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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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10/31/2006

Digging my new setup at work...

Category Everything Else
Since I started at my current place of employment awhile back, I've had a Toshiba laptop that was OK but not wonderful.  I pretty much left it plugged into the docking station, as my home machines are better suited to what I want to do, and I can remote in through those.  But lately I was getting really tired of waiting, and waiting, and waiting any time I wanted to do more than one thing at once.  The RAM wasn't too bad (about 3/4 GB) but the processor was a tired 933 Mhz.  Didn't take much in the way of background tasks to slow things to a crawl...

So the other day I pinged a friend in desktop support and asked what the specs were for desktop boxes being rolled out.  Since I don't go mobile much, I figured it wasn't going to be a significant issue logistically compared to the gain in processing power.  I found out that the laptops were significantly faster though, and I got placed on the upgrade list post-haste.  As of last Friday, my life just got a whole lot better...  :)

I now have a Thinkpad, dual processor running at 2.1 Ghz, 1 GB of RAM, blah, blah, blah.  Still not what I have at home, but a huge upgrade to what I had on my desk at work.  Even better is that I set it up with a dual monitor arrangement.  I have a flat screen as my main monitor, but I'm leaving the laptop lid open and using that screen as the second.  I've done dual before, but never really found it that accommodating to what I was working on.

Until now...

Doing web dev in Domino is really nice now...  I have Designer running on the flat screen, and my browser is over on the laptop screen.  I make a change in the CSS file, save, slide over, refresh the page, and see the results.  No switching tabs, no moving things around...  Just instant gratification.

I'm really sold on "dual-ism" now, and wouldn't want to go back to a single monitor for anything.  I was hoping to get a flat screen for home use to replace the clunky old monitor I currently have.  Now I'm starting to wonder if I can fit them both on my desk...  :)

10/29/2006

Book Review - Ruby Cookbook by Lucas Carlson and Leonard Richardson

Category Book Reviews
Once you've gone past "Hello World" in a new language, you have to start figuring out how to do real stuff.  Ruby Cookbook by Lucas Carlson and Leonard Richardson does just that (as well as a number of other things)...

Contents: Strings; Numbers; Date and Time; Arrays; Hashes; Files and Directories; Code Blocks; Objects and Classes; Modules and Namespaces; Reflection and Metaprogramming; XML and XHTML; Graphics and Other File Formats; Databases and Persistence; Internet Services; Web Development - Ruby On Rails; Web Services and Distributed Programming; Testing, Debugging, Optimizing, and Documenting; Packing and Distributing Software; Automating Tasks with Rake; Multitasking and Multithreading; User Interface; Extending Ruby with Other Languages; System Administration; Index

I was tempted to think I wasn't ready for this book yet, as I don't have a firm Ruby foundation.  But I'm glad I ignored that thought.  For a beginner, this is a wealth of real code that does things that you will need to do in all your programs.  String manipulation, number and date processing, etc.  Those are the things that are fairly simple when you have experience, but stumbling blocks when you have to think about every step you take.  For the intermediate and experienced coder, you'll find more advanced techniques like web services or multithreading your programs.  In both cases (beginner or expert), a book like this will start to seed your imagination.  Scanning through the recipes, you're sure to have one of those "ooohh...  I didn't think about doing *that*!" moments.  

Next to the Ruby tutorial book you buy, this might be the next most important Ruby book you plunk down money for...  Definitely worth it!

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/29/2006

Book Review - Ajax Patterns and Best Practices by Christian Gross

Category Book Reviews
It's one thing to build Ajax applications because you can and they're cool.  But the real issue is building Ajax applications that actually solve problems and use established techniques to do so.  This book can help you move from "cool" to "correct"...  Ajax Patterns and Best Practices by Christian Gross.

Contents: Introduction to Ajax; The Nuts and Bolts of Ajax; Content Chunking Pattern; Cache Controller Pattern; Permutations Pattern; Decoupled Navigation Pattern; Representation Morphing Pattern; Persistent Communications Pattern; State Navigation Pattern; Infinite Data Pattern; REST-Based Model View Controller Pattern; Index

Gross uses the familiar formula of most books that deal with design patterns.  First there's the Intent (what is happening), followed by the Motivation (why the pattern is necessary).  Applicability talks about when it should be used, and the Associated Patterns talks about other patterns that may work well with this one.  The Architecture and Implementation sections go into the most detail, talking about how the pattern is laid out and built, as well as what issues might be encountered in the real world.  The final section, Pattern Highlights, does a quick summary of the material and is a good overview/reminder of what was covered.

This is an important addition to the Ajax books that are currently out on the market.  I've always been a believer in the maxim "just because you can doesn't mean you should."  Because Ajax is "hot" right now, it's tempting to use it to build applications that might well be better designed without all the whistles and bells.  This book helps the reader to make the leap from "how can I use Ajax in my next project" to "would Ajax be a good fit for my next project."  It's a subtle difference, but an important one to professional developers...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/29/2006

Book Review - CSS - The Missing Manual by David Sawyer McFarland

Category Book Reviews
I've read and reviewed a number of books on Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and I've learned something from them all.  But for whatever reason, this one showed up at just the right time and has me inspired and motivated on a new project...  CSS: The Missing Manual by David Sawyer McFarland.

Contents:
Part 1 - CSS Basics: Rethinking HTML for CSS; Creating Styles and Style Sheets; Selector Basics - Identifying What to Style; Saving Time with Inheritance; Managing Multiple Styles - The Cascade
Part 2 - Applied CSS: Formatting Text; Margins, Padding, and Borders; Adding Graphics to Web Pages; Sprucing Up Your Site's Navigation; Formatting Tables and Forms
Part 3 - CSS Page Layout: Building Float-Based Layouts; Positioning Elements on a Web Page
Part 4 - Advanced CSS: CSS for the Printed Page; Improving Your CSS Habits
Part 5 - Appendixes: CSS Property Reference; CSS in Dreamweaver 8; CSS Resources; Index

From the newbie perspective, this book works well.  The first part of the book lays out the case for using CSS instead of pure HTML to format your pages and gain control of the style.  It takes a subject that can be a bit intimidating and makes it very approachable.  From there, you get a section on how exactly CSS works.  This is much easier to digest than some of the more formal reference manuals I've seen in the past, and there's not as much focus on the minutia of every little variant that can happen.  This is the material you'll use 95% of the time.  Part 3 is where I started to get excited.  I've been doing CSS for a while now, but over time I've built up designs that "work" but that could be done much better with what I've learned of late.  I noticed a number of items that I want to try out on a new project I'm about to start, and I have a feeling that I'll be in a much better situation style-wise on this application than any of the other ones I support.  Same with part 4 and the chapter on improving your CSS habits.  I was/am guilty of a number of these things, and this information will go a long way towards making me a better CSS junkie (and will make anyone following after me much happier in terms of support).

I think what worked so well for me here was the consistent use of a single "site" for examples and illustrations.  The CosmoFarmer site gave the information a thread to hang on to throughout the chapters, and progressions were logical.  I appreciated the tutorials at the end of the chapter so that you could try out the new skills.  But what I *really* liked were the references to other sites where you could get more information, as well as clarification on what browsers don't do things according to specs, and how to work around these bugs.  

Armed with this book, a newbie would be able to become competent in CSS.  And if you've been doing CSS for awhile, there's a strong chance that McFarland will deliver some nuggets that will take you to the next level.  I know that'll be the situation in my case...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/28/2006

Book Review - The Official Ubuntu Book

Category Book Reviews
There are a plethora of books hitting the market on the Ubuntu Linux distribution, and so far they've all been pretty good.  But this one is at the head of the pack for getting started with your penguin experience...  The Official Ubuntu Book by Benjamin Mako Hill, Jono Bacon, Corey Burger, Jonathan Jesse, and Ivan Krstic.  It's a collaborative book writing effort that pays off on a number of levels.

Contents: Introducing Ubuntu; Installing Ubuntu; Using Ubuntu on the Desktop; Advanced Usage and Managing Ubuntu; The Ubuntu Server; Support and Typical Problems; Using Kubuntu; The Ubuntu Community; Ubuntu-Related Projects; Welcome to the Command Line; Ubuntu Foundation Documents; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Open Publication License; Ubuntu Equivalents to Windows Programs; Index

This book, as you can see from the number of authors listed, was a collaborative effort.  In addition to the listed authors, contributions were also taken from members of the Ubuntu community, so you truly have experts writing about the system they are deeply involved with.  The quality that comes with that type of knowledge shows through here.  Rather than focus on a number of applications that run on Ubuntu, the focus tends to stay with the operating system and the desktop environment.  As such, I felt I was learning Ubuntu rather than learning OpenOffice.  While the screen shots and directions are clear, there's not so much hand-holding that you feel like half the book is fluff.  We've all installed software, and can figure that stuff out.  Good job!  I was also surprised and pleased with the chapters on the Ubuntu server and the Support chapter.  It seems that Ubuntu Server only gets a passing mention in many books, and I wasn't really sure if there *was* an Ubuntu Server (there is).  The support chapter is also very helpful in covering some of the basic problems you'll encounter.  Obviously they can't touch on everything, but the chapter on the Ubuntu community fills in the gaps to show you where all your additional knowledge will come from.  

This is not a 1000 page "Ubuntu Exhaustive Reference" manual.  Instead, it's focused, practical, and written by the experts.  Equipped with this book and the included media, there's no reason you shouldn't be up and running Ubuntu in no time flat...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/28/2006

Book Review - Alpha Male Syndrome by Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson

Category Book Reviews
This is a book that would have benefitted me greatly had I had it during my Enron years...  Alpha Male Syndrome by Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson.  It would have helped me deal with a majority of the management there...

