).

If you're a hard-core geek and IT professional, you probably know most of this.  But if you have the unenviable task of being the de facto help desk for your extended family, you might want to buy this book as a Christmas present for your most problematic "customers".  It'll pay off for both of you...

08/12/2005

Book Review - Hacking Exposed (5th Edition)

Category Book Reviews

So much for the days of trusting everyone on-line to use software in the way that it was intended.  Now the stakes are much higher, and attacking systems can be a profitable activity for those so inclined.  To protect yourself, you need to understand the wide range of vulnerabilities.  Reading Hacking Exposed (5th Edition) by Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray, and George Kurtz goes a long way towards getting you prepared.

Contents:
Part 1 - Casing the Establishment: Footprinting; Scanning; Enumeration
Part 2 - System Hacking: Hacking Windows; Hacking Unix; Remote Connectivity and VoIP Hacking
Part 3 - Network Hacking: Network Drives; Wireless Hacking; Firewalls; Denial of Service Attacks
Part 4 - Software Hacking: Hacking Code; Web Hacking; Hacking the Internet User
Part 5 - Appendixes: Ports; Top 14 Security Vulnerabilities

Hacking Exposed follows a consistent format in covering areas subject to misuse and attack.  They name the type of attack or information gathering technique and give it a risk rating based on popularity, simplicity, and impact.  Following an explanation of the particular area, they follow up with a countermeasure section to help the reader understand how this type of attack or exploit can be mitigated.  That format scores high on my practicality scale because you can immediately make changes to secure your environment.  It's not as if they just spell out the doom and gloom and leave you to fend for yourself.

Another aspect of the book I like is the wide range of hacking covered.  Admittedly, a number of these areas (such as hacking Unix or Windows) could easily be made into a whole separate book (and in most cases, they *have* been).  But I really don't want to have to buy a dozen books to gain a broad overview of my potential exposure.  I want to cover everything at a reasonable level of detail to understand the overall subject.  Then if I have the need to get into more detail (like if I need to focus on firewalls), I at least have a framework on which to dive deeper into the subject matter.  Hacking Exposed gives me that "reasonable level", and it's greatly appreciated.

Does this book cover every single hack or vulnerability out there?  No, and no book (or web site or anything else) ever could.  New attacks are discovered and exploited every day.  But this gives you a very good knowledge base on which to understand current and future problems.  It's a book I'd recommend highly to anyone who needs to understand security.  And that should be everyone...

08/11/2005

And *another* thing that bugs me about that eWeek article...

Category Microsoft

This isn't the fault of the writer (except for possibly including it and adding to the FUD out there) is this statement:

The news comes on the heels of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's swipe at Lotus Notes at this week's Microsoft's WorldWide Partner Conference in Minneapolis.

"I'd never seen a customer base that's more ripe to be plucked and moved than that Notes customer base—left and right, large account after large account that I meet with that's a Notes customer—they're just waiting for us and our partners to do the conversions," said Ballmer.

All I can visualize is Ballmer sweating up a storm, running back and forth on the stage, and screaming repeatedly, "THEY ARE RIPE FOR THE PICKING!  THEY ARE RIPE FOR THE PICKING!"

Please, Steve!  Repeating a statement loudly and often doesn't make it true.

When Ed Brill talked at Lotusphere about heads-up competition against Notes vs. Exchange, he mentioned over 1800 competitive wins.  *That's* a real number.  Give us a number, Steve...  Give us examples.  Don't just keep repeating your mantra that Notes is dead (it's not) and that they are all waiting to be converted like little sheep (they're not).  And *don't* insult the intelligence of your customers and make it sound like they are incapable of doing anything for themselves and need to wait for you and "your partners" to show up to convert them.

This is one of those times I'd love to see IBM/Lotus go "in your face" offensive with a large ad titled "The Truth About Lotus Domino".  Spell it out in words that can be understood from the CxO on down.  Notes isn't dead.  Notes isn't going away.  Workplace is not a migration or conversion.  Notes is *the* most secure enterprise email platform used today.  And you'll never have to rip and replace.

