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

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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide
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01/31/2006

Book Review - Macromedia Flash 8 Training from the Source by James English

Category Book Reviews

Flash is one of those technologies that's like a black box to me.  I'm not good with graphics, and I really don't know how people produce those Flash animations on the web.  But a recent review copy of Macromedia Flash 8 Training from the Source by James English might actually allow me to understand the basics...

Contents:  Learning the Basics; Creating Graphics; Using Text; Creating and Editing Symbols; Creating Animations; Adding Basic Interactivity; Adding Sound and Video; Creating Forms Using Components; Learning ActionScript Basics; Loading and Optimizing Flash Content; Publishing Flash Documents; Installing Extensions; Resources; Keyboard Shortcuts; Index

English takes the reader through eleven chapters that cover all the basic tasks and functions within Flash.  The book comes with a trial copy of Macromedia Flash 8, so it's not like to have to spend hundreds of dollars before you can even use the book.  The material is very much a step-by-step approach, with all the sample files included.  The target project is creating a bookstore site, so all the exercises build on one another so that you have a finished project by the time you're done.  The layout of the chapters is very nicely done, also.  You're told what the chapter will cover, what you will learn, how long it should take, and what lesson files you'll need from the CD.  At the end, there's a recap telling you what you *have* learned so that it's all reinforced.  Each "do this" step is followed by a brief commentary on what is happening as well as any tips that might be useful to you.  All in all, I can see that 15 or so hours spent with this book would definitely demystify the whole Flash concept.  It doesn't mean I'm switching careers, mind you, but at least there's one less black hole in my knowledge landscape...  :)

01/31/2006

Book Review - Podcasting Pocket Guide

Category Book Reviews

If you're new to the podcasting arena (either as a listener or producer) and you want a quick overview on the subject, you can find a pretty good one with Podcasting Pocket Guide by Kirk McElhearn, Richard Giles, and Jack D. Herrington.  

Contents:  Finding, Subscribing to, and Listening to Podcasts; Starting Out in Podcasting; Formats for Your Podcast; Editing Your Podcast; 30 Great Podcasts; Index

Because it's a pocket guide and meant to be small, you're not going to get a lot of technical detail in this volume.  The authors cover getting and managing podcasts primarily through iTunes and an iPod, which is a relatively common combination.  The chapters on creating your podcast are also fairly high level, but there's enough there to at least get your feet wet.  The Audacity software is the primary choice they have for sound editing, but they also list a sizable number of options in addition to that.  I'm not sure I would have included the 30 Great Podcasts section, however.  Everyone's tastes and interests are different, and that seemed to be 30 pages that might have been better spent with more technical detail on creating podcasts.  Still, if you happen to find one or more in that list you like and didn't know about, then you'd probably disagree.  :)

If you're an experienced podcaster, or if you've been listening to podcasts for awhile and have no desire to create your own, there might not be much appeal in this book.  But given the right target (podcast newbie), it's a non-threatening intro to the subject.

01/31/2006

Book Review - Skype Hacks by Andrew Sheppard

Category Book Reviews

Given that I have a number of international colleagues, you'd think that Skype would be a must-have piece of software for me.  But I downloaded it during the initial beta and it never really gained traction on my radar screen.  All that may now change after reading Skype Hacks - Tips & Tools for Cheap, Fun, Innovative Phone Service by Andrew Sheppard.

Contents:  Start Using Skype; Save Money with Skype; Configure Skype; Tweak and Tune Skype; Skype at Work; Mobile Skype; Skype Fun and Play; Skype Chat and Voicemail; Security and Privacy; Quirks, Gotchas, and Workarounds; Skype Add-Ons and Tools; Automate Skype; Index

Skype has become the path of least resistance for people starting to explore Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, because its easy and free.  When I first downloaded Skype during the beta period, it seemed like an interesting concept.  But I found that most of the people I'd want to talk with weren't on Skype.  Now it's changed, and I think I'll be running Skype on a regular basis.  Skype Hacks takes a pretty comprehensive tour through the software and covers 100 "hacks" (tips and tricks) you can do to get the most out of the software.  For some, the first couple of chapters will be more than enough...  how to get started on Skype, how to set the software up, and how you can use Skype to replace your regular phone (or at least reduce your monthly bills).  But if you're already past that point, the rest of the chapters will allow you to venture into areas you may not have known about.  For instance, the Automate Skype chapter shows a number of scripts you can use to interact with Skype programmatically.  Great if you want to have an agent send you a chat message when something is completed.  Or take the Skype Add-Ons chapter...  There's a website called skyperunner.com that allows you to send a chat message to a Skype user without having to be logged on to the service.  Great if you want to send a message to someone in an asynchronous fashion.  And using Skype to practice your foreign language skills with willing Skype users around the world was something that never occurred to me...  

So, if you've downloaded Skype and used the basic functionality, great.  A copy of this book will take you to the next step and open up some interesting possibilities...

01/31/2006

Microsoft revisionist press releases, part deux...

Category Microsoft

From Microsoft Watch:  Seadragon Software: A Microsoft Company?  

When Microsoft issued the original press release last week about its plans to create a new Live Labs initiative, the company simultaneously announced it had acquired Seattle-based Seadragon Software. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft deleted from the online release any mentions of its Seadragon acquisition. And the Seadragon Web site is down for the count. ("This domain name has been suspended for exceeding the monthly bandwidth quota. The site will be automatically turned on again on the first day of next month.") So what gives?

To paraphrase a certain Microsoft blogger, I'm sure it's just because the company was in BETA and had reached the end of its BETA cycle.  Nothing more sinister than that I’m afraid.  So nothing to see here, please move along :-)  

01/31/2006

Book Review - In the Line of Fire by Jerry Weissman

Category Book Reviews

I think everyone has a fear of being in the spotlight when a Mike Wallace-style questioner nails them point-blank.  There are ways to get better at handling those situations, and Jerry Weissman covers them in his book In the Line of Fire - How to Handle Tough Questions...  When It Counts.  Very good material...

Contents:  Agility versus Force; The Critical Dynamics of Q&A; Effective Management Implemented; You're Not Listening!; Active Listening (Martial Art: Concentration); Retake the Floor (Martial Art: Self-defense); Provide the Answer (Martial Art: Balance); Topspin in Action (Martial Art: Agility); Preparation (Martial Art: Discipline); The Art of War (Martial Art: Self-Control); The Role Model; Endnotes; Acknowledgments; Index

Weissman dissects a number of memorable question encounters, primarily as part of the presidential debates over the years.  By using examples of Bush, Clinton, Reagan, and others, he shows how the ability to handle tough questions can mean the difference between success and failure.  For instance, when Gore and Perot faced off on the Larry King show, Gore was able to press a number of hot buttons that caused Perot to fly off the handle and appear arrogant and volatile.  Polls taken before and after that episode show a decisive turn in popularity.  Audience questions at the Bush/Clinton debates also proved pivotal in the election.  While Clinton came off as empathetic and understanding, Bush appeared evasive and unable to relate to the common citizen.  It all revolved around listening, understanding the question being asked, and phrasing the answer such that the questioner feels satisfied.

This book really hit home as I was reading it.  I was at a conference where the floor was open for questions from the audience (technical geeks) to a panel of experts.  While there was less at stake to the panel than there would be in a presidential debate, the questioners all fell into one or more categories outlined by the author.  The really good experts on stage could sit through a rambling multipart question, validate that they understood what was being asked, and then give a concise answer that cut through any emotional baggage that may be present.  It was at that point that I knew I'd be reading this book a number of times to make sure I could do the same.

The book isn't large (185 pages), but it packs a wealth of value into those few pages.  If you are ever in a position to have to answer questions from your boss, your customers, or the public, you owe it to yourself to be prepared...

01/30/2006

Microsoft's 3 business units adding own finance chiefs

Category Microsoft

From the Seattle Times:  Microsoft's 3 business units adding own finance chiefs

Microsoft is changing its internal financial-reporting structure, adding chief financial officers for each of the three business divisions created in a massive September reorganization.

One analyst said the change could lead to investors getting less specific information about the myriad of businesses within the three large divisions. But a Microsoft spokesman said no major changes to the reporting approach are planned.

Looks as if another step has been taken to allow spin-offs if government regulators get feisty or the stock price doesn't get busy...

01/30/2006

This may well be the best picture I've ever had taken of me...

Category Lotusphere 2006

A picture named M2

My wife even wants me to have this one printed out so she will have at least *one* picture of me on her desk at work.  Thanks, John!