Contents: Alpha Male Syndrome; The Variety of Alpha Males; The Alpha Commander; The Alpha Visionary; The Alpha Strategist; The Alpha Executor; The Alpha Male Team; The Care and Feeding of the Alpha Male; Coaching for Alphas; Sample Alpha Assessment Report; The Alpha Scale; Notes; Index; About the Authors

Many people have heard the term "Alpha Male" in the business world...  They are the dominating leaders who have charisma and produce results.  And on the positive side, the alpha traits of the commander/visionary/strategist/executor can be a boon to your business.  But with the strengths of each of those roles come a number of risks.  Ludeman and Erlandson break down the traits of each alpha style in a clear and consistent fashion, and then proceed to speak to each of those personas with practical ideas on how they can capitalize on the strengths and minimize the risks.  There is also an analysis of how each style plays out in the "alpha triangle", the interplay between villain, victim, and hero.  The alpha and their coworkers each show up in the triangle, and often the players shift between roles with each situation.  If you're *not* the alpha, you'll start to understand how to deal with each of those personality types, which might make the difference between your survival or burnout on the job.  Oh, and women?  You can be an alpha too.  You show it differently, but you still have the same risks to manage...

When I worked at Enron Broadband, management was rife with all these types.  Unfortunately, I didn't have these tools on hand to survive as well as I could have.  It wouldn't have made a difference in their behavior, but it would have made a huge difference in my job satisfaction.  A critical read if you have one of these creatures in your life...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/28/2006

Cleaning, updating, and getting around to all those nagging "should do's" on my computers...

Category Everything Else
The last week or so has been one of those "stop putting it off" times.  There were a number of software upgrades I needed/wanted to do, as well as a couple of Notes database repositories I wanted to set up to store things of interest...

I've now got IE7 running on the desktop (leaving IE6 on the laptop so as to be able to test both), Firefox is now up to 2.0, Zone Alarm's been upgraded, and both machines are now running the latest and greatest Notes/Domino 7.0.2.  I also set up a Notes Journal file or two to start collecting some of the interesting technical blog posts I've seen of late (and left as "unread" on my feedreader).  In the process, I ran across two or three Notes blogs that I should have been following but for some reason hadn't flags in my reader.

Once I fire VMWare up and let Ubuntu do some upgrades, I'll actually be doing pretty well...  

10/25/2006

The second IE7 flaw is now out there...

Category Microsoft
From WebUser.com:  Microsoft Admits Flaw In IE7

Security vendor Secunia has reported a second flaw in Microsoft's new Internet Explorer browser. This time, though, Microsoft has accepted the vulnerability as genuine and posted advice to users on its security blog.

The flaw could cause some users to fall victim to phishing attacks, which is particularly bad news for Microsoft - one of the hyped new features of IE7 was an improved anti-phishing facility.

Secunia says that the issue lies in the address bar of the browser.

"The problem is that it's possible to display a popup with a somewhat spoofed address bar where a number of special characters have been appended to the URL. This makes it possible to only display a part of the address bar, which may trick users into performing certain unintended actions," reads a note on Secunia's website.

In some ways, I feel bad for Microsoft...  Must suck to walk around with a target on your back...

10/25/2006

Book Review - Analog In, Digital Out by Brendan Dawes

Category Book Reviews
For those of us not inclined towards design, It's always a good idea to look for ways to "think different" about the process.  Brendan Dawes does that in his book Analog In, Digital Out: Brendan Dawes on Interaction Design.  It's definitely not a "how to" book, but more of an idea generator...

Contents: Looking Up; Revolutionaries - The Zephyr Skateboard Team; Just Ring the Bell When You Get There; "Brown Paper and String" Moments; Play-Doh as Interface; Recycling the Past; All This Useless Beauty; Anything Can Happen in the Next Half-Hour; Waiting for Departure; Nightmare at 30,000 Feet; Strangers on a Train; Spiral Notebook; Revolutionaries - John Whitney; The Power of Silence; Jazz Inspiration; Close to You; Don't Think; Constraints Are Good; Revolutionaries - Raymond Scott; The Special Capability of Making Many Mistakes; Perfection? In a Word, the Pencil; Designing for My Mum; Walk On By; Where's All My Stuff Gone?; A World without Undo; Mash-Up at the Movies; Contextual Memories; Rock 'n' Roll; Mariah Carey Syndrome; From Thin Air; Bending the Rules; Evidence of Use; Comfortably Numb

You know this isn't the typical design book when you start going through it...  Large full-page graphics, unusual typesetting, and images that are not your ordinary book fare.  But I guess that's to be expected from someone who has devoted their life to interaction design and wondering how the analog world can be made digital.  I mentioned that it's not a "how to" book, in that you won't find any best practices lists or before/after website designs.  It's more a "stream of consciousness" book on the author's feelings and thoughts towards the subject.  For instance, he talks about how he took Play-doh (analog) and created an interface (digital) that allowed someone to see online effects of their real-world interaction with an object that has no interface.  Or how he took music (analog) and used it as input to a graphic generation program (digital) in order to create musical fingerprints of songs.  Maybe the specific idea isn't necessarily practical, but it leads you into taking a different view of things that fall outside of our normal established patterns.  I think my favorite chapter was "Mariah Carey Syndrome"...  Just because you have an eight octave range in your voice, it doesn't mean you have to use it on *every single note*...  just because you can, doesn't mean you should...

The practicality-oriented readers might be a bit frustrated with the lack of "do this" material.  But approached in the correct way, this book offers some unique insights that aren't normally considered.  Definitely a different type of read...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/25/2006

Book Review - Adrian Mole - The Lost Years by Sue Townsend

Category Book Reviews
Continuing on with my obsession on the Adrian Mole series, I just finished Adrian Mole: The Lost Years by Sue Townsend.  I will say that this is the first one I found a bit wanting...

This one covers the years from Christmas 1984 through April 1992.  He's now in his 20's, and he's totally convinced he's a loser who will never experience the love of a woman again (after being dumped by Pandora).  He can't master the art of driving a car, he's madly obsessed and in love with his therapist, and he has a dead-end job working for the government managing newt tracking and habitat.  His mother has dumped his father and is now living with (and married to) someone about half her age, and he's moved out to live in a room with Pandora, her "husband", and a third member of the odd trio.  That soon comes to an end when he meets and eventually falls in love with a news agent girl by the name of Bianca.  That's a mad passionate affair until she runs off with his mother's young new husband.  And then there's Jo Jo...

Told in diary fashion like the other books, it still is a lot of fun to peer into his life from his perspective (as warped as it is).  But this installment seemed to drag out too much.  His efforts to finally finish his book were somewhat repetitive after awhile, and there's just far too much whining about how bad he has it.  This one didn't seem to have the "magic" of the earlier ones.  Maybe it's because he's growing up and dealing with problems that are too close to home on occasion.  I don't regret spending the time reading it, nor is it enough to put me off of the series.  But I'm holding out hope that this was an aberration.

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/25/2006

Book Review - Your Leadership Legacy by Robert M. Galford and Regina Fazio Maruca

Category Book Reviews
Regardless of what you do as a leader, you *will* leave a legacy behind.  Rather than wait until there's not much left you can do about it, Robert M. Galford and Regina Fazio Maruca make the case for managing your legacy now in the book Your Leadership Legacy: Why Looking Toward the Future Will Make You a Better Leader Today.

Contents:
Part 1 - Making Leadership Last: Building a Legacy
Part 2 - Impact and Duration: What Kind of Impact Are You Having?; What Role Are You Playing?; Your Intentional Legacy; Is Your Legacy Designed To Last?; Are You Doing the Right Thing?
Part 3 - Judgment: The Need for Judgment; Legacies and the Responsibilities of Leadership
Notes; Index; About the Authors

In many ways, this is reminiscent of Stephen Covey's "Begin With The End In Mind".  You start out thinking about how you would like to be perceived and remembered, and then start taking actions to make that happen.  The authors define "legacy" as how others approach work and life as a result of having worked for you.  They also advocate for looking at "legacy thinking" early on in your career, so that your goals can shape your day-to-day interactions with those you lead.  Through a series of exercises, they walk you through assessing your current influence on those around you, identifying the type of role you play in the organization (as well as how that will affect your legacy), and then what steps you need to put in place to ensure that you are creating the legacy you intended.  It's not necessarily a comfortable process, as the odds are that you'll have to acknowledge that there are aspects of your leadership style that may be effective to the organization but devastating to those around you.  But ultimately, you'll leave some sort of personal signature on your charges.  You might as well make sure it's one you'd *want* to be remembered for.

While written specifically for leaders, it's not hard to extrapolate the principles to your personal life.  Think of your role as a leader of your family or of some organization where you volunteer your time and efforts.  These areas also affect your legacy, and in many ways it's a legacy that's more personal and important than a corporate one.  Even if you choose not to follow through all the exercises put forth here (and I recommend you do), just the thought of actively managing how others will remember you will start to move you down a road that not many travel in time to have much of an impact...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/25/2006

Disney "mis-conception"...

Category Humor
Last night, Ian was boiling some water.  When he poured it out in the sink, some splattered on him and he let out a few "phrases of pain".  I thought he had splashed the water on the crotch of the shorts he was wearing (turned out to be his foot instead).  

I said "So does this mean you won't be having any children?"

To which he answered "Working at Disney pretty much put an end to that idea..."

10/24/2006

Overheard today...

Category Humor
... from a computer person of the opposite gender from myself, trying to communicate an issue surrounding cookies on a web browser...

"It's not like I do this stuff at home.  That's one of those geeky guy things..."

I have some colleagues that would beg to differ on that one...  :)

10/23/2006

Book Review - The Adrian Mole Diaries - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole

Category Book Reviews
Well, having stumbled on the last book in the series (AD and the Weapons of Mass Destruction) and thoroughly enjoying it, I just had to go back and start at the beginning of the Adrian Mole series.  The Adrian Mole Diaries : The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 : The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend is a combination volume of the two titles, and I now understand a bit more why this was apparently all the rage in England in the '80s.

It's impossible to read this without relating to at least *some* aspect of Mole's life and thought patterns.  Whether it's his literary aspirations (not shared by much of anyone else), his preoccupation with Pandora (the love of his life), or all the "spots" on his face, you realize you've had the same feelings, complete with melodramatic accompaniment.  Watching his parents go through separate affairs while Adrian is oblivious to what's really happening is painfully funny, and it made me wonder how much *I* was unaware of around adults growing up.  This is really "reality TV" before there was such a thing...