Or we could just douse Rhodin with water and send him out on stage at Lotusphere screaming "DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS..."  Seems to work for Microsoft...  :)

08/11/2005

Credit where due... Barb Darrow's original "MS Hiring Lotus Developers" article was better than eWeek's...

Category Microsoft

Since I ranted about eWeek's misleading article about Microsoft poaching Lotus developers, and since Ed blogged the same thing (and no, we didn't call each other and collaborate beforehand), I feel I must give credit where due...

Barb Darrow has a blog entry noting that her article did not make the direct-poaching claims.  True...  That's why I went off on the eWeek article and not the CRN article I first saw.  I still contend that the whole story *isn't news* and should not have even made either publication.  

08/10/2005

O'Reilly has a new professional networking site...

Category Everything Else

It's called O'Reilly Connection, and you can find it here....  http://connection.oreilly.com

Considering that it was launched at OSCON, you probably have a good chance of hooking up with O'Reilly authors and techie gurus.

Check it out, and feel free to add me as a contact (search on Thomas Duff).

08/10/2005

Microsoft continues to raid Lotus? Let's see some truth in reporting, eWeek!

Category Microsoft


From eWeek:  
Microsoft continues to raid Lotus

Microsoft Corp. continues to woo top Lotus software developers to its ranks.

Among its most recent hires are two former Lotus developers, Julio Estrada, who joined Redmond's ranks in June as software architect in the Exchange Server Group; and Bob Congdon, hired in July as an Exchange design engineer also in the Exchange Server Group, according to Microsoft spokeswoman Michelle Hinrichs.

This article makes it sound like people are leaving Lotus left and right.  In Congdon's case, yes he did leave Lotus directly.  Estrada left four years ago to form Kubi.  So why does his leaving Kubi to work at Microsoft deserve press?  

Estrada and Cognos follow other Lotus luminaries who have joined Redmond in the past year, such as Gary Devendorf, a technology evangelist in Microsoft's server division and former application development product manager at Lotus; and Charlie Kaufman, security architect for Microsoft's Common Language Runtime group, formerly chief security architect for Lotus Notes.


And then, of course, there is Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie, who recently joined Microsoft's ranks as CTO with Redmond's acquisition of the collaboration software company he founded, Groove Networks Inc.


People...  There's a freaking DIFFERENCE between leaving Lotus to work for Microsoft, and leaving Lotus and eventually ending up at Microsoft.  If the person's high enough on the food chain, such as Ranger Ed, then the first situation is news.  Anything in the second category is not news.  I don't care if Microsoft issues a press release about it or not...


Was it that slow of a news day, eWeek?

08/08/2005

Book Review - The Innocent by Harlan Coben

Category Book Reviews

I just got done reading the latest from an author I look forward to reading with each new release...  Harlan Coben's The Innocent.  And as usual, Coben delivers a great read...

Matt Hunter has finally "paid his debt" to society.  He was convicted of killing a fellow student during a drunken brawl at a frat party.  It was a defense reaction, but the jury decided otherwise.  Now that he's out, he's trying hard to rebuild his life as a paralegal at his brother's law firm.  Even better, he's met a woman who he first met a long time ago during a brief visit to Las Vegas.  They've reconnected, gotten married, and she's pregnant.  But Hunter's fragile world comes crashing down when he gets a picture and video on his cell phone that appears to show his wife in a hotel room with another man while on a "business trip".  And the man in the picture is also tailing him.  Hunter has to figure out what his wife is up to, and who the guy is that's making his life a living hell.  Meanwhile, a local investigator for the county cops is asked to look into the death of a nun in a local convent.  It looks like natural causes, except that the nun has breast implants, and that doesn't mesh with her official background.  The more the investigator digs, the more things appear to be covered up at a very high federal level.  And when Hunter's wife becomes part of the mystery and Hunter's mystery tail is killed, Matt looks to be the fall guy for whoever is pulling the strings.