01/30/2006

IBM Gives Away DB2

Category IBM/Lotus

From eWeek:  IBM Gives Away DB2

The last of the database giants is adapting to the demands of all-you-can-eat, no-money-down, open-source code, with IBM set to roll out a freebie DB2 version on Jan. 30.

DB2 Universal Database Express-C (Community Edition) will offer the same core DB2 server, but in a smaller package, designed for application embedding as well as software development, deployment and redistribution.

Consistent with DB2, Express-C will have no limit on number of users and no limit on database size. It's deployable on up to two processing cores and up to two dual-core chips on x86 systems. The memory maximum size is 4GB.

It used to be that running a small-scale RDBMS meant that you downloaded MySQL or paid for Microsoft Access.  Then Derby/Cloudscape entered the picture.  Now the big three all have free variations of their enterprise packages.  Guess I need to rethink my choices.  With DB2 being a player in the Notes/Domino realm, I'm swaying towards trying out this new offering...

01/30/2006

Microsoft merges Exchange, corporate IM units

Category Microsoft

From ZDNet:  Microsoft merges Exchange, corporate IM units

 The company is combining the Exchange unit with the Real-Time Collaborations (RTC) unit into a new Unified Communications Group. The move will bring together Exchange--Microsoft's server software for managing corporate e-mail, scheduling and contacts--and the RTC unit's products. Those include Live Communications Server, which lets workers see a colleague's IM status and communicate instantly via text or voice.

The setting-up of a unified communications unit does not reflect an immediate decision to merge the two former units' products into a single server software line, Microsoft said.

"There will be no changes to the timing or feature sets for the next generation of products currently under development," it said in a statement.

This definitely seems to make sense if you want to compete in the contextual collaboration arena.  I just hope for Microsoft's sake that the RTC team has more influence than the Exchange team.  Otherwise, they might as well just hang it up now.

01/29/2006

Book Review - Killer Instinct by Joseph Finder

Category Book Reviews

Joseph Finder is now officially a "must read" author for me.  I recently received an advance readers copy of his latest work Killer Instinct due out in May.  He has the corporate espionage/thriller genre down cold, and I stayed up far too late finishing this one...

Jason Steadman is a sales guy for a firm that sells high-end plasma video displays.  He's doing well, but his wife wants him to do even better.  It's as if he doesn't have the "killer instinct" to keep climbing the corporate ladder.  While driving home one night, he wrecks his car while talking on his cell phone.  The tow truck driver, Kurt Semko, is an ex-military Special Services type, and for some odd reason Kurt and Jason hit it off.  Steadman is able to get him a job in corporate security in order to bring a little stability into Semko's life, and Semko considers that act a favor that needs to be repaid.  And repay he does, by starting to "clear the path" for Steadman's rise to the top of the company.  Once he figures out what's going on, he tries to stop Semko, but it's too late.  Semko can be your best friend or your worst enemy, and killing is not an issue...

As with most really good novels, this one starts fast and doesn't slow down.  The path that Steadman is traveling isn't one that seems blatantly wrong until he's in too deep to get out with no consequences.  It's easy to empathize with him, and you're pretty glad this is just a novel, or so you hope...

I recommend that you get a copy of this novel when it finally hits the stands.  If you're into crime thrillers set in corporate America, you'll come away clamoring for Finder's next book...  Recommended read.

01/29/2006

Book Review - Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

Category Book Reviews

As an active blogger, I figured it was a good idea to read Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.  The book ended up being a bit better than I was expecting...

Contents:  
Part 1 - What's Happening?: Souls of the Borg; Everything Never Changes; Word of Mouth on Steroids; Direct Access; Little Companies, Long Reach; Consultants Who Get It; Survival of the Publicists; Blogs and National Cultures; Thorns in the Roses
Part 2 - Blogging Wrong & Right: Doing It Wrong; Doing It Right; How to Not Get Dooced; Blogging in a Crisis
Part 3 - The Big Picture: Emerging Technology; The Conversational Era
Acknowledgments; Name Index; Subject Index

As far as business blogging books go, this one ranks up there.  All the normal subjects, the "why would a company do this" questions, are asked and answered.  In addition, Scoble and Israel document their work and their blog site references very well.  The material is easy to read and easily comprehendible, so anyone who is looking to incorporate blogging into their corporate communication portfolio will do well to read it.  Learn from the mistakes of others before you do irreparable damage to your own brand and reputation.  

So why is this better than I expected?  I was prepared *not* to like the book going in.  Normally I don't have a preconceived negative opinion of a book when I start.  If I do, I just don't read it.  In this case, it was because of my past dislike of Scoble's website.  For whatever reason, I just don't understand the wide appeal.  I've tried to follow his writings via RSS a couple of times, and I rapidly tired of the "look who I met today and who I had dinner with and where I just got back from" posts.  I also don't see that spending four hours of your own time each day following hundreds of blogs is a commendable trait.  And when the book started off with a chapter about how blogging has changed everyone's opinion of Microsoft, I was ready to write it off as a myopic view of life from Scoble's world.  But once that chapter was out of the way, the material got more relevant and less inward-focused, and I found myself actually enjoying the book.  And that surprised me...

So, while I don't think this is the watershed book on business blogging that some have suggested, I do think it's a worthy read on the subject...

01/29/2006

Book Review - Just Say No To Microsoft by Tony Bove

Category Book Reviews

Contrary to what it may seem, there *are* viable alternatives to Microsoft.  Tony Bove strongly suggests you adopt them in his book Just Say No To Microsoft - How To Ditch Microsoft And Why It's Not As Hard As You Think.

Contents:  
Part 1 - You Say You Want A Revolution: Playing Monopoly Is No Longer Fun; All You Need Is A Mac; Linux - Land of the Free, Home of the Brave
Part 2 - Rehab For Your Microsoft Addiction: Slay the Word and You'll Be Free; De-Microsoft Your Office; Media Lib - Microsoft-Free Music and Video
Part 3 - The Whole Network Is Watching: The Message Is The Medium for Infections; This LAN Is Your LAN; Browsers and Your Own Private Identity
Part 4 - Getting On With Your Computer Life: Twelve Steps to Freedom from Microsoft; Where Do You Want to Go Tomorrow?; The Truth Is Out There; Citations; Index

If you're a Mac fan or a Linux fan, you'll most likely agree with everything Bove says.  He is rabidly anti-Microsoft, and has little to say that's good about the company.  Microsoft's cash cow software, the Windows operating system and Office, is drawn and quartered as being overpriced and buggy.  The alternatives are to use either Mac's OS X or a Linux desktop distribution.  As far as Office, he makes the strong case that the free OpenOffice.org suite will allow the vast majority of the users to do 100% of everything they're used to doing, with virtually no learning curve.  Browsers?  Protect your computer, dump IE, and go with Firefox.  The net effect of all these suggestions is to have an environment that costs far less than comparable Microsoft offerings, as well as having a more secure computing experience.

By no means is the author even-handed in his comparisons.  The writing is strongly opinionated, but that's what makes it fun to read (in my less strident opinion).  Some of his statements caused me to mentally step back and wonder why I continue to live with some of the limitations that Microsoft has put on my computing experience.  While I won't be removing all vestiges of Microsoft from my computing environment, I will be more willing to question the common wisdom going forward...

01/29/2006

Book Review - A Gentleman's Game by Greg Rucka

Category Book Reviews


A blog reader recommended an author to me that he thought I might like.  It's Greg Rucka, and I decided to start out with his first Queen & Country novel,
A Gentleman's Game.  While it wasn't quite a "can't put it down", I do plan on checking out the next installment...

Tara Chace works as a "minder" for the British government.  Basically, she's a paid assassin who is employed to "clean up" situations that require the removal of particular individuals.  She's very good at what she does, and she's the head minder of the elite group of three.  She's sent to the Middle East to eliminate a terrorist figure who is responsible for a series of attacks on British soil.  The goal is accomplished, but another person is also taken out as collateral damage.  This incidental death enrages the Saudi government, and the only way out for a number of secret spy agencies is to turn over Chace as a sacrificial lamb.  Knowing she'd be tried and executed, she goes on the run and attempts to accomplish the impossible...  the destruction of an entire terrorist camp with only her and her former lover as the attacking force.  If she wins, she lives.  If she doesn't, she dies either way...


Overall, A Gentleman's Game is a nice read.  Seeing a woman as a paid killer is something you don't normally encounter in a novel, so it made for an interesting premise.  The story seemed to move a bit slow in places, but not so much that I wanted to go into skim mode to get to the end.  Private Wars is his follow-up novel, and I've already decided that it'll be my next recreational read.  I'm hoping that the series is headed in the right direction, because I could end up liking it a lot...

