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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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11/30/2006

Unofficial Vista Blog Tour, Day 4 - The Other Side of Book Reviews

Category Book Reviews

Earlier this year, I reviewed The Unofficial Guide to Windows XP. Derek Torres and Stuart Mudie have just finished up the Unofficial Guide to Windows Vista, which is a warts-and-all look at the new Windows operating system, due out in February by Wiley.

 

Over to Derek! 

 

Unofficial Vista Blog Tour, Day 4: The Other Side of Book Reviews

I want to thank my gracious host, Duffbert, for letting me squat some valuable screen real estate to talk about the other side of the book review - writing the book!

At long last, I’ve just finished up The Unofficial Guide to Windows Vista with my good friend Stuart Mudie. Duffbert was kind enough to write a review for The Unofficial Guide to Windows XP that I had helped co-write earlier in the year.

If you’ve ever thought about writing a book, my advice is to go for it! The two things you will need most are a good agent (which we definitely have) and something to say (which we hope we have). It can be an uphill task getting any major publisher to look at your idea without a seasoned agent to push things along. If you get your foot in the door, it may be in very large part to your agent’s persuasive skills.

The second requirement is to have something to say and to be timely. Fortunately, every major release from a software or operating system editor means that there’s more work for authors looking to write about these releases. Of course, computer books are hardly limited to Microsoft technologies, so try to write about something that is both relevant and of interest to you!

Once all the paperwork is out of the way, let the juices flow! If you are writing for a series, you may be asked to respect certain writing requirements - notably tone, voice, first versus third person, etc. - but you have full creative control over the actual content. Typically, you can submit by chapter and then your work goes through a grammar/content review and then a technical review. Once the review cycle is complete, you can accept or veto suggested changes and then it’s off to production where the book is put together before printing.

If you manage to produce a book that holds to schedule and establish a good working relationship with your editors, you can almost be sure that they’ll come back to you and ask *you* about writing for them instead of the other way around!

If you’re interested in finding out more about our book, please feel free to visit our companion web site at www.unofficialvista.com!

Derek Torres, co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Windows Vista.

11/28/2006

Seriously looking to improve speech quality and patterns...

Category Everything Else
I find that lately I get really bugged by verbal "tics"...  Those nasty speech habits that you hear in others and hope that you don't use yourself.  

"um", "uh", "um OK", "OK", "so" (at the end of every sentence), "and" (*connecting* everything into one long sentence), "I'm like", "and I'm going", "you know", "it's kinda like", "basically" (starting off far too many sentences).

And there's the speaker that has every sentence go up at the end?  Like a question?  Like everything they say is a question?  

I must be getting old...

Anyway, I understand the importance of being able to speak well both one-on-one and in groups.  I've never been thrilled with the tone and sound of my voice, but I can at least work on eliminating those tics that are annoying to others.  To that end, I bought an Olympus WS-300M 256 MB Digital Voice Recorder so that I could start understanding how I sound to others.  Today was the first time I've used it, and it's really helpful (once you get past the fact that no one likes listening to recordings of themselves).

I let it run while I gave someone a phone demo of an application that they are looking to use as a template for a web site.  It's a one-sided conversation, but I'm able to listen to myself and start noticing trouble spots.  The good thing is that I wasn't quite as bad as I thought.  A few ums and uhs I'd like to get rid of, but my demo wasn't one long "and" run-on sentence.  I still sound like I'm about 12, but one thing at a time...

I doubt I'll use this every day, but I can see it becoming a solid aid in improving my communication skills...