As with most of Coben's novels, I devoured this book.  The writing is tight, the mystery is deep and twisting, and he reveals just enough detail every so often to keep you turning the pages.  This book was also unusual in that I didn't have a clue as to the story line when I started reading.  Normally, I have the jacket flaps to give me a general idea of the plot and direction.  But this library version of the book didn't have that, nor did I look to Amazon for a quick overview of the story.  So instead of having a framework for the characters, I had to let it all be revealed page by page.  It's sort of like watching a movie you've never heard of, and you don't know what you're getting when you sit down.  I'm not sure I'd take that risk with every novel I read, but it worked well here.

While I still like Coben's Myron Bolitar character best, his other novels (like this one) are just as good.  A definite recommended novel...

08/07/2005

Book Review - Hacking Firefox by Mel Reyes

Category Book Reviews

Every time I think there's not much more someone could do with a Firefox book, I end up being wrong.  I've found a great new advanced Firefox book...  Hacking Firefox by Mel Reyes (published by Wiley).

Contents:
Part 1 - Basic Hacking: Hacking Firefox Boot Camp; Hacking Around Manually; Hacking Extensions; Hacking Themes and Icons
Part 2 - Hacking Performance, Security, and Banner Ads: Performance Tweaks and Hacks; Hacking Security and Privacy; Hacking Banner Ads, Content, Images, and Cookies
Part 3 - Hacking Menus, Toolbars, and the Status Bar: Hacking Menus; Hacking Toolbars and the Status Bar
Part 4 - Hacking Navigation, Downloads, and Searching: Hacking Navigation and Tab Browsing; Download and Plugin Hacks; Search Hacks
Part 5 - Installation, Automation, Tools, and Tricks: Hacking Installation and Deployment; Backing Up and Managing Your Profile/Settings; Hacking Tools for Web Programmers
Part 6 - Creating Extensions and Themes: Understanding Mozilla Programming; Creating Extensions; Creating Themes
Index

One of the main strengths of Firefox over IE is its extensibility and ability to customize the browser experience.  Using the about:config URL in Firefox, you have an incredible amount of options listed out and open to alteration.  Hacking Firefox doesn't bother with teaching you how to use the browser.  The assumption is that you already know the basics.  This simple little thing helps the book keep a tight focus and makes sure the target audience gets full value.  The author strikes the perfect balance between uncovering the guts of Firefox and making the information accessible to the reader.  These aren't completely esoteric hacks that you'd never want to do.  For instance, I've been a bit frustrated over being restricted to a couple of downloads at a time when pulling down files.  I changed that registry setting in IE a long time ago, but I wasn't sure where it was in Firefox.  In the Performance hacks chapter, I found that setting as well as a number of other ones to tweak to get better download performance.  I can already notice the difference.  Very nice stuff...

It's probably not the book you want to get if you're just wanting to know how to use Firefox.  It's *definitely* not the book to give to Uncle Joe to get him to move off IE so you don't have to remove viruses every other week.  But if you've already made the switch and you like what you see, this is a must-read book to take your Firefox browsing to the next level.  A recommended read...

08/06/2005

Book Review - Beginning Python (Wrox)

Category Book Reviews

Python is one of those programming languages I hear about a lot, but I've never taken the time to pick up a book and find out more about it.  To fix that, I got a copy of Beginning Python (published by Wrox) by Peter Norton, Alex Samuel, David Aitel, Eric Foster-Johnson, Leonard Richardson, Jason Diamond, Aleatha Parker, and Michael Roberts.  Not a bad title to use to get started...