01/29/2006

Book Review - Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan

Category Book Reviews

I guess I expected a lot more from this sci-fi novel from an author I haven't read before...  Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan.  I'm not even sure I can do a decent synopsis of the plot, as I'm not quite sure what it was...

Chris Faulkner is a driver for Shorn Associates, an investment firm that backs countries and factions at war with each other.  The main form of investment is to be on the side of the winners so that you can secure a slice of their gross domestic product once they are in power.  When two investment firms are set to go up against each other for business, they send out a drive team to a defined road course and attempt to kill the other group in a fatal type of "demolition derby".  Even within a company, you can eliminate your corporate rivals by issuing a road challenge.  And of course, the media follows the drive wars closely and the big names are treated as celebrities.

That's the premise of the book that drew me in.  A near-future sci-fi piece that shows a different type of society that isn't necessarily implausible.  My problems began when I tried to figure out what the plot was.  Higher-ups at Shorn apparently don't want him there, but I never did really understand why.  There were alliances and betrayals, but I never figured out how they formed.  There was a subplot to get Faulkner to become an ombudsman, but it was beyond me as to what role they served in the new world landscape.  The entire time I was reading, I felt like there must have been an earlier book I missed which would have explained everything else.  Without it, I was really lost for the majority of the read.

I liked the premise, and I liked the scenes.  There was just no story that I found that tied it all together.  If given a second chance, I would have left this one on the library shelf.

01/29/2006

Book Review - Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss

Category Book Reviews

All I can say is "too funny, too true"...  Talk to the Hand - The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss.

Truss is the author who took readers to task for bad and sloppy grammar.  Now she takes aim at society and the rudeness that seems to be everywhere.  Her six main areas of examination are Was That So Hard to Say?, Why am I the One Doing This?, My Bubble My Rules, The Universal Eff-Off Reflex, Booing the Judges, and Someone Else Will Clean It Up.  Her observations and points would be well-worth reading if she were an average writer.  But she puts it over the top with her dry English wit and humor.  It's hard not to find yourself laughing and nodding in agreement as you whip through the pages.  Who hasn't found themselves overhearing a cell phone conversation along the lines of "I said to her, 'No nails, love! No nails!  The wife'll Effing kill me!'".  Obviously no thought given to whether those around him really wanted that much information...

I would have liked this book regardless.  The fact I was reading it in an airport, at a gate for a flight that was overbooked at 10 pm at night, with a number of irate customers only made it more relevant and hysterical.  And I've committed to say "you're welcome" instead of "no problem" when somebody thanks me...

01/29/2006

Other general Lotusphere media coverage...

Category Lotusphere 2006

From Computerworld:  Lotus set to uphold the future of Notes

From WebProNews: Lotusphere Blooming with Apple News

From MarketWire (press release): IBM Announces New Version of Workplace Products With Enhanced Support for Open Standards and Improved SOA Functionality

From ZDNet: IBM Lotus bulks up Mac support

From CRN: Third Parties Back IBM Notes, Domino, Workplace

From Computerworld: Lotusphere roundup: Vendors fill niches for Notes/Domino users

From Intranet Journal: Lotus Embraces Expanded Collaboration

From Reseller News: Lotus lays out its future at Lotusphere

New Lotus general manager Mike Rhodin opened the vendor's annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida, by telling nearly 6,000 attendees that the future is already within sight. And he laid to rest, again, questions that the future of the Notes/Domino platform included a makeover or worse.

"For the record, there is no architectural shift involved [for Notes/Domino], it is pure growth with no regression," says Rhodin. "There will be continued support for all Notes applications."  Rhodin and IBM Lotus executives also took a more aggressive stand in an on-going competition with Microsoft, often calling out the vendor during the general session keynote for its perceived shortcomings in product and delivery schedules.

"We have been the leader for 15 years, and I have no intention of backing down," Rhodin says.

Analysts say Lotus's spunk is born from heat applied by Microsoft, which is aggressively building out its collaboration platform on the back of Office and real-time collaboration tools.

"I was struck that Lotus feels very threatened by Microsoft," says David Ferris, president of Ferris Research. He says that Lotus, however, is infusing Notes/Domino with enough new and upgraded features that users who defect to Microsoft should feel like they are missing out.

From Computer Business Review Online:  Lotusphere Attendees Drown in New Products

Lotusphere 2006, the premier event for showcasing IBM Lotus' collaboration and messaging prowess, was awash with product announcements. They were splashed across IBM's broad collaboration tools portfolio -- a sign that the IT giant isn't about to cede the market to archrival Microsoft Corp anytime soon.

01/28/2006

I think we just had an earthquake...

Category Everything Else


I heard a thump and my basement area was shaking a bit.  I went upstairs to ask Sue if she felt it, and Ian came down from the upstairs to see if we had one...


I'll have to troll the news sites and the TV news to see what it was...  Probably 3.0'ish...


Update:  Yup:  http://pasadena.wr.usgs.gov/shake/pnw/STORE/X1290200_06/ciim_display.html

Apparently centered pretty much in the Portland area and registered at 2.9.

01/28/2006

Looking for Lotusphere slide/sample downloads? Check out the Lotusphere 2006 wiki site...

Category Lotusphere 2006

John Head has set up an area in Ben Poole's Lotusphere 2006 wiki in order to store/point to updated slide and sample files from the different sessions.  

I *strongly* urge you to visit this site and update information if you're a speaker, and download the info if you're a Notes/Domino professional.  Good stuff!

http://www.johndavidhead.com/jhead/johnhead.nsf/dx/lotusphere2006-wiki-page---slides-and-demo-files

01/28/2006

Chris Toohey in Intranet Journal... good job!

Category IBM/Lotus

With all the excellent writers we have in our blogging world, I'd really like to see more of us reach out and write for non-Domino publications...

Intranet Solutions with Lotus Notes and Domino

We all complain about not having media mindshare for the Notes/Domino platform, as well as asking how can IBM combat this?  Guess what?  It's as much our job as theirs, and this is one significant way to do it.

Good job, Chris!

01/28/2006

*Now* Lotusphere is over, and the answer to the burning question...

Category Lotusphere 2006

How many books did Duffbert read at Lotusphere this year?

I am now home and Lotusphere is officially over for me.  I caught a slightly earlier flight out from Seattle, and endured a really nasty 40 minutes of turbulence and such.  I kept thinking that Ian, my son who hates flying, would have joined three religions and created two new ones during this flight.  And of course, Portland is raining, windy, and in the low 40's.  Yup, it's home...  :)

Oh, and how many books did I read?  The official answer would be six.  Now, I think I actually practiced a bit of restraint, as well as there being extenuating circumstances.  Having upwards of 16 - 20 hours of flights and airport downtime definitely leads to more books being read than normal in a week.  The number of books *physically read during official Lotusphere hours* was something like two.  I also had an additional overnight stay in Seattle that should be factored in.

Even so, my attempts at leniency are right up there with Hannibal Lecter pleading for mercy in front of the judge because he left the kidneys and ribs untouched.  Perhaps it's restraint in *my* world, but it's still a strange and sick habit to everyone else...  :)

01/27/2006

I "found" $13 on the way home from Orlando... :)

Category Humor

So I got to the airport early (no big surprise there), had lunch, and then went through the ordeal that is security in the Orlando airport.  Why on earth they need to see your boarding pass and ID twice once you're in the controlled entrance area is beyond me.  But I digress...

At one point, I went to visit "the facilities" and found an unoccupied stall.  Someone had left a mint copy of From Good To Great propped up on the shelf.  No name or address info in the book, just a small set of initials.  Having already read that book (excellent, by the way...), there was no excitement over finding new reading material.  But I figured it might fetch $3 or $4 used on Amazon.

Wrong!

Used copies were selling for $13.75, and the sales rank for this book is 30, which pretty much means it will sell within hours of listing it.  I tagged my copy at $13, making it the cheapest used copy out there, and I have the *Ship Now!* notice already in my in-box...  :)

01/27/2006

*Still* not quite home from Lotusphere yet...

Category Lotusphere 2006

For me, Lotusphere officially ends when I stagger into my house around 11 PM on Friday after being on planes for about 7 hours.  