In some ways, I wish I had read this before the last one, as I think I would have understood a lot more about his personality and background.  But better late than never, and now I have some more catching up to do...

10/23/2006

Well, that pretty much wraps up the Enron saga for me...

Category Everything Else
Fastow got 6 years (*far* too lenient, in my opinion), Skilling just got 24+ years today (well-deserved), and Lay's dead (the ultimate sentence).  I've received the occasional settlement check here and there, and anything else at this point (if anything at all) would likely not top $100.

I know there are plenty of ex-Enron people who think that Skilling got off "easy" with 24 years.  Realistically, it's a life sentence, people.  *If* he serves most of it, he won't see freedom until he's over 70.  And for someone who lived the type of life he did, this has got to be killing him inside...

10/23/2006

Our company is looking for a Notes administrator...

Category Everything Else
If you're interested in working for a large health insurance firm in Portland Oregon, feel free to head on over to our Careers site and check out this posting...

Lotus Notes Administrator II or III

Other than having to work with developers like me, it's a good gig!  :)

You can apply for this career at: https://www.regence.com/careers/servlet/com.lawson.ijob.QuickCandidate?vendor=100&jr=4320&fullmode=true
Here is the description:
Lotus Notes Administrator II or III DOE #14179

Open until filled, Level 17 or 18, Reports to:  604067

The Software Administrator is an analytical, efficient problem solver responsible for installing, maintaining, upgrading, maintenance and testing new and existing software applications.  He or she is accountable for researching and solving highly complex software issues and collaborates with vendors and other support teams in regards to product or Infrastructure problems.

Teamwork is essential as the Software Administrator may be required to train users on and modify software programs according to requests from the customer.  
  
Additional responsibilities include administering the integration of licensed and/or in-house developed applications and writing programs and/or scripting to integrate with other systems.  The Software Administrator will research, analyze and submit analysis and recommendations for software development, enhancement, replacement or purchase. This individual may lead project teams based on experience and knowledge. Must be willing to work overtime as needed and to be on-call as necessary.

Qualifications:
•    BS degree or equivalent experience in Computer Science or related discipline with focus on Information Technology
•    At least 4 years relevant work experience in the Information Technology field, preferably in the implementation, operations, development and maintenance of IT systems and administration of Software functions.
•    Highly proficient understanding of design, implementation and sustainnment activities of Information Technology systems.
•    Experience with infrastructure management techniques such as change management, problem management, release management, configuration management and system lifecycles
•    Strong understanding of the MS and/or Unix environment including common suites and core business applications.
•    Strong skills in understanding the appropriate environments for assigned applications
•    Demonstrated ability to work well with peers and business teams
•    Excellent written and verbal communications skills and the ability to interact with variety of customers and stakeholders
•    Ability to work cooperatively in a group to achieve common goals
•    Able to establish and maintain productive working relationships with co-workers
•    Strong customer service attitude and skills
•    Commitment to professional growth
•    Experience in project management techniques and the ability to lead projects to a timely successful outcome
•    Experience in understanding/translating business requirements into technical solutions.
•    Experience in mentoring and providing technical direction for team members
•    Ability to project/forecast time allocation for project completion

10/21/2006

Book Review - Babylon Rising - The Edge of Darkness by Tim LaHaye and Bob Phillips

Category Book Reviews
Along comes book #4 in the Babylon Rising series by Tim LaHaye and Bob Phillips...  The Edge of Darkness.  While I'll probably stick out the whole series (however long it becomes), I keep thinking "could we pick up the pace a bit, please?"...

Professor Murphy is once again contacted by his mysterious nemesis Methuselah, and as normal Murphy can't resist solving the riddle and going after the artifact that is being dangled in front of him.  And per usual, he nearly gets killed doing so.  But through some carelessness on Methuselah's part, Murphy is able to find his real identity and meets him face to face.  This meeting sheds a bit of light on why these dangerous expeditions keep happening, as well as who the more dangerous foe is that they both face.  It also explains a bit more as to why Talon, the assassin, is so intent on eliminating Murphy from the scene.  Mind you, there's not a lot of answers here, but some of the gaps are being filled in.  In the personal, romantic subplot of the story, Murphy's relationship with Isis is getting serious, but he's very concerned about their unequal beliefs in God.  To complicate that, there's a teacher who works at his school who is quite attractive and shares the same level of faith as Murphy.  He's drawn to both women, but knows that there are some biblical guidelines that are pushing him to make a choice he doesn't want to make...

This book is, in my opinion, at best a ho-hum.  It doesn't have quite the same level of action and drama as the previous ones, which is probably good.  Too many of the encounters were rather over-the-top when it came to believability.  But you still have some of that here.  The whole relationship angle just sort of hangs there with no resolution by the end of the book (there *will* be a book 5).  There's a bit more revealed as to the next steps and overall plans of "The Seven", but even that seemed to be somewhat faded into the background.  Overall, it was just hard to get excited about this book...

I'm not quite ready to drop the series, as I actually like the Murphy character.  I just wish I didn't feel like the series was being milked to keep people buying the books.  If I wasn't picking these up at the library, I'd probably not bother...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/20/2006

Goyal talks about IBM and "lock-in"...

Category IBM/Lotus
From ComputerWorld.com:  Exec Says IBM Seeks Simplification, Not Lock-in

Ambuj Goyal, general manager of information management at IBM, spoke with Computerworld last week after the company announced its Information Server bundle of tools. Excerpts from the interview follow:

Usually, when vendors create an integrated product suite, some users eye it warily as an effort to create lock-in and squeeze out best-of-breed rivals. How do you respond to those kinds of concerns about Information Server? We don’t do anything unless customers ask for it. They asked for simplification. They were spending time integrating my products rather than solving the [issue of] business value. I believe we are best of breed in all of the technologies today, and in the future, if we are not, we don’t force customers not to deploy best of breed. We interact and work with open standards.

10/20/2006

Note to self... take book review work seriously...

Category Everything Else
Alan Lepofsky recently had a post about a new Notes/Domino development book that's coming out...  Lotus Notes Developer's Toolbox: Tips for Rapid and Successful Deployment by Mark Elliott.  I actually had the opportunity to do some editing on the manuscript awhile back, and I got my review copy yesterday.  I plan on running the review in the November LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter, so I'll link to that when it's published in a couple of weeks.

But what surprised me were a few of the thread comments in Alan's post, such as:

May this inspire all the other Notes heavyweights out there to finally finish that last chapter, get it over to twduff.com for a proofread and flood the market with more and more of these.

and

[DuffBert] I would be curious to know what you think about the book. I will be awaiting your review.

and

Just a little prediction that I think this book will do extremely well... whether it is good or not (no pressure, Duffbert).

This whole reviewing thing started out as a "gee, they send me free books?" lark, and really has taken on a life of its own.  And I am still a little stunned and humbled when someone mentions that they look to one of my reviews as a recommendation for getting their own copy.  

Yes, I made this bed and I'll willingly lie in it.  Fortunately, I find it pretty warm and snuggly.  But it's a good reminder to me that people *are* listening, an author's income and reputation is something to be considered, and I can't take this task lightly or flippantly...

10/20/2006

And take your vitamins and say your prayers...

Category Microsoft
From Microsoft's InteropTips site:

What can I do to prepare for the new 2007 version of the interoperability and migration tools for Lotus Domino and Microsoft?

Familiarize yourself with PowerShell, make sure you’re comfortable with configuring SMTP for both Exchange and Domino and get your hands on the beta copies of Exchange, Office and SharePoint 2007.

And you'll be ready to attempt a conversion by 1st quarter 2008...  :)

Vitamins

Keep your body healthy and strong with daily vitamin supplements. Read about the advantages of taking daily vitamins for your health and well being.  Build up your immune system with nutritional supplements. Keep your body immune from illness with muscle building supplements. Monitor you weight and exercise with online weight management and learn how to calculate body mass index.

10/19/2006

IBM Lotus Notes Insecure Default Directory Permissions

Category IBM/Lotus
From Secunia:  IBM Lotus Notes Insecure Default Directory Permissions

Secunia Research has discovered a security issue in IBM Lotus Notes, which can be exploited by malicious, local users to manipulate arbitrary files.

The problem is that Lotus Notes sets insecure default permissions (grants "Everyone" group "Full Control") on the "notes" directory and all child objects. This can be exploited to remove, manipulate, and replace any of the application's files.

The security issue is confirmed in versions 6.5.4, 6.5.5, 7.0.0, and 7.0.1.

Solution:
Update to version 7.0.2.

The security issue will reportedly also be addressed in version 6.5.6.

Good reason to upgrade to the latest and greatest...  This has a critical rating of 2 of 5 - "Less Critical", defined as:

Typically used for cross-site scripting vulnerabilities and privilege escalation vulnerabilities.

This rating is also used for vulnerabilities allowing exposure of sensitive data to local users.

10/19/2006

Well... *that* didn't take long to find the first IE7 security flaw...

Category Microsoft
From Microsoft Watch:  IE 7 Fails Its First Security Test

It seems that Microsoft's brand-new Internet Explorer 7 browser, which was just released Oct. 18 for Windows XP, has already  failed a security test.

An advisory from Secunia, released Oct. 19, says the gold version of IE 7 was shipped with an information disclosure flaw that could be used in spoofing attacks.

The vulnerability is caused by an error in the handling of redirections for URLs with the "mhtml:" URI handler. "This can be exploited to access documents served from another web site," Secunia warned.

Secunia has a test page available that demonstrates the bug on a fully patched version of Windows XP SP2, running Internet Explorer 7.

10/19/2006

Had the special opportunity to see Kim Peek this evening...

Category Everything Else
If you're like me, you might be thinking "who?"  Kim Peek is the person who inspired the movie Rainman with Dustin Hoffman.  My wife's place of employment sponsored his appearance at a local hospital, and we were fortunate to have been able to attend and see a living miracle man...

Rather than try to recap his life, just click on the Wikipedia link above for the bio.  All I can say is that it's incredible to watch him interact with the audience and to watch his recall and mental tracking from one subject to the next.  It's amazing to think that he's read well over 9000 books (there *is* someone who reads more and faster than I do!) and can recall every one.  And to watch his father who cares for him, and to think how difficult his life has been over his 75+ years...