11/27/2006

Book Review - BIRT - A Field Guide to Reporting

Category Book Reviews
Every once in awhile, I get to review a book on a technology or software package I've not heard of before.  That was the case with BIRT: A Field Guide to Reporting by Diana Peh, Alethea Hannemann, and Nola Hague.  I'm stunned at the quality and depth of this open-source Eclipse reporting tool.  Oh, and the book's pretty good, too...  :)

Contents:
Part 1 - Installing BIRT: Prerequisites for BIRT; Installing a BIRT Report Designer; Updating a BIRT Installation
Part 2 - Getting Started: Learning the Basics; Planning Your Report
Part 3 - Connecting to a Data Source; Retrieving Data; Binding Data
Part 4 - Designing Reports: Laying Out a Report; Displaying Text; Formatting Report Content; Sorting and Grouping Data; Aggregating Data; Writing Expressions; Filtering Data; Enabling the User to Filter Data; Building a Report That Contains Subreports; Using a Chart in a Report; Displaying Data in Charts; Laying Out and Formatting a Chart
Part 5 - Enhancing Reports: Designing a Multipage Report; Adding Interactive Viewing Features; Building a Shared Report Development Framework; Localizing Text; Glossary; Index

BIRT stands for Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools, and it runs on the Eclipse platform.  Running as a plug-in or using the Rich Client Platform, BIRT will allow the user to create reports from various data sources like JDBC-enabled databases, text files, and XML files.  The authors start out with the basics on how to download and install the software (it's dead simple).  Then using a few tutorial exercises and plenty of screen prints, they walk you through the basics of connecting to a data source and building a report.  The features available in BIRT seem endless, and I was completely amazed at the quality and depth that the software offers for both simple and complex report generation.  Throughout the entire read, I kept thinking about a number of applications I wanted to try this out on.  Normally to get something of this magnitude, you have to buy reporting packages that cost thousands.  Peh, Hannemann, and Hague have completely twisted my world view when it comes to reporting.  Great job!

The only thing that wasn't covered too much was how to roll this out to an end-user base without having to make your audience experts in Eclipse.  It seems as if there must be some way to package these reports up to shield the user from the internals.  There's a follow-on book that covers integration and extension of BIRT, and I'm hoping that deployment is covered more there.  But that in no way takes away from the value and quality of what the authors did here...

This is subject matter that has me excited for some potentially cool applications.  If things work the way I hope they will, I'll owe a debt of gratitude to this book...

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!

11/26/2006

Just ignore them...

Category Everything Else
A local columnist in the Oregonian, Steve Duin, had a great blog posting today, and it puts into words one of the things I've been trying to do more of lately...

When my children used to ask why I didn't respond to an obnoxious driver by leaning on the horn, I pointed out, "If the guy was the type who didn't hesitate to cut me off in traffic, why would he be bothered by the squeal of a car horn?"

<snip>

There is no reason to consider Ann Coulter, much less to quote her. She isn't worth the bother. If you are strangely motivated by the dire need to put the woman in her place, the best revenge against Coulter -- or Lars Larson, Michael Savage or the other Paul Allen radio all-stars, for that matter -- is to ignore her. Deny her the attention that fuels her self-serving crusades or pays her mortgage. Forget about her. Focus on the things that matter, not the malcontents who don't. Lay off the horn. You'll be amazed by how consoling silence can be.

Before you respond about how important Coulter and company are, stop.  I don't follow any of them, and the names (for me) are irrelevant here.  It's the concept of not giving attention-seeking whores what they are looking for...  I'll be the first to admit that sometimes the urge to wade into the fray is overwhelming and I fail to heed my own advice.  But still, it's much less taxing on the emotions to just walk away and ignore them all.

11/26/2006

Book Review - CSS Cookbook (2nd Edition) by Christopher Schmitt

Category Book Reviews
I've often said that I like the O'Reilly "cookbook" format for getting ideas and solving issues I didn't know I had.  CSS Cookbook (2nd edition) by Christopher Schmitt is another one of those books that will earn space on my shelf at work...