And as of Saturday morning at 5:06 am, Lotusphere still isn't *over*.  :-)

I caught the 5:55 PM flight out of Orlando headed for Seattle, which was scheduled to be followed by a short 45 minute puddlehopper shot from Seattle to Portland.  The Orlando/Seattle leg was painfully long (I know...  soft American...  can't handle 6.5 hours in a plane...), and I was very glad to finally get off the plane to transfer over.  I got to the gate for my second leg around 9:40 PM, and they were looking for "bump" volunteers to fly out the next morning (i.e., *today*).  My wife's yearly admonition is always:

Take The Bump, Get The Free Ticket

Being I had no real need to get home Friday night, I quickly handed over my boarding pass and took the offer.  Then I watched a series of *extremely* rude people rant and complain about the overbooked status of the flight.  Even the ones that were on stand-by!  Rather ironic that I was sitting there reading Talk To The Hand, a comical look at rudeness in society.  It's amazing how much better you'll get treated if you just smile and show a little kindness.  

Anyway, I *finally* worked through the wait and paperwork in order to get to my hotel room just short of midnight.  The bad part is my internal clock is still set three hours ahead, so I was wide awake at 4:15 am, unable to go back to sleep.  Hence, a 5 am  post from Seattle...

My new estimated arrival time should be around 10 am today, as the flight's supposed to leave at 9.  I also have a free meal voucher for breakfast, so I might just head over to the airport a bit early and find something to eat.  But first, a shower to see if I can steam the bags out from under my eyes...

01/27/2006

A thank you to my co-presenter this year, Julian Robichaux...

Category Lotusphere 2006

I didn't want too much time to elapse before I posted a public "thank you" to my co-presenter this year, Julian Robichaux.  Contrary to what I said in our Jumpstart, Joe Litton is not serving five to ten for his Java-based email purge agent he wrote for a former employer.  :)  But we both found out at a very late stage that he wouldn't be able to present this year...  like the day that Rocky was submitting the agenda and speaker list to the printers...  :)  Joe and I had a brief discussion to decide what course of action should be followed, and one of the few options was to contact Julian to see if he was interested in co-presenting.  Since Julian knows more than Joe and I put together, there was no doubt he could pull it off from the content end.  But would he want to actually be up on stage?  Also, would the off-beat presentation style work for him?

I placed a phone call to him, and with no hesitation he accepted.  He also spent all day getting approvals from his company to allow him to present, but all went well.  And I think the results of the session spoke well of his efforts.  His sample database is going to make plenty of appearances in a number of Notes shops (it definitely is going to in mine!).  The Super Soaker idea was his, and that was a lot of fun to add in (although I don't know what to do to top it next year).  And the Star Wars Light Saber (again, his idea) is now Lotusphere legend.  And like all good speakers, he's already mulling ideas for next year's submissions.  Expect him back next year...

So, Julian?  Thank you for being part of my Lotusphere experience.  Following Joe isn't easy, but you pulled it off.  And I truly hope this is just the first of many presentations we'll be able to do together at future conferences...

01/27/2006

Excellent post... Whose Fault Is It When Collaboration Software Sucks?

Category IBM/Lotus

Michael Sampson of Shared Spaces Research has posted an excellent article called Whose Fault Is It When Collaboration Software Sucks?

A vendor see a market opportunity for collaboration software. It builds a product to enable teams to work together, share information, and coordinate action. It signs up business partners who see the promise of the offering. They start offering services to the market based on the product. Organizations embrace it. Some find great success and rave about it. Others think it is the worst thing ever created and do nothing but complain. In either case ... success or failure ... who is to be praised or blamed? The organizations that found success will usually be quick to claim the praise, but those that fail are usually slow to accept blame. Is that fair?

I have been thinking about this question in relation to Lotus Notes and Domino, although it has wider implications. In terms of Notes/Domino, the world is very much divided about it ... you either love it with a passion or hate it with a passion. These two polarized positions are extremely interesting from a market dynamics perspective. Please note that neither IBM nor any individual associated with IBM nor any other vendor requested or suggested that I write this article; it is an independent perspective, and the lessons apply more broadly.

Let's see if we can think about this logically. When Notes and Domino fail in an organization, or where people hate it with a passion, who is at fault?

For those of you who are application developers (I'm in that grouping), I strongly suggest you pay attention to Is The Application Developer At Fault?

An excellent article, and well worth reading...

01/26/2006

Didn't take long for the first "Notes is dead" online piece to happen...

Category IBM/Lotus

... and it's from our friend Steve Gillmor in his InfoRouter blog:  The thought that Notes is dead is dead

Generalismo Franco is still dead is dead, says Ed Brill in sessions at Lotusisdeadsphere. From all reports, Lotus (IBM) has killed the notion that Domino/Notes is dead by assuring the 6700 attendees that the move to GrouPlace is vastly overstated. Meanwhile, IBM has discovered RSS and maybe Attention, but don't worry, Notes is still not dead. I guess this falls into the category of negative gestures — branding around the lack of deadness in this case.

Huh?

I know that Gillmor is not a fan of Notes, ranking right up there with Dan Lyons.  But the least he could do is write a coherant and understandable post.  Nicholas Carr, in his Rough Type blog, recently addressed Gillmor's writing style in a post titled Just Try To Pay Attention.  The post is summed up in the following statement:

Does Steve have someone translate his posts into French and then back into English before he publishes them?

"Notes is dead" aside, this points to something I'm working harder on these days.  Just because blogging is a medium that allows instant publishing and thoughts to be shared, that doesn't mean that basic writing concepts such as clarity and substance should be abandoned.  Especially for someone who fancies themselves a journalist...

01/25/2006

Bad Tom... sorta went silent at this year's 'sphere...

Category Lotusphere 2006

I somewhat had plans to do a lot of blogging at this year's Lotusphere...  impressions, observations, reports, etc.

Didn't happen...

I could come up with a bunch of lame excuses (too busy, too tired, etc.), but I think it comes down to two reasons.

1. Lazy...  I could have blogged recaps at the end of each day, but I chose not to.  Bed looked much more inviting.  :)

2. Preserving the Lotusphere backpack...  This is probably the real reason.  I had planned on taking my laptop around all day and doing blogging during sessions and such.  But the last two years (actually, *three* years) have not been kind to the LS backpack.  The first casualty was the hybrid backpack/shoulder bag of three years ago (I think).  That one tore out the straps before I even got home.  Too much hauling around of heavy stuff.  Then we had the first cool backpack of two years ago.  I destroyed that one about six months after LS by using it to carry a lot of stuff during travels.  Last year's backpack has become my daily companion, but even that one ended up tearing out the little top pocket designed to hold a CD player.  This year's backpack is *very* nice, but my new laptop isn't exactly the lightest one on the market.  I was determined to make sure that the backpack gets home intact and without visible damage.  Therefore, I decided my laptop would guard my room during the day...

So, that's why there was little blogging this week.  But I plan on doing a number of things with my blog once I get home, and one of them will be a few more in-depth pieces about my thoughts and experiences...

Or so I'm somewhat planning...

01/23/2006

You know you have a reputation at Lotusphere when...

Category Lotusphere 2006

... other blogs are starting polls to figure out how many books you'll read while you're down here...  :)

01/22/2006

Sunday Lotusphere recap...

Category Lotusphere 2006

I haven't blogged much about Lotusphere stuff yet, because I somewhat preoccupied with our Java Jumpstart session that Julian and I gave today.  Couple that with a redeye flight from Portland Oregon yesterday and no sleep on the plane, and the last two days have been somewhat blurry.  Saturday was fun in that I got to spend a few hours catching up with fellow bloggers at the Boardwalk gathering.  Normally I'd head off to the ESPN Club for Turtle's Gonzo gathering around 8, but I was fading quickly.  I figured that sleep prior to presenting was a good thing...

So today was our Jumpstart.  Slated to start at 10:30, we got a late start because the Business Partner Day opening session (held in part of that room combined with the other Swan ballrooms) ran to 10:15.  The staff at the Swan did an excellent job turning the area around from a round table configuration to chair rows in very little time.  Julian and I got started at 10:40, and the timing was just about perfect.  We finished up at 12:35, and sent everyone off to lunch.  The session seemed to go really well, and we've received some good feedback from attendees.  And Julian's a natural on stage, especially when he's wielding a light saber...

We shall call him "Java Jedi"...  :)

Also I planned on going to some afternoon sessions, that didn't materialize.  I think the stresses of the last few months finally melted away and I just chilled out in the room until the Sunday night party.  It's literally twice as warm as it was last year, so people were actually enjoying themselves without freezing.  Right now I'm watching Seattle destroy Carolina in the NFC playoff game, and I'll try to get one last decent night's sleep before everything kicks into high gear tomorrow.