If you ask the doctors, they'll tell you that someone with his brain formation (absence of the corpus callosum) should be barely functional.  While his physical abilities are somewhat impaired, his mental abilities are unexplainable.  People talk about how the average person only uses 10% of their brain.  Compared to someone like Peek, 10% is far too generous...  1% is closer to the truth.  The brain is truly a great mystery...

If you ever have the chance to see him and his father, you must do so...  an incredible message and event.

10/18/2006

Last (I hope) post-surgery update...

Category Everything Else
I had someone ask me how things were going, and I realized I haven't posted much about the recovery since about week 2 (other than falling off tables).  Today marks the one month "with patches" point, and I figure I'm pretty much 90 to 95% of the way back to "normal" (however that's defined in my life).  Doctor said about six weeks, it's been four...  good enough.

I went back for a follow-up with the surgeon about two weeks after the initial event, and he asked me how things were going.  The right side incision was feeling fine...  no real pain to speak of, and the ridging beneath the incision was pretty minor.  The left side was a different story, however.  It still stung quite a bit, there was a bit of redness, and the ridge underneath the cut was quite pronounced.  After the exam, he explained to me why that was.  I guess when he went into the left side, they found a enlarged lymph node.  He didn't quite know what to make of it given the circumstances, and his speciality is cancer surgery.  So, to be safe, they removed it and had the node biopsied.  It came back benign, so there was nothing to worry about, other than the fact that the procedure on the left side was a bit more invasive than the right.  While he's explaining all this, I'm looking at him and thinking...  "and you were going to tell me WHEN???"

I guess there's always the chance that he told my wife they removed it after the surgery, and she didn't tell me to keep me from worrying.  But when I told her the story, she had nearly the same reaction I did.  A small part of me thinks I should be outraged, and the much larger part figures "play on!"  :)

So, to all those who have sent emails and pinged me, thanks...  It's nice to have the care and concern of an extended "family".

And to those I've ignored, bailed on, and generally been reclusive towards since the end of May (between work and the surgery), I really do apologize.  You know you've gone too far when you ping someone online just to say hi, and they ask "What's wrong?  You aren't the type to ping me for no reason...".  I realize that life has been far too out of balance this year, and I'm working on correcting that...

10/17/2006

Book Review - 3-D Negotiation by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius

Category Book Reviews
Most books on negotiation that I've read focus on the tactics you use when you're face-to-face with the opponent.  But what if you take a step back and shape the negotiation before you even show up?  That's the general direction of 3-D Negotiation: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius.  I can see where this would give you a step up in numerous situations...

Contents:
Part 1 - Overview: Negotiate in Three Dimensions; Do a 3-D Audit of Barriers to Agreement; Craft a 3-D Strategy to Overcome the Barriers
Part 2 - Set Up the Right Negotiation: Get All the Parties Right; Get All the Interests Right; Get the No-Deal Options Right; Get the Sequence and Basic Process Choices Right
Part 3 - Design Value-Creating Deals: Move "Northeast"; Dovetail Differences; Make Lasting Deals; Negotiate the Spirit of the Deal
Part 4 - Stress Problem-Solving Tactics: Shape Perceptions to Claim Value; Solve Joint Problems to Create and Claim Value
Part 5 - 3-D Strategies in Practice: Map Backward to Craft a 3-D Strategy; Think Strategically, Act Opportunistically
Notes; Authors' Note; Index; About the Authors

Lax and Sebenius have extensive experience in working with corporations negotiating multi-million dollar deals, and from that base they have evolved the idea of 3-D negotiation.  Basically, you need to look at your deal-making in a multidimensional way instead of just trying to hammer the side across the table.  In some cases, this may mean that the party you're trying to do the deal with isn't even the right customer you should be approaching.  Or perhaps the no-deal option of the other side is still better than what you have to offer.  What then?  These guidelines, if followed, can make your time at the table much more productive, and allow both sides to come away with what they need and/or want in the deal.  

The authors don't completely ignore the strategy of what plays out when the parties are face-to-face.  Such things as understanding the Zone Of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) and being aware of the reciprocity factor will keep you from giving up too much too soon.  But keeping the deal from quickly becoming a value-claiming effort can lead to possibilities that aren't necessarily envisioned up front.  There are plenty of examples from real companies and real deals so that you can see how it works in real life...

An excellent read that will allow you to look at your next deal as more than a win-lose proposition...  

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/17/2006

IBM's 3rd quarter earnings look great, and Lotus...

Category Book Reviews
... is showing continued growth also...

Revenues from Software were $4.4 billion, an increase of 9 percent (7 percent, adjusting for currency) compared with the third quarter of 2005. Revenues from IBM's middleware brands, which include WebSphere, Information Management, Tivoli, Lotus and Rational products, were $3.4 billion, up 12 percent versus the third quarter of 2005. Operating systems revenues decreased 6 percent to $552 million compared with the prior-year quarter. Revenues from other software and services increased, which includes the Product Lifecycle Management portfolio of products.

For the WebSphere family of software products, which facilitate customers' ability to manage a wide variety of business processes using open standards to interconnect applications, data and operating systems, revenues increased 30 percent. Revenues for Information Management software, which enables clients to leverage information on demand, increased 12 percent. Revenues from Tivoli software, infrastructure software that enables customers to centrally manage networks including security and storage capability, increased 44 percent, and revenues for Lotus software, which allows collaborating and messaging by customers in real-time communication and knowledge management, increased 8 percent year over year. Revenues from Rational software, integrated tools to improve the processes of software development, increased 2 percent compared with the year-ago quarter.

From IBM.com: IBM Reports 2006 Third-Quarter Results

10/16/2006

Book Review - Code Quality by Diomidis Spinellis

Category Book Reviews
Code Quality by Diomidis Spinellis is the follow-up volume to Code Reading.  Like the first one, there's a lot of wisdom in the writing, but the Unix/C++ and computer majors will get the most out of it.

Contents: Introduction; Reliability; Security; Time Performance; Space Performance; Portability; Maintainability; Floating-Point Arithmetic; Source Code Credits; Bibliography; Index; Author Index

Spinellis uses examples from open source code and software to discuss what makes for quality code.  In most cases, the examples are designed to show what's *not* good.  This might include buffer overruns, algorithms that don't scale well, and other various and sundry items.  Each chapter ends with an Advice To Take Home section, which recaps all the suggestions and practices in a series of one to two line summaries (with references back to the detailed discussion).  Because each chapter pretty much stands alone, you can focus on areas that make the most sense to you in your particular area of interest.

While I'd like to recommend the book without reservations, I feel that certain types of programmers will get more out of it than others.  A large number of the examples are based on Unix/C++/Assembler code.  In those situations, you will likely understand the concept being discussed, but the details may not be as clear.  Also, Spinellis' background as a university professor seeps through, as some of the discussions are best reserved for math or computer science majors.

Is it worth reading?  Yes.  Just be prepared to work at it...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/16/2006

Book Review - Google Hacks (3rd Edition)

Category Book Reviews
Normally when a new edition of a tech book comes out, I don't feel a compelling need to rush right out and get it.  But this one is different...  Google Hacks (3rd Edition) by Rael Dornfest, Paul Bausch and Tara Calishain.  Seems like I learn something new with each new installment...

Contents: Web; Advanced Web; News and Blogs; Extending Google; Google Maps; Gmail; Webmastering; Programming Google; Track News About Google; Index

There are 100 tips, tricks, and hacks contained within these pages, and all of them are related to making the most of what Google has to offer.  Since Google changes seemingly by the hour, the likelihood is very good that there are new features and toys that you didn't know existed.  And that's why I like the Google Hacks book so much...  it opens my eyes to new possibilities.  For instance, my favorite hack is #51 - Google On The Go.  It talks about how Google can be used via cell phone, both with WAP *and* SMS.  I knew about using Google Maps via SMS, and it's worked well on the few occasions I've tried it.  What I *didn't* know is that you can also get SMS responses for business listings, phone lookups, Froogle prices, definitions, calculations, zip codes, sports scores, currency conversions, and even facts and figures.  I typed in "population of ireland" and sent it off to 46645 "googl".  In less than five seconds, I had the answer and the source (4,015,676 for the record).  If you're somewhere without a laptop or wifi, this could be really cool!  

There are a significant number of hacks that involve programming and scripting, mostly in Perl.  If you're not a developer or code monkey, this might be a bit intimidating.  But it also might be just what you need to dive into learning a new language tool.  They also cover the Google web API in many of the hacks, and this has me thinking of a few projects I might want to try in the Notes/Domino platform.  And any book that has me thinking of solutions while I'm reading is always a good sign.

Even if you have the 1st or 2nd edition, don't wonder if you should go out and get #3.  Yes, you should...  Lots of new stuff to play with here...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/16/2006

Book Review - Crisis by Robin Cook

Category Book Reviews
I seem to have this love/hate relationship with Robin Cook titles.  His latest, Crisis, is no different.  On one hand, I like a good medical thriller, and generally the overall plot of Crisis, isn't bad.  On the other hand, I get really tired of the incessant flogging of the "evil" insurance companies.  Couple that with an ending here that left me scratching my head, and I'm not real sure I'd recommend the time commitment on this one.

Jack Stapleton, a medical examiner from prior novels, is preparing for his wedding.  But within the final week, he gets a call from his sister in Boston.  Her husband, Dr. Craig Bowman, has been hit with a malpractice suit as part of his concierge medical practice.  An older hypochondriac patient died of an apparent heart attack, and Bowman was unable to resuscitate her.  The "grieving" husband filed suit, and Bowman is spiraling off the deep end with depression, anger, and indignation.  The sister wants Jack to lend some moral support and see if there's anything that could indicate that Bowman shouldn't be found guilty, and Jack reluctantly agrees (knowing the wedding is fast approaching).  The court case is made even more difficult in that Bowman was separated from his wife at the time, living with his office assistant, labeled this particular patient as a "problem patient" in his files, and made some very derogatory statements about the deceased which came out at trial.  Jack wonders if some of the symptoms point to another cause of death, and attempts to get permission to exhume the body and perform an autopsy.  But certain parties have made it very clear that they do *not* want an autopsy, and they're willing to go to extreme measures to prevent it.  Of course, Jack digs in, races against time, and discovers some facts that change the entire death scene...