Contents: Introduction; Programming Basics and Strings; Numbers and Operators; Variables - Names for Values; Making Decisions; Functions; Classes and Objects; Organizing Programs; Files and Directories; Other Features of the Language; Building a Module; Text Processing; Testing; Writing a GUI with Python; Accessing Databases; Using Python for XML; Network Programming; Extension Programming with C; Writing Shareware and Commercial Programs; Numerical Programming; Python in the Enterprise; Web Applications and Web Services; Integrating Java with Python; Answers to Exercises; Online Resources; What's New in Python 2.4; Glossary; Index

When I first started reading, I was a little disappointed at the target level.  Up through about the Functions chapter, it's information that any programmer should already know (loops, variables, etc.) and would be best used by someone who had never programmed before in their life.  While they do say that particular demographic is intended as a reader, I was hoping for more.  From Classes on, it's material that squarely hits where intermediate programmers live and breathe, and it's at that point that the book takes off (in my opinion).  Using the basic Python skills learned in the first section, you start to see how those concepts are applied in real programs that actually do stuff.  And given the wide array of subjects they hit (C integration, GUI development, XML, etc.), you should quickly learn how best to use this language in many of the common situations you'll run into on a day-to-day basis.  The writing style and format is consistent, as well as their use of examples throughout the book.  You don't find yourself switching gears every few pages for some new contrived example that just came out of left field.  

This is a book I'll be holding onto in order to free up time to get some hands-on experience with Python.  It gives me what I need to know along with numerous ways to apply that knowledge, and from there I can decide how much further to take my learning...

08/06/2005

Book Review - The Rule Of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Category Book Reviews

One of my local librarians suggested a book she thought I might like...  The Rule Of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason.  Unfortunately, this is one of those rare instances where we didn't agree.  The book didn't do a whole lot for me...

The novel tracks the story of four Princeton students, two of which have a history involving the study of a book titled the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.  This is an actual book written in the late 1400's, and it's thought to have a number of puzzles and riddles contained in it that lead to a secret message from the unknown author.  The book's mystery ends up being an all-consuming passion to those who get involved, and in this case it involves double crosses and death.

Now, I realize that's a pretty thin synopsis.  But in this case, it's about the most positive thing I can say about the book.  Comparisons are made to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, in that there's hidden meanings that once uncovered will change the perception and truth about historical events.  But at least with Brown's book, the supporting story surrounding the investigation was interesting.  This one just sits there.  Two of the four students are not even primary to the plot (in my opinion), and I really don't care about them.  The girlfriend angle with one of the two main characters doesn't add a lot to the primary plot, either.  I know that we're supposed to care about how he has to choose Katie or the book, and how that same consuming passion destroyed his father.  But once again, I just didn't find myself caring one way or the other.  The story was at it's best when they were figuring out how to decode the riddles and cyphers to get the next clue, but there was far too little of that to maintain my interest.  

I suppose if you're *really* into academia, literary analysis, or books that spend a lot of time examining motivation and cause, you might find this a stellar read.  For those of us looking for something to entertain, this book is probably best left on the shelf...

08/05/2005

Book Review - 4th Of July by James Patterson

Category Book Reviews

In James Patterson's latest novel, 4th Of July, he brings back Lieutenant Lindsay Boxer of the San Francisco Police Department for an adventure that could be her very last in more than one way.  

In the process of trying to find a killer operating in the seedy areas of San Francisco, her and her partner find and give chase to a car thought to belong to the main suspect.  After the car crashes, they find that it is driven by two young kids who look pretty banged up.  While trying to give aid and remove the kids, both kids draw weapons and shoot the two cops.  Boxer's able to return fire and kill one and paralyze the other.  Unfortunately, the father is a high-powered doctor in the city and launches a huge lawsuit against the city and Boxer for wrongful death and injury as she had a couple of drinks off-duty before getting involved in the chase.  While waiting for the case to be tried, she heads off to Half Moon Bay to stay out of the limelight.  Nice try...  A series of murders are taking place there, and they seem to tie to a cold case that Boxer has never been able to solve.  Against her better judgement, she ends up working the cases along with the local police chief as she's compelled to find the killer or killers.  But she's getting too close to the truth, and it's very possible that she might end up the next victim...  The trick is to see what ends her career first...  the court case or her demise?