Not sure if I'm going to try to blog live in sessions tomorrow.  My laptop isn't the lightest thing, and I'd prefer not rip out the shoulder straps like I have in the past...  

I'll decide tomorrow..

01/21/2006

Our slides, samples, and demos from JMP201... available for download!

Category Lotusphere 2006


As promised, we've made the slides, samples, and demo shows available from our Java Jumpstart session (JMP201).  


Slides

Sample Database

Eclipse Demos (Combined in zip file)


(note...  links are now fixed...  Thanks for the heads up, Patrick!
)
(another note...  seemed that the Eclipse links were messed up too.  I combined them into a single zip file.)

01/21/2006

The first sign that this is gonna be a *great* Lotusphere!

Category Lotusphere 2006

Note the name...

A picture named M2

I filled in the registration that way more as a joke than anything else...  didn't think I'd actually get it that way.  :)

01/21/2006

Every year we're at Lotusphere, some major Microsoft virus creates havoc on the 'net...

Category Microsoft

Apparently it started a day early this year...

New Kama Sutra Worm Corrupts Microsoft Documents

 A new worm that already accounts for 1 in every 15 pieces of malicious code carries a "nuclear option" payload that corrupts data in a slew of popular file formats, a security company warned Friday.

The Nyxem.e worm, said Finnish security firm F-Secure, carries code that instructs it to replace data in files with .doc, .xls, .mdb, .mde, .ppt, .pps, .zip, .rar, .pdf, .psd, or .dmp extensions with the useless string "DATA Error [47 0F 94 93 F4 K5]" on the third of the month.

The worm arrives as an attachment to e-mail messages with a variety of subject headlines, many of which tout porn with phrases like "Arab sex," "give me a kiss," "Hot Movie," and "F***** Kama Sutra pics." It also tries to delete selected security software, and can spread through shared folders as well as by hijacking addresses from infected PCs.

F-Secure raised its alert level on Nyxem.e to "2," the first time the Helsinki-based anti-virus company has used that high a warning since December's Windows Metafile vulnerability broke into the news.

01/21/2006

Barbara Darrow - Truth In Marketing (poking at the Microsoft collaboration migration tool announcement)

Category Microsoft


A really nice story from Barbara Darrow titled "
Truth In Marketing".

Nice to see *someone* in the media can see beyond the FUD marketing of Microsoft...


Last week’s Microsoft announcement on updated Domino/Notes migration tools truly was a piece of work.

First, please note that the tools are for migrating to Microsoft’s “collaboration platform.” You have to drill down to find that this platform comprises a wealth of products—the Exchange Server workhorse, SharePoint Portal Server, Windows SharePoint Services. And, one might presume, the newly acquired Groove Virtual Office and underlying collaboration technology.

Interestingly, the two product management types designated to speak on these offerings had to be asked which product they manage (Exchange). Then, when asked where Microsoft’s Groove technology will fit into the collaboration platform, they referred the question to another group at Microsoft.

Next question: Where does the realtime collaboration Live Communications Server stuff fit into this puzzle? Answer: Hmm. You’ll have to talk to yet another group.

So tell me again about all this “integrated innovation” that is supposed to be so helpful to partners and users alike. When Microsoft, which is supposed to know a thing or two about marketing, starts peddling a platform but puts frontmen out there with no apparent clue about its component parts, that’s a problem, folks.

01/20/2006

Book Review - Inescapable Data by Chris Stakutis and John Webster

Category Book Reviews

I just finished reading an outstanding book that examines the world of "Inescapable Data"...  Chris Stakutis and John Webster's Inescapable Data - Harnessing the Power of Convergence.

Contents:  The Inescapable Data Vision; The Connectivity Divide; Inescapable Data Fundamentals; From Warfare to Government, Connectivity Is Vitality; Pervading the Home; Connecting Medicine; Work Life - Oxymoron No Longer; Real-Time Manufacturing; Sports and Entertainment - Energizing Our Involvement; Connecting to Retail; Computer Storage Impacted by Inescapable Data; Super Computers, Visualization, and Networks; Inescapable Data in Perspective; Index

The authors explore how technology is allowing more and more devices to broadcast and interact with each other to create linkages that haven't even begun to be explored.  What if your refrigerators could broadcast to your PDA when you're at the store to let you know what's in there?  With RFID tags, it's a possibility.  What if you could have access to the same telemetry data that pit crews have when you go to an racing event?  Could your tennis racquet transmit force and angle information to a system that could analyze your game and help you become a better player?  All of these things are technically possible, and the rapid advance of processing and storage power makes it much more likely to come to pass at an affordable price point.  Besides talking about possibilities, they also explore how technology has to change in order to deal with this constant onslaught of data.  Companies like Wal-mart generate terabytes of data from RFID every few days.  What do you save? How do you analyze it?  Where does it reside and for how long?  And with data being stored in XML format, how likely is it that ordinary computer users will be able to write their own tools to analyze their data?  Good chance it'll happen...

Probably the only thing they didn't cover in a lot of depth was the personal privacy issue.  If retailers are tracking you via tags, sensors, and cameras from the time you walk in the door until you leave, you're passing a lot of information that will be stored about you.  While there might be financial benefits to allowing that to happen, that benefit comes at a cost to personal privacy.  The issue is acknowledged, but much more space is devoted to the potential benefits than to the potential abuses.  Still, this is a book that will open your eyes to possibilities that seemed like science fiction not that very long ago.  

Well worth reading to expand your vision...

01/20/2006

Ballmer shows his true colors... no space for anyone else, competitively...

Category Microsoft

Steve Ballmer was interviewed and questioned about being a challenger and not a leader in project/portfolio management software.  His answer is telling...

Said Ballmer: "For what it's worth, we are the market leader in units, and we are the market leader in revenue, which at least is another indicator of bets that should be made, because of the work that folks in this room and many others do. But we don't want to leave any space for anybody else, competitively."

Um, hello, U.S. Justice Department? Ballmer immediately recognized the anti-competitive manner in which those words might be construed, and as the crowd broke into laughter, he quickly explained what he actually meant -- lest it become a topic for the company's next antitrust compliance hearing.

"On the innovation front!" he said. "Everybody is welcome to thrive commercially. But we will lead on the innovation front."

Grinning, he wiped his brow theatrically. "Phew," he said.

Methinks his first statement was more honest than his "explanation".  It's hard to hide the spots 24/7...

01/20/2006

A message for everyone headed to Orlando...

Category Lotusphere 2006

http://www.paperboy.nl/index.cfm?PID=E9C55BF3-EFF3-6568-1CC4F92C3619F2B8

(it loads slowly...  Thanks, Bas!)

01/18/2006

A milestone of sorts in my reviewing "career"...

Category Book Reviews

A picture named M2

Little did I imagine hitting that number when I started this a few years ago...

01/18/2006

Interesting how Microsoft keeps "pulling" their conversion stuff off the web...

Category Microsoft

After a less-than-stellar review from the Lotus community (like they expected anything less?), we see that the beta downloads that were available yesterday are now "coming soon".

And it's not the first time that they've pulled material that was found to be FUD-ish and just outright wrong.  Remember their conversion whitepaper that had a weblife of about 36 hours?

01/17/2006

Book Review - Forever Odd by Dean Koontz

Category Book Reviews

Dean Koontz brings back the Odd Thomas character in his latest book Forever Odd.  While I was left wondering about some pieces of the story, I still must say I enjoyed the novel a lot...

Odd has the special ability (or curse) of being able to see the ghosts of dead people.  They can also see him, and they communicate nonverbally.  Unfortunately this often places Odd at the scene of a crime before anyone else knows what happened.  In this story, he's drawn to a brutal murder scene of a doctor, who's also the stepfather of his best friend Danny.  Danny, who suffers from a brittle bone disease, is nowhere to be found in the house, and Odd believes him to have been kidnapped by his biological father.  By using his supernatural skills, he's able to track Danny and his captors to an abandoned casino that was devastated by earthquake and fire, never to be rebuilt.  Odd tracks Danny down to a 12th floor room, but his captors are a bizarre lot.  The main kidnapper, Datura, is a phone-sex goddess who got to know Danny and also learned about Odd's special talents.  Her two accomplices are men seemingly under her spell.  She's obsessed with death and the supernatural, and has staged the whole event to lure Odd into a place where she can get him to help her accomplish her main goal...  to actually *see* the ghosts of the dead, not just feel them.  She is a real nut case, and Odd needs to rescue Danny without getting both of them killed in the process...