When I started Crisis, I thought it was going to be pretty good.  Suspense, personal drama, a little seediness thrown in...  But the longer I went, the tougher it was to stay involved.  You knew there were outside forces that factored in, but the direction of the plotline didn't make sense.  There were long chunks of time in the story that were just skipped in order to advance the story, and it wasn't always easy to make that chronological jump.  And finally, the ending just flat out failed.  Not only did it not make a lot of sense, it also left all the other plotlines suspended in mid-air.  It's not hard to imagine that a deadline was approaching and the author hadn't quite figured out how wrap up the story gracefully...

As "full disclosure", I'll state that I work for an "evil" insurance company, so I might be predisposed to having an attitude about his characterizations.  But that aside, an experienced author such as Cook should have done much better, especially at the end.

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10/15/2006

Book Review - Implementing IBM Rational ClearQuest

Category Book Reviews
Most IT professionals know the value of a good software defect tracking system.  And if you're already using the Rational family of software offerings, one of your logical choices would be IBM Rational ClearQuest.  If you're at the starting stages of selling the idea of ClearQuest and planning an implementation, then this is a really good read for you...  Implementing IBM Rational ClearQuest: An End-to-End Deployment Guide by Christian D. Buckley, Darren W. Pulsipher, and Kendall Scott.

Contents: Building and Maintaining the Feedback Loop with Customers; The Value Proposition; Selling Your Team on Change Management; Moving Parts; Analyzing Your Company's Needs; Designing Your System; Implementation - Schema and Database Design; Implementation - Customizing the Schema and Creating Hooks; ClearQuest for Eclipse; ClearQuest Integrations; Deployment and Administration; Multisite Development; Epilogue; Index

Prior to reading this book, I really couldn't have explained to someone what ClearQuest was.  And with a similarly named product called ClearCase, I would have gotten confused in all likelihood.  This book does a very nice job of explaining the value of a defect tracking system in an organization, what it needs to offer the different parties, and the real costs of not having one in place.  Because of the flexibility and depth of the package, it's not an "install, click here, and you're up and running" system.  As such, the book spends quite a bit of time explaining the planning process involved in determining how the database and underlying schema should be designed for your particular needs.  You don't have to start from scratch, but there are a multitude of options available.  It helps to have an underlying background in UML, as that's the mechanism used in the book to explain classes, uses, etc.  But don't let that scare you off.  The writing is surprisingly readable for something like this...

If you're considering the use of ClearQuest for defect tracking, or if you don't have a tracking system in place, take two or three hours and go through this book.  It will lay the proper groundwork for what you're about to do, and it will be time well spent as you travel down the implementation path.

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/15/2006

Book Review - Programming Atlas by Christian Wenz

Category Book Reviews
As they've done with most popular technologies, Microsoft took Ajax and wrapped it up into a form that is tightly integrated with their own software framework.  The result is what they call Atlas, and it's basically Ajax integrated with ASP.NET.  If that's your platform of choice, then you'll likely find a lot of value in the book Programming Atlas by Christian Wenz.

Contents: Atlas, Ajax, and ASP.NET; JavaScript; Ajax; Controls; Data Binding and Validation; Components and Behaviors; Animations; Client Script Library; Using Server Data; Web Services; Extending Controls; Virtual Earth; Web Parts and Gadgets; Atlas Control Toolkit; Using Atlas with Other Server Technologies; Other Ajax Tools; XMLHttpRequest Reference; DOM Reference; Atlas Reference; ScriptManager and UpdatePanel Declarative Reference; Index

From the perspective of someone who is familiar with ASP.NET and wants to start incorporating Ajax-style coding, this book works pretty well.  Wenz goes into the different controls provided by Microsoft, and shows how they can be used to save you a lot of time over manual coding.  Since Atlas is not yet "gold", he had to work through a lot of this information on his own.  The writing shows a pretty deep understanding of what's going on and how to make it work to your advantage.  The chapters on JavaScript and Ajax are pretty high-level, so I don't know that I'd recommend this book for someone who isn't already knowledgeable in JavaScript.  I think there's a certain level of expertise that needs to be assumed here.  I also don't quite see the value of the Using Atlas with Other Server Technologies chapter.  A cursory glance at the introductory section makes it sound as if Atlas can be used anywhere as opposed to being tied to Microsoft.  While that's true from the standpoint of using/calling other data sources, you appear to lose functionality pretty rapidly if you're not running IIS and ASP.NET.  If non-Microsoft platforms are your primary target, I don't think Atlas (or this book) would do much to help you out.

So...  If you're already using Visual Studio tools and .NET to program your applications, definitely use Atlas to let Microsoft do the heavy lifting for you.  This particular book can help you consolidate all the information that's been written to date on the technology, and allow you to get moving more quickly than you would if you decided to dig it all out via the Web...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/15/2006

Book Review - Mastering Regular Expressions (3rd Edition) by Jeffrey E. F. Friedl

Category Book Reviews
I last reviewed this book in early 2005 when it was still in the second edition.  But with the release of Jeffrey E. F. Friedl's Mastering Regular Expressions (3rd Edition), I thought it best to give it another look.  It's still great, it's still the definitive guide to the subject, and now it gives PHP'ers more to work with...

Contents: Introduction to Regular Expressions; Extended Introductory Examples; Overview of Regular Expression Features and Flavors; The Mechanics of Expression Processing; Practical Regex Techniques; Crafting an Efficient Expression; Perl; Java; .NET; PHP; Index

As with the last edition, you'll find nearly everything you need to know about regular expressions here.  Since the general rules of regular expressions haven't changed much, it's not as if you're trying to learn regex version 12.5.  The main difference in this edition is that Friedl gave PHP a whole lot more coverage in this update.  PHP has become more mainstream over the last year or so, and if that's your area of interest you'll find more examples and guidelines now.  Java 1.5 and 1.6 have also emerged since the last writing, so there's a bit more clarification as to how regex coding has changed (not much).

My initial recommendation hasn't changed one bit...  If you do anything with regular expressions in your programming, get this book, put your name in it, and don't let others borrow it...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/15/2006

Book Review - JavaScript - The Definitive Guide (5th Edition) by David Flanagan

Category Book Reviews
There are a few books in the IT realm that are classics...  ones that have gone past their second or even third edition.  This is one of them...  JavaScript: The Definitive Guide (5th Edition) by David Flanagan.  I like this comprehensive JavaScript reference manual much more than others that I have on my shelf.

Contents:
Part 1 - Core JavaScript: Lexical Structure; Datatypes and Values; Variables; Expressions and Operators; Statements; Objects and Arrays; Functions; Classes, Constructors, and Prototypes; Modules and Namespaces; Pattern Matching with Regular Expressions; Scripting Java
Part 2 - Client-Side JavaScript: JavaScript in Web Browsers; Scripting Browser Windows; Scripting Documents; Cascading Style Sheets and Dynamic HTML; Events and Event Handling; Forms and Form Elements; Cookies and Client-Side Persistence; Scripting HTTP; JavaScript and XML; Scripted Client-Side Graphics; Scripting Java Applets and Flash Movies
Part 3 - Core JavaScript Reference
Part 4 - Client-Side JavaScript Reference
Index

Flanagan has the somewhat rare opportunity to update a book that deals with a technology that is actually mature, stable, and pretty well implemented by all the browser clients.  Trying to writing this book in the late 90's would have been an impossible nightmare.  Now the core JavaScript language has solidified, making it easier to decide what chapters work and which ones need tweaks.  It also allows the author to add chapters that touch on new ways that JavaScript is being used today, such as Ajax.  Once you get past Part 1 (the core reference/tutorial information), you learn how JavaScript can be leveraged in ways that weren't envisioned until recently.  In particular, there was some interesting material on cookies that I haven't seen anywhere else.  Parts 3 and 4 are the sections where you'll spend most of your time looking up those pesky parameters you can't remember on a day-to-day basis, and the layout is very easy to follow and find what you need.  I liked it a lot...

I have a different JavaScript reference manual at work, but it's never been one that I've relished having to use.  This volume is slated to take over that shelf space next week...  Great job.

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/15/2006

FormRouter Offers PDF-to-Lotus Notes Support

Category IBM/Lotus
From PDFZone.com: FormRouter Offers PDF-to-Lotus Notes Support

FormRouter announced September that it added Lotus Notes support to its service, which potentially opens up the company's services to 110 million new customers.

While the type of data FormRouter collects for its customers through PDF forms already flows well within Lotus Notes environments without need for Acrobat or PDF, Healy says IBM approached FormRouter to develop the PDF piece for companies to interact with their customers and field workers outside firewalls.

"The majority of Lotus Notes databases are behind firewalls in a lot of large companies, and there is a great need to pull forms submitted online from outside the firewall into Lotus Notes and do workflow on those forms," Healy says. "The ideal industries are going to be financial industries—insurance, mortgage financing, etc."

Nice to see another third-party vendor understand the untapped market of Notes shops out there...

10/15/2006

Book Review - Programming Python 3rd Edition by Mark Lutz

Category Book Reviews
Python is one of those "hot" technologies that is becoming more accepted within a corporate world of IT.  But after you learn the syntax and basics, how do you start building applications?  That's the main thrust of the book Programming Python 3rd Edition by Mark Lutz.  This starts to move from Hello World to Real World.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Beginning: Introducing Python; A Sneak Preview
Part 2 - System Programming: System Tools; File and Directory Tools; Parallel System Tools; System Examples - Utilities; System Examples - Directories
Part 3 - GUI Programming: Graphical User Interfaces; A Tkinter Tour Part 1; A Tkinter Tour Part 2; GUI Coding Techniques; Complete GUI Programs
Part 4 - Internet Programming: Network Scripting; Client-Side Scripting; The PyMailGUI Client; Server-Side Scripting; The PyMailCGI Server; Advanced Internet Topics
Part 5 - Tools and Techniques: Databases and Persistence; Data Structures; Text and Language
Part 6 - Integration: Extending Python; Embedding Python
Part 7 - The End: Conclusion - Python and the Development Cycle; Index

For a book that's over 1500 pages, you'd think you were dealing with a complete reference guide to the language.  But that's not what's being targeted here.  Lutz assumes that the reader has already gone through the basics of the Python language using a book like Learning Python.  Programming Python picks up from there and starts exploring modules and development concepts.  The goal here is not just to be able to hack together a few Python lines into a utility.  It's to be able to use the Python modules and solid development practices to build entire applications that can accomplish their stated purpose as well as be maintainable.  It's close to what you'd think of when you imagine a Cookbook O'Reilly title, only with less structure and more explanation.  With multiple code examples demonstrating concepts such as forking, it shouldn't be too difficult to come away from this book with a number of ideas for projects that could be done very well in Python.