Contents: General; Web Typography; Images; Page Elements; Lists; Links and Navigation; Forms; Tables; Page Layouts; Print; Hacks, Workarounds, and Troubleshooting; Designing with CSS; Resources; CSS 2.1 Properties and Proprietary Extensions; CSS 2.1 Selectors, Pseudo-Classes, and Pseudo-Elements; Styling of Form Elements; Index

The "cookbook" formula has a number of recipes on how to do certain things with CSS.  It starts with a problem statement, a brief and concise solution, and then a discussion about how it works and factors that come into play.  Some of the recipes are really basic, like setting the size of type on a page.  In a case like that, the answer is simply font-size with a discussion of how that works.  In other cases, the recipe is much more advanced, such as applying specific CSS properties to the IE 5.x browser to handle it's quirky box model implementation.  That one is much longer, as there's more to it than just reading the specs or a basic tutorial...

My only disappointment here is that some of the included items are *really* basic.  For instance, the General chapter seems to be a basic CSS guide formatted as a series of recipes.  A recipe of using comments in your CSS file, while a legitimate question, is one that I'd expect someone to know if they are picking up a book like this.  I would have preferred see that space be used for less tutorial-like information and more "meat".  Still, having said that, it's still a book that I'd feel comfortable with having around...

Once you're past the "what is CSS" phase, this is a good book to spend time with.  It will either answer the "how do I do that" questions or spur the "I hadn't thought of doing that" moments...

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!

11/26/2006

Book Review - Learning JavaScript by Shelley Powers

Category Book Reviews
It used to be that getting a book on JavaScript was one of those things you did when you wanted your web page to display a line or two of dynamic text or to edit a couple fields on your form.  But it's much more these days with the popularity of Ajax.  Learning JavaScript by Shelley Powers is a solid tutorial on the subject, especially for someone who already has some programming background.

Contents: Introduction and First Looks; JavaScript Data Types and Variables; Operators and Statements; The JavaScript Objects; Functions; Catching Events; Forms and JiT Validation; The Sandbox and Beyond - Cookies, Connectivity, and Piracy; The Basic Browser Objects; DOM - The Document Object Model; Creating Custom JavaScript Objects; Building Dynamic Web Pages - Adding Style to Your Script; Moving Outside the Page with Ajax; Good News - Juicy Libraries! Amazing Web Services! Fun APIs!; Appendix - Answers; Index

Pretty much everything you'd expect from a JavaScript tutorial can be found here...  variables, statements, operators, and so on.  The information is explained well, so the reader shouldn't have any problems following it.  Powers has written the code to be fully XHTML compliant, so the scripting tag looks a bit different with the use of CDATA, but it's refreshing to see a subject like JavaScript keep up with standards.  Building on top of the basic language structure, she goes into the browser and document object models, which is where the real power of JavaScript resides.  When you start manipulating the actual document being displayed, your web sites can take on a whole new dimension.

If you already know JavaScript and you still end up reading this book, you'll find a few sidebars of interest.  The sidebars point out some downloadable tools that can make a dramatic difference in your coding routine.  Software like the MouseOver DOM Inspector, Alban's Script Editor, and Strong JS could quickly become one of those "how did I live without this?" tools.  I'm also more motivated now to look at some JavaScript libraries available for download, like prototype and Dojo.  The book does cover Ajax, but it's pretty high-level.  I wouldn't depend on this book to be your complete Ajax tutorial, but it will get you started.  

This is a good choice for branching out into the world of JavaScript if you haven't yet wandered down that path.  By the time you finish the book, you'll be well-grounded in the fundamentals.

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!

11/25/2006

Book Review - In Search Of Stupidity (2nd Edition) by Merrill R. Chapman

Category Book Reviews
This is one of my favorite IT business strategy books out there...  In Search of Stupidity: Over Twenty Years of High Tech Marketing Disasters, Second Edition by Merrill R. Chapman.  It's amazing that people were paid millions to make these decisions and blunders.