Koontz has a great talent with first person dialog from his characters.  I really enjoy Odd's personality and mindset, and he's one of the most realistic characters in a story that I've ever read.  The whole reasoning behind Datura's obsession remained a bit of a mystery for me, as well as the way things ended.  While it left me thinking "huh?", it didn't detract from the pleasure of reading the book.  So while I wouldn't give it my highest recommendation, I'd still call it a book that would be worth the time spent on it.

01/17/2006

Book Review - PC Magazine Windows XP Security Solutions by Dan DiNicolo

Category Book Reviews

Securing your PC is not an option any more...  it's a "must do" task.  And while Windows XP has gotten marginally better in securing your environment by default, it's still not adequate.  You need to take additional steps, and it's really not as hard as you might think.  I recently got a review copy of PC Magazine Windows XP Security Solutions by Dan DiNicolo, and I'm impressed...

Contents:  
Part 1 - Getting Down to the Business of Securing Windows XP: Implementing User Accounts, Groups, and Logon Security; Implementing Password Security; Using Built-In Tools and Settings to Improve Windows XP Security
Part 2 - Making Surfing Safer: Securing Your Web Browser; Restricting Access to the Internet
Part 3 - Protecting Windows XP Against Internet Threats: Protecting Windows XP with a Firewall; Keeping Windows XP Patched and Protected; Protecting Against Viruses; Fighting Malware: Protecting Against Spyware, Adware, and Browser Hijacks
Part 4 - Messaging Your Way to E-Mail Security: The Dark Side of Spam; Securing E-Mail Messages Using Encryption and Digital Signatures
Part 5 - Protecting Your Files: Controlling Access to Your Personal Files; Improving File Security Using Encryption; Erasing File and Hard Drives Securely
Part 6 - Securing Your Home Network: Securing Shared Folders and Printers; Securing Windows XP on Wireless Networks
Appendixes: Reinstalling Windows XP; Helpful Windows XP Security Web Sites; Catalog of Handy Windows XP Security Utilities; Index

DiNicolo is very comprehensive in his coverage of all the areas that need to be taken into consideration.  You can't just stop at virus scanners and think you have it covered.  The writing is at a level that most PC users can follow without getting totally lost, while not talking down to people who have been using computers for years.  Add in a number of screen shots and such, and you have a great guide to implementing security in all the areas that are waiting to be exploited.  I appreciated his effort to look at both built-in and 3rd party tools in his analysis.  For instance, XP has a firewall, but there are also various 3rd party firewall packages that are very solid (and free for personal use).  He also highlights utilities that can be used to scan your system for weaknesses that could bite you.  For instance, he shows how the TweakUI utility can be used to make your logon screen more secure than it is by default.  It's a security opening I hadn't thought of.  Or there's IE-SPYAD2, a tool that adds dangerous sites to your IE Restricted zone setting to make sure you don't get clobbered by visiting a site that can harm your system.

I definitely learned a few things that I need to implement on my systems to make them more secure.  Obviously, I'm not going to tell you what they are.  :)  But suffice it to say that most everyone who reads this book will come away with a to-do list for hardening their systems.  A very good book...

01/17/2006

Su-weet! Our Java Jumpstart is going to be taped!

Category Lotusphere 2006

Joe (via Richard) just sent me a link to the order form:  https://www.vsimedia.com//lotusphere/index.php?section=catalog

I've always wanted a copy of one of my sessions in order to get some visual feedback to my dorkiness on stage...  

But this does *not* mean you can skip our session and just buy the tape.  There will be potential...  "benefits" to be gained by being there in person...  :)  

01/16/2006

I'm *sure* the timing of Microsoft's migration tool announcement is just coincidental...

Category Microsoft

... to the fact that Lotusphere starts in less than a week...

From ITWorld:  Microsoft unveils new Exchange migration tools

And in true Microsoft fashion, let's announce something that isn't even close to being available yet...

New resources introduced Tuesday include two free software tools, the Microsoft Application Analyzer 2006 for Lotus Domino and Microsoft Data Migrator 2006 for Lotus Domino, Murff said. Once available, both tools can be downloaded on the Web.

Microsoft Application Analyzer is an analysis and reporting tool that describes existing Lotus applications and provides usage information for them, Murff said. The tool also recommends to what Microsoft collaboration environment the applications can most easily migrate. The tool will be available some time in the first quarter. Microsoft Data Migrator takes key information from Lotus Notes templates and moves them to a Windows Sharepoint Services Web site for use with a Microsoft-based collaboration application, he said. The tool will be available in the second quarter of 2006.

And Paul Mooney has *already* found the first piece of FUD being used by Microsoft around this...

"1. We have found that Lotus Notes is not able to handle large number of databases (typical 1000 databases). If the Application Analyser is run for more than 1000 databases will product an error for all the selected databases above 1000. The solution is to exit and re-execute the application for the remaining databases without selecting the "Clear all previously imported database information" checkbox if you want all the previous analysis to be included in one report."

Please...

I *highly* recommend you check out Paul's post, as he does a great job in analyzing the software in a real-world environment.  And *your* idea of real world is not Microsoft's idea...

01/15/2006

Book Review - XSLT Cookbook (2nd Edition) by Sal Mangano

Category Book Reviews

One of my favorite development methodologies is "R&D"...  "Rob & Duplicate".  And an important source of inspiration is often the O'Reilly Cookbook series.  For XSLT, you now have an up-to-date wealth of samples to pull from...  XSLT Cookbook (2nd Edition) by Sal Mangano.

Contents:  XPath; Strings; Numbers and Math; Dates and Times; Selecting and Traversing; Exploiting XSLT 2.0; XML to Text; XML to XML; Querying XML; XML to HTML; XML to SVG; Code Generation; Vertical XSLT Application Recipes; Extending and Embedding XSLT; Testing and Debugging; Generic and Functional Programming; Index

If you've never seen an O'Reilly Cookbook, the concept is pretty simple.  Each "recipe" consists of a problem description, a solution, and a discussion of how the solution addresses the issues, along with any observations that can shed light on the situation.  These recipes are then grouped together by general problem types so that you can easily find an area that might offer up a quick answer to your particular problem.  In this book, Mangano expands upon the 1st edition that covered XSLT 1.0.  The 2nd edition now covers the updated XSLT 2.0 standard, and offers up both 1.0 and 2.0 solutions and discussions to many of the problems.  As such, you will find value in the material regardless of your particular version usage.  So for instance, let's say I have an XML file that needs to be reformatted into a second file to meet some formatting requirement.  By checking into the XML to XML file, I'll find solutions on turning attributes into elements, elements to attributes, renaming elements and attributes, and so on.  Tutorial books will teach you the syntax for doing stuff like this, but they can't anticipate real-world solutions.  Cookbooks assume you already know what you're doing, and they go right to solutions.

Personally, I find a number of uses for books like this.  There's the obvious, which is to find an exact (or nearly so) answer to your particular problem.  But stepping away from the "immediate" need, there's always the opportunity to read through the recipes and see how others might code a solution.  You can learn new coding techniques that way, as well as see features of the language that perhaps you never noticed before.  Sort of like having a guru sitting next to you at work...

Assuming you're past the point of beginner, the XSLT Cookbook is probably the second XSLT book that you want to have on your bookshelf.  If it helps you solve a couple of problems and save a handful of hours in the process, it'll more than pay for itself...

01/15/2006

Book Review - The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Category Book Reviews

This isn't the type of book I would normally read.  But it hit my radar screen during a time when a couple of friends came close to dying.  The book?  The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

Didion is a well-known (not to me though) writer who suffered personal loss and stress that is beyond what most people deal with.  Her daughter came down with a case of flu before Christmas of 2003.  It quickly went downhill into pneumonia and septic shock, and she nearly died.  While working through this medical crisis, her husband, John Gregory Dunne, dropped dead of a massive heart attack right before New Year's Eve.  Her daughter pulled through, only to suffer a major hematoma requiring brain surgery two months later.  This book is a somewhat random flow of thoughts and emotions in the first year following all these events...

From one perspective, I found this a very interesting read.  The book drives home the fact that at any moment, your life can change in ways you never imagined.  One moment she's discussing a book with her husband, the next moment he's dead.  Her story is insightful as to how grieving and mourning take place.  On the other hand, I found a large portion of the material ill-focused and rambling.  Books that look back at certain events usually bestow a certain gravity and drama to everyday actions and decisions that meant little at the time.  Every little thing her husband did in the last few days and weeks are described as having hidden meaning, showing that he knew his life was coming to an end.  In reality, I don't think those moments mean anything more than what they meant at the time.