If you're a newbie to Python, you're probably not quite ready for this one yet.  But once you've posed the question "how what can I do with what I know?", then this is a great next step for you...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

10/14/2006

Book Review - Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend

Category Book Reviews
Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend was one of those library books that attracted me due to the quirky title and unusual cover.  Having no background with Townsend's work or any other Mole novels, I really didn't know what to expect.  What I found was an incredibly funny English novel that I was unable to put down until I was finished.

Adrian Mole is a 34 year old single guy living with his parents and working in a second-hand bookstore.  He has a couple kids by different women, but the relationships didn't work out in the long run.  In order to live the style of life he envisions for himself, he buys a flat on Rat Wharf and proceeds to spend himself into an incredible crushing load of debt using credit cards.  His life starts to spiral downhill when he dates a mousey "organic" lady by the name of Marigold Flowers.  Her parents are into "natural living" to the extreme, and he quickly figures out that this is not the family and lady he wants.  But he has a hard time saying no, and pretty soon he's engaged to be married to a woman he doesn't love and that is apparently with child.  To complicate issues further (as if they weren't already warped), he's madly in love with Marigold's sister, a fashionable public relations woman who is as wild as Marigold is sedate.  He knows what he needs to do, and everyone else can see what he should be doing.  But knowing and doing are separated by an ever-widening gap...

This story is told in diary fashion, with Mole writing in the first person.  In many ways, it's like watching a reality TV show.  Mole has a much more important view of himself than what really is the case, and it's a hoot watching the train wreck unfold.  There are a number of current event themes running through the couple of years covered by the diary, mainly centered around the start of the Iraq war.  I'm sure having a good grasp of British life would make a few of the things more clear to this American reader, but it really doesn't matter.  It was all too funny and felt all too real...

My next step is to check out the first four Adrian Mole novels...  If they are anything like this, I'll be losing a couple more weekends to these pages.

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10/14/2006

Book Review - Software Project Management for Dummies by Teresa Luckey and Joseph Phillips

Category Book Reviews
I am *not* a project manager, nor do I ever want to be one.  However, the art of project management affects every project I work on to one degree or another.  If you're a developer geek who doesn't want to wade through the minutiae of formal traditional methodology, this particular title makes it all go down a little easier...  Software Project Management for Dummies by Teresa Luckey and Joseph Phillips.

Contents:
Part 1 - Starting Your Software Project: Examining the Big Picture of Software Management; Initiating a Software Project; Creating the Software Scope
Part 2 - Planning Your Software Project: Planning for Communications; Planning for Software Project Risks; Planning for Software Quality; Building the Project Team; Creating Project Time Estimates; Building Your Project Budget
Part 3 - Executing Your Software Project Plan: Working the Project Plan; Working with Project People; Procuring Goods and Services
Part 4 - Controlling Your Software Project: Managing Changes to the Software Project; Using Earned Value Management in Software Projects; Tracking Project Performance
Part 5 - Closing Your Software Project: Finalizing the Project Management Processes; Documenting Your Software Project
Part 6 - The Part of Tens: Ten Ways to Make Your Software Project Crash and Burn; Ten Ways to Make Any Software Project Better
Appendix: Formal Project Management Training and Certification; Index

Using the entertaining Dummies style of writing, Luckey and Phillips take the reader through the importance of software project management, as well as what steps are involved in taking the project from inception to completion.  They approach the topic using what I refer to as the "traditional" approach to software development.  Generally speaking, requirements are gathered, development is initiated, testing takes place, and the project is delivered.  This is different than the "agile" methods where there are a series of iterations involving requirements, coding, testing, and release.  Many of these same project management concepts apply to both, but you most often see this level of management and documentation in the former style.  What's nice with this book is that an often dull (at least to me) subject is served up with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor and practicality.  They actually treat the project manager as a real person facing some impossible conditions, which is pretty much normal from what I can tell...

While this book wouldn't help you pass any project management certification tests, it would be valuable to help keep your head above water if you've been thrown into the deep end of the project management pool...

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10/14/2006

Book Review - Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway

Category Book Reviews
Today's business world is such that you are very likely to have working relationships with global business partners.  And you *should* know that "when in Rome, do as the Romans do".  But what exactly is that?  Terry Morrison and Wayne A Conaway bridge some of that information gap with the book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands.  This is one of those books that could help you close a big deal (or avoid killing one).

The book covers a large number of countries, one chapter per, and gives you the basics of culture, history, language, and what-not.  The chapter starts with a quick culture note (some small and interesting fact) followed by a Cultural IQ test (a few quick questions to see how much you know about the country).  There are then tips on doing business there, a very brief historical background, the type of government that is practiced, and what languages are common.  The Cultural Orientation section attempts to delve a bit into the general mindset of how they think, make decisions, and regard each other in terms of equality.  Probably the most practical sections are the Business Practices and Protocol areas, where you learn what is expected when doing business over there.  For instance, there are different speeds in which negotiations occur.  Some countries get right to the point, while others will engage in social talk for an extended time before starting business.  In some places, being on time is critically important, whereas in other countries, the other party may be an hour late with no explanation.  There is also extensive coverage on what to wear and what is expected socially once you're outside of the normal workday.

Overall, I found the book pretty interesting.  I read it from cover to cover, which isn't the best way to digest this book.  Since countries in neighboring areas might be similar in culture, I found large sections of information that were identical to something I read a few pages before.  It's better to use the book as reference, paying particular attention to the countries where you have interests.  There are also websites included in the material that point you to additional references on history, culture, and the like.  I would recommend using those, as you can only cover so much information in four or five pages.

While not an exhaustive reference for any particular area, it *will* keep you from making the obvious cultural faux pas.  A book that would be worth reading before your next trip out of the States...

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10/13/2006

Now up and running on 7.0.2 in my home environment...

Category IBM/Lotus
I cleared out my old 6.5.3 workhorse install and my quirky 7.0 from awhile back and started fresh.  Just copied over a couple of location/connection documents and id's for blogging and such, and things are running smoothly...

So nice to have it work the first time, especially when one is *NOT* an admin.  :)

10/12/2006

Book Review - Snow Blind by P. J. Tracy

Category Book Reviews
The mother-daughter writing team of P. J. Tracy puts out some great crime fiction with a little hi-tech thrown in for good measure.  Their latest offering, Snow Blind, is a fun read, but I don't think it quite measures up to their previous efforts.

Detectives Magozzi and Rolseth are drawn into a very strange crime scene at the scene of a public snowman building contest at a park (this *is* Minnesota).  Turns out that two of the snowmen are actually dead men covered with snow.  Even worse, they're members of the police force.  Obviously the death of cops get everyone fired up, and the detectives are primary on trying to crack the case.  It gets even stranger when another dead snowman is found upstate, in a rural district run by a woman sheriff who just got voted into the position and knows she's in over her head.  Magozzi and Rolseth need to figure out whether the crimes are related (or not), as well as how all the victims are connected (or not).  The common thread overall keeps coming back to a "company community" called Bitterroot.  It's a highly guarded fortress that's actually a shelter for battered and abused women, and there are *no* men allowed.  Could it be that justice is being carried out vigilante-style?

On the plus side, the dialogue between the detectives continues to be witty and humorous.  It's not hard to see two long-time partners having this type of rapport with each other.  On the negative side, the Monkeewrench crew (the hi-tech criminologists) are nearly nowhere to be found here.  Being that I really like that group and the technology angle, I was somewhat disappointed.  I also thought the resolutions of the plot threads was somewhat muddled.  I was having a hard time following who was who, and how those relations caused things to play out...

If given a do-over, I'd still read the book as it was enjoyable.  But I wouldn't recommend this as the starting point for anyone checking out P. J. Tracy for the first time...

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10/10/2006

Book Review - Ubuntu Linux For Non-Geeks by Rickford Grant

Category Book Reviews
This is perhaps one of the most fun Linux books I've had the pleasure of reading.  It's called Ubuntu Linux For Non-Geeks by Rickford Grant, and the focus is on getting Ubuntu up and running, and *getting things done*.  Quirky, comical, and best of all...  practical.

Contents: Becoming a Penguinista; Wading and Diving; A New Place to Call Home; More Than Webbed Feet; Rounding Out the Bird; A Tidy Next; Dressing Up the Bird; Simple Kitten Ways; Dining on Tarballs, Binaries, Java, and Even RPMs; Gutenbird; Font Feathered Frenzy; Polyglot Penguins; Penguins Back at Work; Brush-Wielding Penguins; Tux Rocks; Pluggin' In the Penguin; Couch Penguins; Defending the Nest; Ubuntu Desktop CDs for AMD64 and PowerPC Users; Checking the Integrity of Downloaded ISOs; Resources; Index

As you can see from the chapter titles, there's a lot of tongue-in-cheek (beak?) humor that keeps the subject matter entertaining and approachable.  He starts off with a quick history of Ubuntu Linux, as well as how to install it (both live CD and permanent).  From there, he goes into the various areas where you live in Windows and shows the comparable software/configuration options in Ubuntu.  If someone was completely at home in Windows but had never touched Linux, this would be all the book they'd need to make 80% or more of the transition.  This goes both for manipulating the operating system (desktop settings, installing software, etc.) and using software for common tasks (such as OpenOffice.org to replace Office, GIMP to replace Windows-based graphical software, etc.).  And with each chapter, there are a number of "projects" where he walks you through the installation and/or steps necessary to do what he just talked about.  The book is written in an *extremely* conversational tone, so it's hard not to "hear" the author talking to you as you read.  Great stuff...