Contents:
First Movers, First Mistakes: IBM Digital Research, Apple, and Microsoft
A Rather Nutty Tale: IBM and the PC Junior
Positioning Puzzlers: MicroPro and Microsoft
We Hate You, We Really Hate You: Ed Esber, Ashton-Tate, and Siebel Systems
The Idiot Piper: OS/2 and IBM
Frenchman Eats Frog, Chokes to Death: Borland and Philippe Kahn
Brands for the Burning: Intel, Motorola, and Google
From Godzilla to Gecko: The Long, Slow Decline of Novell
Ripping PR Yarns: Microsoft and Netscape
Purple Haze All Through My Brain: The Internet and ASP Busts
The Strange Case of Dr. Open and Mr. Proprietary
On Avoiding Stupidity
Stupid Analyses
Afterword: Stupid Development Tricks
Glossary of Terms
Selected Bibliography
Index

Chapman covers some of the most famous blunders of the high tech industry...  How did Lotus 1-2-3, an industry standard, lose the battle to Microsoft Excel?  How did OS/2, a technically superior operating system to Windows, end up dying a slow, agonizing death?  What technical decisions led to Netscape's slide to irrelevance after creating the browser market?  All of those are examined here in biting, satirical detail.  I'll grant that there's an element of "everything's clear in hindsight" in play here.  Kildall's decision not to talk with IBM about CP/M (and Microsoft's subsequent win with DOS) *did* define how the PC industry played out, but how many other "no show" meetings happened during that time that never resulted in anything?  You can only add in the drama after the fact.  But the important thing here is to observe and learn.  Netscape's decision to completely rewrite their browser may have sounded OK at the time, but history shows that those types of technical decisions will likely kill your market share.  As such, you should think about Netscape when some techie guru says that a rewrite of your cash-cow product is a good idea.  It's not...

Even if you're not interested in the industry examples (and you should be), the writing is a pure pleasure.  In what other tech book can you find a suggestion like "decreased drug use by industry executives might lead to clearer thinking" and "stupidity bites"?  Chapman pulls absolutely no punches in his storytelling and analysis, and he has a excellent ability to turn a phrase and roast those corporate sacred cows.  It's not often that I audibly chuckle or laugh when reading a book (especially a business or IT book).  It happened a number of times here.

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.  Here are plenty of examples of "doomed" companies who continued to pull the trigger in hopes of missing their foot the next time.  Some time spent reading this book could help you figure out how to avoid being part of Search's 3rd edition.

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!

11/25/2006

It's a... uh... *large* tree...

Category Everything Else
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - It's a...  uh...  *large* tree...

11/25/2006

Book Review - Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy

Category Book Reviews
Like many, I'm sure you've been faced with an overwhelming or ugly task that you just keep putting off.  Brian Tracy covers some ways to get out of that rut in the book Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.  This is one of those reads that is probably best if you've never delved into self-improvement or time management books before...

Contents: Set the Table; Plan Every Day in Advance; Apply the 80/20 Rule to Everything; Consider the Consequences; Practice the ABCDE Method Continually; Focus on Key Result Areas; Obey the Law of Forced Efficiency; Prepare Thoroughly Before You Begin; Do Your Homework; Leverage Your Special Talents; Identify Your Key Constraints; Take It One Oil Barrel at a Time; Put the Pressure on Yourself; Maximize Your Personal Powers; Motivate Yourself into Action; Practice Creative Procrastination; Do the Most Difficult Task First; Slice and Dice the Task; Create Large Chunks of Time; Develop a Sense of Urgency; Single Handle Every Task; Conclusion - Putting It All Together; Learning Resources of Brian Tracy International; Index; About the Author

The "frog" mentioned here is the old adage about eating frogs first thing in the morning.  If you eat the ugliest frog first, everything else will seem easy by comparison afterwards.  All the suggestions and ideas that Tracy presents are tied back into the "frog" theme, which make the chapters a bit easier to remember and help to lend a cohesive feel to all the material.