For me, this book wavers between average and outstanding.  I'm willing to cut it a bit more stack as we're dealing with someone's emotions surrounding the loss of a spouse.  That's a very personal thing...

01/14/2006

Book Review - SQL DeMystified by Andy Oppel

Category Book Reviews

There is obviously no lack of titles on the subject of SQL.  The main choice you have to make is whether you want a conversational or traditional style approach to your learning.  Personally, I'm more into conversational, and I had the chance to review a book along those lines...  SQL DeMystified by Andy Oppel.

Contents: Relational Database Concepts; SQL Concepts; Defining Database Objects Using SQL; Retrieving Data Using Data Query Language (DQL); Combining Data from Multiple Tables; Advanced Query Writing; Maintaining Data Using DML; Applying Security Controls Using DCL; Preserving Database Integrity Using Transactions; Integrating SQL into Applications; SQL Performance and Tuning Considerations; Final Exam; Answers to Quizzes and Final Exam; Index

The DeMystified series takes the approach of cutting through jargon and theoretical prose, and goes straight to the core concepts without all the trappings.  As a result, I find it much easier to learn what I need to know, as well as how I can apply it immediately.  Oppel uses the example of a film library database to take the reader through database concepts, normalization processes, and how the data can be manipulated within a relational database environment using SQL.  Once you finish with the book, you will know everything in the way of base concepts.  Your learning is also reinforced with a series of quizzes at the end.  A nice way to measure your progress.  Another positive is that the material is vendor-neutral, so you don't need to worry about whether you have the right software or not.  Any relational database system will use these same concepts and processes.  The author does point out areas in which certain vendor packages have differed in their implementation, so any large landmines you might encounter can be avoided.

It would be hard *not* to learn what you need to know from this book.  As a result, you wouldn't go wrong with this choice for your SQL education.

01/13/2006

Book Review - Persuader by Lee Child

Category Book Reviews

Still working my way through the collection of Jack Reacher novels.  This time it's Persuader by Lee Child.  More of same, and that's a good thing...

Jack Reacher is teaming up with law enforcement this time to go undercover on a case.  The FBI has asked him to get close to a criminal figure that has been the focus of their investigation.  They already had one agent inside undercover, but she went silent a few days prior, and they assume the worst.  Reacher is content to play along, as there's a potential link to a face that he thought died many years back.  A staged kidnapping rescue gets him inside the compound, and a series of "unfortunate accidents" puts him on top of the security food chain.  But the person pulling the strings and running the show is someone even higher than his "boss", and that someone is the person that Reacher wants to meet very badly.  Unfortunately, people are putting 2 and 2 together, and Reacher's luck is getting pretty thin...

Another rock-solid Jack Reacher novel.  One of the things I like is that you really don't know the "why" behind Reacher's motivation up front.  It's a subline of the plot that slowly reveals itself over the course of the story, and this one is no exception.  At first, you really don't have a clue as to who Reacher's "dead man" is, much less why Reacher should even care.  But through a series of flashbacks, you watch a set of earlier events play out that make him want to even the score very badly.  By the time both storylines come together, you can't put the book down even if you wanted to.  I ended up awake until 1 am on a worknight watching this one play out.

Guess it's time to go see what the next one is in the series and put it on hold at the library...  :)

01/12/2006

Book Review - Powerful Times by Eamonn Kelly

Category Book Reviews

There are so many changes and forces at work today in society, and it's hard to see where they might lead.  And for everyone who paints a rosy picture about something like nanotechnology, there's someone else who thinks the very same thing foretells the doom of the human race.  Eamonn Kelly does a very nice job in looking at both sides in the book Powerful Times - Rising To The Challenge Of Our Uncertain World.

Contents:
Section 1 - What's Happening? - Predicting the Present: History Unleashed; Clarity and Craziness; Secular and Sacred; Power and Vulnerability; Technology Acceleration and Pushback; Intangible and Physical Economies; People and Planet
Section 2 - What If? - Changing for the Challenges Ahead: Governance; Innovation
Section 3 - What's Next? - Scenarios for the Next Decade: Three Snapshots of the Future
Section 4 - So What? - Acting in an Era of Transformation: Creating Our New Future
Endnotes; Afterword: Using This Book in Your Life and Work

This is one of those books that forces you to examine both sides of the coin...  your position and the flip side.  Section 1 is built on contrasts.  For instance, In Secular and Sacred, Kelly looks at how the resurgence of religion and spirituality in society has caused people to examine what's really important to them.  On the other hand, it's also deeply divided countries and cultures as radical fundamentalism is used to drive followers and forcibly export beliefs.  Depending on which side you stand, you'll easily identify with part of the chapter.  While tempting to just write off the other half as "he's wrong", the value lies in letting those alternative views moderate your stance and open up your field of vision.  Same with the chapter on economies.  While it's important to have a market-driven economy that generally benefits society as a whole, those gains can often come at the cost of maintaining a "low wage economy" in developing countries.  As a result, the gap between the haves and have nots continues to increase, trapping ever-increasing parts of the population in a poverty cycle that is hard to break.  While there are no "single right answers" any more, Kelly lays out a number of alternate outcomes that might occur given the current trends that are in place.  It's impossible to tell just what outcome might win out, but it's helpful to start thinking beyond the "here and now" to see how our actions might determine our future.

An enjoyable read while also provoking thought and self-examination, both personally and as a corporate whole...

01/11/2006

Book Review - The Broadband Explosion by Robert D. Austin and Stephen P. Bradley

Category Book Reviews

Most of us techno-geeks live and breathe in the world of broadband, and it's become an invisible "given" in our lives.  But often it's good to step back and look at the broader picture of the industry...  This book does just that:  The Broadband Explosion - Leading Thinkers on the Promise of a Truly Interactive World edited by Robert D. Austin and Stephen P. Bradley.

Contents:
The Promise of Broadband: The Broadband Explosion; Broadband and Collaboration; Broadband Deployment - From Vision to Reality; Valuation Bubbles and Broadband Deployment
Creating Value in a Broadband World: Disruption, Disintegration, and the Impact of New Telecommunications Technologies; Internet2 - The Promise of Truly Advanced Broadband; Broadband and Hyperdifferentiation - Creating Value by Being Really Different; eChoupal - Revolutionizing Supply Chains in Rural India
Capturing the Value of Wireless Broadband: i-mode - Value Chain Strategy in the Wireless Ecosystem; Wi-Fi - Complement or Substitute for 3G?; Wireless Local Area Networks - Why Integration Is Inevitable; Widespread Adoption of Wireless Enterprise Solutions
Policy and the Broadband Future: The Inevitability of Broadband; Protecting Telecommunications Infrastructure from Malicious Threats; Open Spectrum - The Great Wireless Hope; The Balkanization of the Broadband Internet

Explosion is a series of essays from people who make their living thinking about and working with internet and broadband technology.  While not a "hands-on" type book that explains how to do something, it's valuable in that it allows you to take a step back and ponder the opportunities and issues surrounding high-speed, ubiquitous access to the internet.  For instance, Balkanization examines how the Internet is impacted by nationalistic attempts to control and filter content that by design flows without restraint.  Protecting is important for understanding just how precarious our network infrastructure is, and how the interweaving of multiple infrastructures can cause a minor incident to have truly global impact.  But it's not all gloom and doom.  eChoupal is an excellent case study of how free access to information eliminated an inefficient and often corrupt middle layer between producer and market, and allowed family farmers to make decisions based on global market conditions.  Very interesting stuff...

The book does suffer from the same thing that many compilations exhibit...  differing levels of writing and communication skills.  Granted, these are all highly educated people who know their areas.  But some chapters are focused on practical application of the technology, while other chapters seem to go off on graphs and charts measuring mathematical formulas for buying decisions.  And sometimes the content seems only marginally related to broadband technology as they build up to their premise.  But even with that, the gems are well worth the occasional rocks that seemed to crop up.

If you're ready to ponder the question of "so where does this all lead?", you'll find plenty of material here to direct your musings...

01/11/2006

Ah, Lotusphere... when the "customer migration" announcements start to flourish... :)

Category Lotusphere 2006

First out of the blocks is "we only want to co-exist" Microsoft with Red Bull, a suite of tools designed to migrate you off of that dead platform known as Notes.

But not to be outdone, we have "no rip-and-replace here!" IBM showing how you can migrate those .Net applications onto J2EE and Linux.  Who wants to be stuck on a proprietary platform that only runs on one OS?