I found this book useful in learning about the "best of breed" or "default" software used in the Ubuntu environment.  For instance, there's XSane for scanning, gPhoto2 for digital camera work, etc.  Normally I get a bit frustrated with Linux books that spend a majority of the pages talking about software that *runs* on Linux, not Linux itself.  While this book does the same thing, it was far less intrusive than most.  I think it's because it was all focused back on making the transition from daily use of Windows to daily use of Ubuntu.  Regardless, it was a two-in-one deal...  excellent tutorial information with very nice reference material on what you could/should be looking for...

As I continue my Ubuntu learning, this book will become pretty frayed, I think...  I expect it to become a fast friend.

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10/09/2006

Book Review - Beginning Visual C# 2005 Express Edition by Peter Wright

Category Book Reviews
With the advent of the "Express" addition of Microsoft's Visual Studio tools, it doesn't take a small fortune to start learning their environment.  In fact, it doesn't cost you a dime.  They're free.  Peter Wright takes advantage of that fact in his book Beginning Visual C# 2005 Express Edition: From Novice to Professional.  It's a good book, but I think I would have titled it somewhat differently...

Contents: Welcome to C# Express; The Basics of C#; Working with Variables; Classes and Object Orientation in C#; More-Advanced Object Orientation; Handling Exceptions; How C# Express Helps You Code; Building Windows Applications; Windows and Dialogs; Lists; Menus and Toolbars; Delegates - Events Internals; Lists and Generics; Files and Streams; Working with XML; Database Programming; The Internet and C# Express; Threading; Where to Now?; Index

You can pretty much view this as a tutorial to the C# language...  how it's structured, how it works, and what you can do with it.  The "Express Edition" part comes into play in terms of what IDE he uses to teach you the language...  Visual C# 2005 Express Edition.  Being that you can download it free from Microsoft (it's even on the CD included in the book), you don't have to plunk down a wad of cash to get into the game.  In fact, the Express Edition of the software does most of what you'd need for personal projects and programs.  I wouldn't want to try and run an IT department on it, as the features for the "real" version of Visual Studio address that market.  But Wright uses this great option to get you familiar with the world of .NET and C# in particular.  There are plenty of screen shots and code examples to work from, so there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to ground yourself in the fundamentals here.

In the opening, I mentioned that I thought I would have tried a different title.  The one that was used makes the book sound as if it's a tutorial on how to use Visual C# 2005 Express Edition as your IDE.  Instead, it's really how to program in C# using the Express Edition IDE.  It may sound like a minor point, but it might throw a few buyers.  If I already knew C# and wanted a book on the IDE, the title here would lead me in the wrong direction...

Even with that minor quibble, it's still a good approach to start down the C# path if that's where your programming interests are leading you...

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10/08/2006

Book Review - Havoc by R. J. Pineiro

Category Book Reviews
Throw together spies, nationalistic plans for world domination, as well as a large dose of nanotech, and you have R. J. Pineiro's book Havoc.  I enjoyed the story itself, but the writer almost appears to be trying *too* hard to be clever...

Tom Grant is an ex-CIA agent who got hung out to dry on an operation in Singapore.  Rather than fight back, he retires to a central American beach to live out his life in solitude.  Unfortunately for him, he is being recruited to help the agency solve a break-in at USN, a nanotech firm (government-owned) that has military hardware that others would kill for.  Grant's old boss was thought to be dead, but indications are that he really went rogue and helped lead the break-in.  Grant is teamed up with an attractive agent to track down the stolen gear, find the rogue agent, and also determine who's behind all of this.  CyberWerke is the leading competitor of USN, and its leader has a shadowy past and definite plans to put Germany in the position of world leader.  Using nanotech, he's able to stage a near-coup of the German legislature and position himself as the new leader of the country.  The only thing that can stop him is Grant's team or the stolen nanotech device that's escaped into the wild, thrown off its artificial intelligence constraints, and deems the entire human race as a threat to its existence.

There's a lot going on here, and I really did enjoy the plotline.  The futuristic nanotech devices allow the author to get the characters into quite a few unusual situations, and the cyberintelligence of the escaped device was rather cool.  Perhaps not realistic, but cool...  The only problem I had with the novel was the author's style of writing.  The Grant character is supposed to be a "cool" agent, and everyone is a "cat".  And I don't think I've ever read a story where the author had so many nicknames for his bodyparts and intimate activities...  "sharing bodily fluids", "long-dormant one-eyed monster", "third leg", "old mustard road without K-Y", "hide the salami", etc, etc, etc.  And we're not even up to page 25 yet.  It was OK in moderation, but it got annoying pretty quickly.  Had I not enjoyed the storyline as much as I did, I'd likely have been much more harsh in my assessment.  But he really does need to just relax and let the story and characters work...

Worth reading for some mind-candy entertainment, but it's too bad that style hindered the substance...

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10/08/2006

And this is why Tom doesn't do home repair or play with power tools...

Category Everything Else
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - And this is why Tom doesn't do home repair or play with power tools...

Now that the embarrassment factor has subsided a bit (and I didn't do any permanent damage), I'll now share my latest "klutz-du-jour" story...

Last weekend, when I *should* have been recuperating from the surgery, I was putting in a new light fixture in Sue's quilting area.  We purchased it earlier in the day from Home Depot, and she was really excited to get the benefits of quality lighting in that workspace.  In theory, this is a no-brainer...  Shut off power, unscrew and detach old light fixture, reattach wires to new light fixture, secure to outlet, and we're done.  But it was the environment that was the issue...

Sue's work area is on the second floor, and the fixture is right over the stairs.  She has a couple of tables placed over the stair dividers, so it's not as dangerous as it might sound (but I can fix that!).  She was wary that I would step incorrectly and cause the tables to shift, thereby falling and hurting myself.  Me, being "Mr. Man", knows better, and proceeds to tell her so.  

You can see this one coming...

Towards the end, I stepped back and put weight on the end of the table that was overhanging the divider.  The table started to tip up, and I started to fall backwards.  It was a slow motion ballet of "stay to the right, as the left is the drop of 10 - 15 feet for the stairs, while the right is just three feet to the floor".  Sue's freaking out, I'm trying to save myself, and nobody can do much of anything to stop it.  Fortunately, I did end up on the floor (not the stairs), and I didn't injure the area where the recent surgery was done.  Sue's crying, the boys are running up the stairs, and I'm on my back...  "Everything's OK...  I'm fine...  Move along...  Nothing to see here..."

The worst part is that I scraped my leg on something on the way down, and it started off as just an abrasion on the backside of my calf.  But over the course of the last week, it's bruised up pretty nicely, from the back of the knee clear down to the ankle...

And *this* is why I'm much more at ease behind a keyboard or a book...  :)

10/08/2006

24 years ago today...

Category Everything Else
... Sue and I were having breakfast together, exchanging gifts, and getting ready for our wedding later that evening...

Thank you for a great 24 years, Sue...  Don't know how you've put up with me for so long.  

Love you.

10/08/2006

OK... HDTV is cool...

Category Everything Else
We recently purchased a wide-screen HDTV to replace our failing TV in the main living area.  Nothing huge or fancy...  30-some-odd inches, relatively cheap, blah, blah, blah...  We hooked it up to the cable outlet, and was pretty much underwhelmed.  Using an HDTV for normal viewing (as in wide-screen mode) wasn't anything to write home about.

I did a little investigation on our cable system website, and found I needed to buy a HD box for the TV.  Better yet, I didn't need to subscribe to digital cable to do so...  Just an extra $5 a month for the converter box, and I'd start to see high definition shows.  I hobbled to the cable office yesterday and picked up the box, brought it home, put it on the coffee table, and went back downstairs to put my feet up.  True to form, my kids woke up, saw the box, and did all the installation without me.  I knew I was a hero when Ian came downstairs and simply said "Dude!  You have GOT to come see this!"

In a word...  WOW!

The non-HD channels are still as they were before, but we *did* eliminate a major issue with ghosting on the over-the-air stations.  But the cable company has a series of channels in the 700 range that mirror the normal channels between 2 - 99 if the show/station is HD.  Heading up there to watch baseball and football yesterday, I was absolutely blown away.  You could see pores on players faces.  Actual blades of grass show up.  Team logos on jerseys nearly appear three-dimensional.  And the colors were stunning...  Nature shows had me looking at the animals in a whole new light.  Apparently last night, Sue got up late and both kids were in the front room, glued to a documentary about...  Chinese gymnasts.  Not a subject of interest to them, but in hi-def it was a must-see...  :)

Of course, it probably helped my "hero" case that all the movie channels are currently available too, as well as the In-Demand movies.  Being we don't subscribe to any premium channels, this was a huge draw yesterday.

The only downside to all this?  As I sit downstairs in my basement office typing this, I'm watching my regular non-HD TV, and the picture quality now looks like those old sporting event films from the 60's.  Ian came down yesterday, took one look, turned to me and simply said "Sucks now, doesn't it?" before heading back upstairs...

He's right.  :)

10/07/2006

Book Review - Visual Studio 2005 Unleashed by Lars Powers and Mike Snell

Category Book Reviews
OK...  I can see why Microsoft Visual Studio has been such a popular IDE for developers.  Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Unleashed from Lars Powers and Mike Snell does a nice job in explaining the value of the latest version of this classic, as well as being an in-depth guide to the feature set...