Patterson did an excellent job with this story.  Pacing, character development, hidden twists...  it's all there.  After the less-than-wonderful London Bridges, I wondered if he was losing his touch.  Honeymoon recovered much of the old Patterson flavor, and 4th Of July continues the strong rebound.  I'm almost over my fear of losing another favorite author, and I look forward to his next novel, whatever series it might be...

08/05/2005

I too must wish Ed a happy birthday!

Category IBM/Lotus

A picture named M2

And I'm quite sure he has more than 60 Lotus Notes Rangers worldwide to rely on...  :-)

08/05/2005

Michael Sampson's analysis of the latest Radicati "study"...

Category Everything Else


I really tried to ignore Radicati's attempt at entering the fantasy/fiction market.  I really did...  


But I just can't let
Michael Sampson's analysis of the Radicati report go without mention...

Nice job, Michael!

08/03/2005

Another reason I could never apply for a job at Microsoft...

Category Humor

I've read this book, and I *HATE* these types of interviews!

08/03/2005

Microsoft must be desperate... They're interested in me!

Category Microsoft

... or at least some reasonable facsimile thereof...  How many other Notes/Domino bloggers got contacted with the following email?

 

I suppose I should feel somewhat honored to be noticed, but I just find this funny.  You wonder how much of a threat Lotus is to Microsoft?  Here's your answer.

 

And no, I'm not interested.

 

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

 

Hi Thomas,

 

I am <name removed>, recruiter at Microsoft. I came across your contact info on the internet and although I don’t have any detailed information about your background, it seems that you travel in the circles that would warrant a closer look at your skills and experience to see if we might have something that would appeal to you or to someone you know.

 

Right now I am looking for 3 high level individuals (who can be based anywhere in the US and even abroad) who have the opportunity of getting trained in Microsoft Exchange Ranger status (of which there are about 60 professionals worldwide). Here is some additional info on those roles. In addition to this role, I have several other roles ranging from development, to test to marketing. Please let me know if you would like to discuss these opportunities further or if you know of anyone who may want to discuss them with me. A good place to start would be to see a profile or resume of anyone interested. Thanks for your time in looking over this info and passing it along to anyone you feel it might be a fit for:

 

Program Manager/ Consultant

The Lotus Note Migration Team is looking for a technical Notes expert to assist our field, partners & customers with Lotus Notes migrations. This position requires an individual with deep Lotus Notes\Domino, Exchange, .NET, Sharepoint, Outlook, Active Directory, Domino Designer & SameTime products. Preference would be an individual who has run an IT department using Lotus Notes or Exchange, has past consulting experience, has been thru a Notes to Microsoft\Exchange conversion first hand, is deeply familiar with Notes environments and understands configuration & management; can optimize, debug and integrate Notes systems, is a strong leader, self-sufficient, enjoys competitive customer environments, thrives on being the hero in technical engagements, is able to voice their opinion and participate in challenging intellectual executive discussions, has a proven track record in driving technical migration projects, is able to think ‘big picture’ strategy one day and get deep both tactically & technically the next.

Position also requires working with our field & partners to conduct training sessions while building guidance on our tools & technologies. Individual will also be required to complete & be certified as a Microsoft Exchange Ranger (~60 worldwide).

Direct interaction with customers, partners & senior executives will be a major part of this position.

The role consists of the following objectives:

Travel on-site for customer engagements & escalations with periodically

Effectively train partners to perform successful engagements.

Be the migration & coexistence technical expert for Microsoft.

Understand current customer IT & usage scenarios & be the Product Group Subject Matter Expert who flies in, saves the day & resolves any planning or technical migration issues.

Understands both prior & upcoming Lotus offering & products.

Ensure competitiveness of product scenarios by driving differentiation along key product dimensions

Work with Engineering in driving competitive planning across R&D efforts

Work with Marketing to create a prioritized list of scenarios, workloads and products for analysis

Assist in the education and presentation of competitive analysis and technical content

Position Requirements:

Minimum 7 years industry experience

Deep broad hands-on technical messaging knowledge, high-level understanding of Lotus Notes, Unix/Linux and Windows\AD architecture and server technologies.