01/10/2006

Why CERT should be decertified...

Category Software Development

From ZDNet blogger Paul Murphy:  Why CERT Should Be Decertified

You've no doubt seen how Microsoft has jumped on the latest CERT report saying that Unix/Linux had nearly three times as many security flaws than Windows.  And if you only pay attention to raw numbers without figuring out what they mean, that looks right.

Unfortunately, the numbers are far different, and CERT doesn't appear to have a clue as to what they are doing...

01/10/2006

Do you like Ziff-Davis' Microsoft Watch? Now there's an IBM Watch!

Category IBM/Lotus

Here's the link to Ziff-Davis' IBM Watch by Stan Gibson...

Now if I could only find their RSS link for it.

01/09/2006

Mouse Tales - Do you know where those fingers have been?

Category Mouse Tales

Now that Ian's back from his DisneyWorld college internship, the stories of life on the other side of the turnstyles are starting to filter out.  And let's just say that image and reality don't meet up nearly as often as they should.  I've been asked by a number of people whether I'm going to share any of those gems.  With Ian's permission, I'll periodically post some "Mouse Tales" that will hopefully entertain and inform you....  And we'll start with a post titled "Do you know where those fingers have been?"

If you've visited the Disney parks, you'll know that there's a finger scanning device built into the turnstyles.  They take a few basic measurements in order to match some rudimentary biometric information to your park ticket.  This helps prevent multiple people from using the same ticket.  If there's a biometric mismatch between your ticket and your fingers on subsequent use, you'll be asked to show ID that will be matched against the name on the back of your ticket.  

Word of advice from Ian...  Skip the finger scan, sign your ticket, and present ID.  You don't *want* to know where those fingers have been...

Think about it...  Literally tens of thousands of people visit the park each day.  They range from dignified adults to snot-nosed youngsters...  people who wash their hands 10 times a day to people who just sneezed on their hand prior to the finger scan...  people who work in an office to people who work in "sanitation occupations".  And in most cases, they just stick their fingers on that scanner and wait for the turnstyle to spit out their ticket...  person after person after person after...

And when was the scanner last sanitized with some sort of alcohol swipe?  Your odds aren't wonderful...

So...  save your health and imagination.  Just show your ID and practice "safe admission".  No telling what germs you'll avoid that way...

01/08/2006

Book Review - Networking: A Beginner's Guide (4th Edition) by Bruce Hallberg

Category Book Reviews

It's difficult to find a networking book that covers the basics in comprehensive detail without weighing in at 1000 pages.  But this one does a very good job...  Networking: A Beginner's Guide (4th Edition) by Bruce Hallberg.

Content:
Part 1 - Networking Ins and Outs: The Business of Networking; Laying the Foundation; Understanding Networking; Understanding Network Cabling; Home Networking; Understanding Network Hardware; Making WAN Connections; Understanding Networking Protocols; Exploring Directory Services; Connections from Afar - Remote Network Access; Securing Your Network; Network Disaster Recovery; Network Servers - Everything You Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask; Purchasing and Managing Client Computers
Part 2 - Hands-on Knowledge: Designing a Network; Installing and Setting Up Windows 2000 Server; Administering Windows 2000 Server - The Basics; Understanding Other Windows 2000 Server Services; Introducing Windows Server 2003; Installing Windows Server 2003; Setting Up Windows Server 2003; Installing Linux in a Server Configuration; Introduction to Linux Systems Administration; Setting Up a Linux Web Server with Apache
Glossary; Index

This is far more than a quickie home networking guide designed to allow you to hook up your wireless laptop.  Instead, it's more designed for someone who is interested in learning how to set up a full network and administer it much like a professional would.  Hallberg covers everything from cabling on up to the actual network operating system.  While the chapters on Windows 2000/2003 aren't designed to be comprehensive reference manuals, they are complete enough to get the fledging network administrator up and running.  The information is solid and readable, and working your way through the material would yield a solid foundation from which to start a career in network administration.  And you can do so without getting bogged down in endless details that would be beyond you as a starter...

01/05/2006

Book Review - How Dell Does It by Steve Holzner

Category Book Reviews

Very rarely is a company able to completely alter the rules of business.  One of those companies is Dell, who redefined how computer manufacturing, and even manufacturing in general, can be done.  Steve Holzner examines their business in the book How Dell Does It.

Normally, I'd put the table of contents here, but this time I'll have to pass.  I finished the book at the airport waiting for some luggage to arrive, and then left the book in the luggage cart when I drove off.  Such is life...  :)

Holzner does a good job in examining some of the core tenants of Dell's business model, such as marketing direct to the customer and keeping virtually no inventory.  Dell has taken the "just in time" inventory philosophy and pushed it to the extreme, often having suppliers make deliveries every two hours in order to have inventory supply meet the current order demand.  And since the customer pays right away and Dell pays the suppliers in 30+ days, they are able to finance their business with "free money" to a large degree.  With their marketing plan of going directly to the customer, they are also able to understand *exactly* what the customer wants, and they focus on the large sweet spots that can be effectively covered with few variations.  Why offer 10 different component options to hit 100% of the customer base, when 3 will cover 98%?  Techniques such as that have allowed them to achieve margins that are not approached by other computer makers.

To Steve's credit, he also points out where some of the practices hit up against logical limits.  For instance, you can push off most of the inventory supply and risk to your suppliers.  They in turn try to do the same thing to *their* suppliers.  At some point down the chain, someone's taking a lot of risk for extremely small margins.  He also covers some of the moves by Dell to market indirectly (like through WalMart) that failed miserably.  Even with those "spots" being covered, I still am a bit cynical that it all runs like a well-oiled machine.  I was an Enron employee during the time when they were touted as the most innovative company in America, only to see all the flailing around that happened behind the scenes.  And we all know now how it turned out.  By no means is Dell an Enron.  But I always wonder how much of a gap exists between what executives say in books like these, and what really happens on the shop floor...

My cynicism aside, this is a book you should read if you're interested in how innovative companies can change the rules by which everyone operates.  Dell wrote the book on how to connect the customer to your business...

01/05/2006

Someone else picking up the call for a Microsoft class-action lawsuit over security issues...

Category Microsoft

In an InfoWorld weblog, Dave Rosenberg asks if it might not be time for a class action lawsuit against Microsoft.

It's not like I haven't wondered that myself on 09/19/2003, 10/08/2003, 12/31/2003, 06/26/2004, and 01/02/2005.

And in Microsoft's own 10-K filing, they point out that very same possibility...

01/04/2006

I only *thought* Ian was coming home today...

Category Everything Else

I guess the Orlando airport was a zoo with flight delays from the Northeast, and the security gate was a huge backup.  He got to the gate just as they closed the doors, and him and 37 others missed the flight.

So now he's booked for tomorrow morning at 6 am, due to arrive home at 12:15 pm.  Hopefully we'll see him them...

01/02/2006

Book Review - Crystal Clear : A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams

Category Book Reviews


While I like the general concepts behind agile development methodologies, sometimes they seem to be focused on speed with a disregard for any documentation.  Alistair Cockburn has an agile methodology that appears more palatable in today's environments...  
Crystal Clear : A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams.

Contents: Explained (View from the Outside); Applied (The Seven Properties); In Practice (Strategies and Techniques); Explored (The Process); Examined (The Work Products); Misunderstood (Common Mistakes); Questioned (Frequently Asked); Tested (A Case Study); Distilled (The Short Version); References; Index


The tendency to want to compare Crystal Clear (CC) to XP is something that can't be ignored.  In fact, Cockburn addresses this in the Questioned section.  He sums it up by saying that XP is stricter in several ways and more loose in a few.  XP wants shorter iterations, CC can be longer. XP calls for pair programming, CC permits it.  XP requires a customer to be an active member of the team, CC wants easy access to one.  XP requires no documentation, CC does.  It's probably that last point that makes CC an easier sell in a business environment.  Some methodologies are documentation-heavy (like RUP) and some are documentation-absent (like XP).  CC strikes a balance between documenting what needs to be known and remembered by the group, without having multiple binders of paper as a "product" to explain every last iota of code.  While XP is the methodology that has all the mindshare these days, I think I feel more comfortable as a developer using something like CC.  


If you're looking to slim down your development methodology or add some structure to a seemingly ad-hoc XP methodology, this book might be what you're looking for...

01/02/2006

My first Perl program...

Category Software Development

A picture named M2

Yeah, code monkeys...  go ahead and laugh...

But ya gotta start somewhere...

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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