Contents:
Part 1 - An Introduction to Visual Studio 2005/.NET: A Quick Tour of Visual Studio 2005; A Quick Tour of the IDE; .NET Framework and Language Enhancements in 2005
Part 2 - The Visual Studio 2005 Environment - In-depth: Solutions and Projects; Browsers and Explorers; Introducing the Editors and Designers; Working with Visual Studio's Productivity Aids; Refactoring Code; Debugging with Visual Studio 2005; The Visual Studio Automation Object Model; Writing Macros, Add-ins, and Wizards; The .NET Community - Consuming and Creating Shared Code
Part 3 - Visual Studio 2005 at Work: Creating ASP.NET User Interfaces; Building Windows Forms; Working with Databases; Web Services and Visual Studio
Part 4 - Visual Studio Team System: Team Collaboration and Visual Studio Team System; Managing and Working with Team Projects; Source Control; Work Item Tracking; Modeling; Testing; Team Foundation Build; Index

For someone like me who isn't a .NET developer, I found Part 1 very useful.  The intro and tour gave me a great overview of what the IDE offers, and I could easily relate the different parts to the environment (Eclipse) I'm already familiar with.  With that background, I could have easily taken Parts 2 and 3 and become productive in relatively short order.  The authors maintain a good blend of text to screenshots to code, so I felt like I was getting a combination of reference and tutorial information in one volume.  The argument could be made that all this information can be found in the help files, as is the case with most applications.  But it's a lot easier to learn a tool like this (at least for me) when there's a structured guide that puts all the information in context.  The Unleashed titles do just that, and this one is no exception...

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10/07/2006

Book Review - Java Concurrency In Practice by Brian Goetz

Category Book Reviews
It's common knowledge that you can easily get burned with Java programs that are multi-threaded.  I would strongly recommend that if you are going down the multi-threaded path, you *need* to get this book...  Java Concurrency In Practice by Brian Goetz.  This bridges the gap between what the reference manuals say and how things work in the real world.

Contents:
Introduction
I. Fundamentals: Thread Safety; Sharing Objects; Composing Objects; Building Blocks
II. Structuring Concurrent Applications: Task Execution; Cancellation and Shutdown; Applying Thread Pools; GUI Applications
III. Liveness, Performance, and Testing: Avoiding Liveness Hazards; Performance and Scalability; Testing Concurrent Programs
IV. Advanced Topics: Explicit Locks; Building Custom Synchronizers; Atomic Variables and Nonblocking Synchronization; The Java Memory Model; Annotations for Concurrency
Bibliography; Index

This book picks up from the regular documentation on how specific synchronization and threading features work.  Goetz does a relatively light introduction to the topic, and then starts into practical issues that you'll encounter in real programs and applications.  For instance, a specific component, such as a collection, might be thread-safe.  But what happens if that component is part of a compound function you've written?  The compound function may well have "features" that you don't expect when running in the wild, since the threading issues now have to be considered at a level higher than the specific component.  And being that you rarely have a clue as to how your program will mix with others, a bad design can lead to nasty intermittent threading bugs that are nearly impossible to consistently recreate.  Goetz goes beyond the "write your code this way" material to explain how both code *and* design have to work in concert with each other to make sure a multi-threaded application behaves the way it should.

I was also impressed with the number of examples, both good and bad.  By having a large number of "don't do this" samples, it's likely you'll see something that might be common practice in your coding style (but that will need to be changed).  He also summarizes the material in gray call-outs within the flow of the text, so you can quickly grasp the one or two line concept that needs to be remembered and internalized in practice.  

In a single word, this book can be summed up as "practical".  Everything is focused on how things really work, and how to avoid common practices that will lead to major trouble.  This is a great addition to the Java shelf of my library, and I recommend it with no hesitation.

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10/06/2006

Book Review - Play Dead by Michael A. Arnzen

Category Book Reviews
Desperate for recreational reading material, I went over to the library and started browsing the fiction shelves.  Play Dead by Michael A. Arnzen caught my attention with a rather "dark" playing card cover, so I picked it up.  "Dark" is a good word to describe the story, which was better than I expected, and only let down at the very end...

Johnny Frieze is a high-stakes card player who finally hits rock bottom in Las Vegas.  He bets everything he has, including a graphic account of removing his gold tooth, on a losing hand, and ends up in a homeless shelter.  One of the residents, Wilson, seems to have an endless supply of money and resources, and starts a friendship with Johnny.  This friendship leads to Johnny's recruitment for a bizarre card game called Butcher Boy, run by the richest casino owner on the strip.  Four players, a million dollar pot, winner takes all, everyone else dies.  But before you get to that point, you have to "make" the 13 cards that belong to your assigned suit.  The players have cameras to capture the "essence of life" for each of the cards, with promises of more stake money for creativity.  This essence in actuality are death scenes based on the suit and number of the next card.  Each player stages continuingly more gruesome murders to get their deck finished in time for the game.  Johnny is drawn to the game, but wants to play on his own terms, which means no killing.  The story races forward with the characters killing away, Johnny trying to skirt the rules, and his "team" trying to help him escape with his life.  Because once you're in the game, the only way out is to "fold"...  permanently.

This is an extremely graphic novel, with plenty of gore and decadence.  There's a underlying theme of "fate", how the cards control everything, and how the death deck contains incredible power.  I found myself staying up a bit too late on a couple of evenings to find out how it all wrapped up.  The final scene with the card game and the outcome, in my opinion, was a bit of a letdown.  I think it's likely due to the "fate" theme becoming the entire focus, and everything getting very philosophical and ethereal.  I would have preferred a more concrete ending rather than the "sophisticated" one, but others might disagree...  Still, a morbid story that is unlike anything else I've read in a long time...

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10/05/2006

IBM Lotus Looks to Make a Social Call on Business

Category IBM/Lotus
From Internetnews.com: IBM Lotus Looks to Make a Social Call on Business

IBM's Lotus division is taking cues from important trends in the consumer space.

It is poised to deliver new products for the enterprise that mimic features of Web 2.0, such as social networking, user-generated content and device-neutral mobile software.

Sometime in the first half next year, IBM will launch Dogear, a social networking tool patterned after del.icio.us, which allows users to tag content for future reference.

Other users in the person's network can then find relevant information by searching on words that match the tags.

Guess it's about time for me to start brushing up on social networking software...  :)  Seriously, a good article, and one that shows how Lotus is staying on top of what's happening in the collaboration space...

10/05/2006

Book Review - Firewall Fundamentals by Wes Noonan and Ido Dubrawsky

Category Book Reviews
As an IT professional, I know and understand that firewalls are a requirement in today's computing environment.  But as a developer, the details of firewalls are pretty much a black box to me.  I was pleasantly surprised with the book Firewall Fundamentals - An introduction to network and computer firewall security by Wes Noonan & Ido Dubrawsky.  I actually understood most of it!  :)

Contents:
Part 1 - Introduction to Firewalls: Introduction to Firewalls; Firewall Basics; TCP/IP for Firewalls
Part 2 - How Firewalls Work: Personal Firewalls - Windows Firewall and Trend Micro's PC-cillin; Broadband Routers and Firewalls; Cisco PIX Firewall and ASA Security Appliance; Linux-Based Firewalls; Application Proxy Firewalls; Where Firewalls Fit in a Network
Part 3 - Managing and Maintaining Firewalls: Firewall Security Policies; Managing Firewalls; What Is My Firewall Telling Me?; Troubleshooting Firewalls; Going Beyond Basic Firewall Features
Part 4 - Appendixes: Firewall and Security Tools; Firewall and Security Resources; Index

There were actually a number of surprising aspects to this book (all good).  The first thing that surprised me is that this is a Cisco Press book.  As such, I would have expected a huge bias towards Cisco technology at the expense of everything else.  Yes, most of the options and solutions covered include the Cisco offering in that category.  But the overall focus is on the underlying technology instead of the vendor offering.  That means that you are getting great information on firewalls, not just how Cisco does it.  Another surprising aspect for me was the range of experience that is targeted in the book (and successfully at that).  Part 1 was perfect for someone like me who isn't intimately acquainted with the inner workings of a firewall.  Part 2 covers the range of solutions, both hardware and software, personal and enterprise.  And Part 3 is one of those sections that you'd likely use on a regular basis at work if you're responsible for the care and feeding of network security.  The information is extremely practical, and having checklists for troubleshooting may just be something that bails you out of some ugly situations...

There's not too many books that can pull off the difficult task of reaching all experience levels on a subject.  The fact that this book does it while being published under a vendor imprint is even more impressive.  Definitely a book I'd recommend on the topic of firewalls...

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10/04/2006

Book Review - .NET Internationalization by Guy Smith-Ferrier

Category Book Reviews
So what's an IBM Lotus Notes/Domino developer looking at a .NET book?  Hey, solid fundamentals and learning can come from anywhere!  :)  And Guy Smith-Ferrier's book .NET Internationalization: The Developer's Guide to Building Global Windows and Web Applications has given me a greater appreciation for what it takes to make a multi-language application that actually works...

Contents: A Roadmap for the Internationalization Process; Unicode, Windows, and the .NET Framework; An Introduction to Internationalization; Windows Forms Specifics; ASP.NET Specifics; Globalization; Middle East and East Asian Cultures; Best Practices; Machine Translation; Resource Administration; Custom Cultures; Custom Resource Managers; Testing Internationalization Using FxCop; The Translator; New Internationalization Features in the .NET Framework 2.0 and Visual Studio 2005; Information Resources; Index

Make no mistake...  This is primarily a book on how to use Visual Studio 2003/2005 to make your .NET programs functional in more than one language and culture.  The information is very detailed in how Microsoft has structured the environment to allow for the use of items such as "resource managers" and "cultures" in development.  These features can make it possible to have a single code base but differing text and behavior based on the user's application or browser settings for language.  If I were a .NET developer tasked with building an application for use in multiple countries, I'm pretty sure I'd want this book close beside me.

But even without being a .NET developer, I still came away with some valuable concepts.  Since I *haven't* had to internationalize an application, I pretty much just thought "translate the words and you're done".  But it's much more extensive than that.  What about languages where the character set is completely different (and not found on your "normal" keyboard?)  What about languages that read right-to-left?  It was a bit strange to see examples of dialog boxes where input box labels were right justified with the input boxes themselves placed to the left...  I mean, it made sense once I thought about it, but I had really never done so.  So much for my "open, global" mindset...  :)

While there are likely better books for someone looking for internationalization concepts on a general basis, this book *does* deliver in that area to a large extent.  And if you're focused on .NET, I don't think there would be much question that this would be a prime resource for you...

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