Experience as an IT administrator/manager and/or software product/program manager

Ability to present deep technical content to both technical and business executive audiences

Demonstrated ability to work effectively across different groups & in political scenarios.

Ability to scope technical projects, lead technical staff members and own the execution of project deliverables.

 

 

08/02/2005

Book Review - The Double Eagle by James Twining

Category Book Reviews


HarperCollins contacted me and asked if I'd like an advance reader's copy of a new novel by a new name...  
The Double Eagle by James Twining.  Of course, I rarely turn down the chance for a good mystery read, and in this case I have a new author to follow.  Twining has an excellent future as a writer...

Tom Kirk is an experienced theft who can break into nearly any location and make off with luxury items like jewelry and Faberge eggs.  But after a long career of successful heists, he decides he wants to go straight and take over his father's export business.  On the other side of the story, we have Jennifer Brown, an FBI agent who is trying to make up for a career incident that has derailed her progress in the Bureau.  When it's discovered that five extremely rare Double Eagle gold coins have been stolen from Fort Knox, she's put on the case to figure out when the theft occurred and who did it.  The consensus is that Kirk is the only person who could pull off something of that magnitude, and she's sent over to Europe to offer him a deal.  But he truly doesn't know anything about it, and his only way to wipe the slate clean of his past transgressions is to assist Brown in solving the case using his "unusual contacts".  Both Brown and Kirk have no reason to trust each other (or who they represent), but neither can succeed on their own.  Complicating the issue is a request from Kirk's fence to do one last job (that Kirk turned down) in order to keep them from getting killed by a murky underground figure.  And more and more, the job looks to be tied into the missing coins...


It wasn't until after I was done with the book that I realized this is Twining's debut novel.  As such, I'm really impressed.  Most first novels have some rough edges that you figure a budding author will smooth out over time.  I really didn't see that here.  Both Kirk and Brown have enough character development to allow you to care about them, yet not enough that you have nowhere to go for future installments.  The last fifty or so pages completely twist the story in a number of ways, and you're compelled to keep reading to see exactly who is and isn't who they let on to be.  And if you're at all into coin collecting, the historical aspects of the Double Eagle minting and destruction will appeal to you.


Bottom line...  Extremely good debut effort, and well worth picking up early so you can follow his career.  I'm definitely looking forward to it.

07/31/2005

Book Review - Firefox Secrets by Cheah Chu Yeow

Category Book Reviews

Quite a few Firefox books have made their appearance on the market, and I have the chance to review yet another one...  Firefox Secrets by Cheah Chu Yeow.  Although not the first to market, it does a good job given the right audience...

Contents: Introduction; Introducing Your New Favorite Web Browser; Essential Browsing Features; Revisiting Web Pages; Dressing Up Firefox; Personalizing Firefox; Tips, Tricks, and Hacks; Web Development Nirvana; Living On The Edge; Index

Yeow does a nice job explaining why Firefox is a desired alternative to IE and why you should be using it.  In addition to explaining all the different features in the menu, he also goes into some of the more popular browser extensions you can download and install to customize your browser experience.  That's one of the huge advantages of Firefox over other browsers, and it's an area that can't be overlooked.  There's also a fairly high level coverage of how the browser can aid your web development efforts based on the built-in debugging tools and the high adherence to web standards.

If you already have a Firefox book, this one isn't going to add much new information for you.  Also, if you're wanting to dive into all the esoteric settings with about:config, this also won't get you there.  But if you haven't yet switched to Firefox, or if you've switched but haven't taken the time to explore all the power that Firefox gives you, this book would help you out quite a bit...

Want to support this blog or just say thanks?

When you shop Amazon, start your shopping experience here.

When you do that, all your purchases during that session earn me an affiliate commission via the Amazon Affiliate program. You don't have to buy the book I linked you to (although I wouldn't complain!). Simply use that as your starting point.

Thanks!

Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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