On the positive side, these suggestions do work to help you become more efficient at whatever you're doing.  As you can probably tell from each chapter title, the concepts are pretty much common sense, but they're easy to ignore or overlook when you're in the downward spiral of overwork.  Given that each chapter is only two to four pages, it's not a laborious task to grasp the concept being presented so that you can apply it to your particular situation.  On the down side, if you've read any self-improvement or efficiency books before, most of this will be familiar to you.  I don't know how much new stuff you'll come away with.  And if you're a follower of the Getting Things Done method of personal productivity, you'll likely have issues with the reliance on lists and prioritizing your to-do list.

It's a fun, quick read, and a single idea might be all you need to make a large leap forward in your personal productivity.  Just don't expect any groundbreaking, original stuff.

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!

11/22/2006

YES, YES, YES... Lotusphere 2007 was just approved by work!

Category Lotusphere 2007
I have *so* much to be thankful for this year!  

And sorry, Paul...  you'll have to find another reason to keep me out of Ireland this year.  :)

11/22/2006

Ballmer's mouth is such an "undisclosed balance sheet liability"...

Category Microsoft
From The Inquirer:  Microsoft's Ballmer forced to eat his Linux words

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has triggered a PR nightmare for his firm over his threats to down Linux with intellectual property based lawsuits.

Not only has his new Linux chum Novell issued a statement which said it disagreed with what Steve whispered to the press, Volish spinners have had to issue a statement toning down his original comments.

It's not often that someone of Ballmer's level can have so many "engage mouth before brain" moments without getting demoted or outright fired for it.  It just amazes me that a company the size of Microsoft would allow such ill-advised comments to spew forth from this guy.  He's more a caricature of himself now than anything else, and I don't see that too many people take him seriously except for a rah-rah cheerleader ignoring reality.

11/22/2006

The best Notes/Domino analogy I've seen in a long time...

Category IBM/Lotus
Over at CodeStore, there's been a couple of threads that have turned into a whine-fest about how bad Domino is, how IBM doesn't listen, yada, yada, yada.  Personally, I haven't had the emotional energy to engage there, as it's one of those threads that just seems to polarize and tick people off.  
However, Ben Langhinrichs had an analogy in the comments that is classic and priceless...

Jake - Actually, your situation in many way mirrors the general corporate reality with respect to Notes/Domino. If we were all young and single and without responsibilities, we could bounce on over to the "next big thing" or the "latest cool technology", and we all wish that IBM could keep up and incorporate all those fresh new ideas, but we have dependents (employees and stockholders) with demands and needs, and we need to do the sensible thing. Notes/Domino in general is not always that much fun, and it certainly isn't that cool, but it does all the sensible, pragmatic stuff which we need to do, even if it is a bit stodgy or convoluted at times. To use an analogy that might be more obvious to the ladies, it is like wearing sensible shoes instead of fashionable shoes. They may not be as much fun, and few people will envy us, but there is a reason they are sensible.

This is not to say that, as you have shown many times, you can't make the sensible shoes look fancy when the occasion calls for it (e.g., AJAX or tag clouds or whatever in Domino web development). You just have to try harder, and it sucks that you can't just get flash out of the box, but such is the way of sensible stuff. The opposing point of view is that when everybody has moved on to the next cool technology, Notes/Domino will be just as unable to support it out of the box, but still robust enough to make it happen. Just sensible, even if not always exciting.

Thanks, Ben...  you nailed it.

11/21/2006

New word definitions from the Mensa Invitational...

Category Humor
(from Bas...  thanks!)

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

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.  

Here are this year's winners:

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.  

2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.  

3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future. (though this is good too)  

4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

5. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.  

6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.  

7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

 17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

 18. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an @$$hole.

11/21/2006

Practical Web services in IBM Lotus Domino 7: Writing complex Web services

Category IBM/Lotus
Julian's third and final article in his web services series...

He's goooood...  :)

11/18/2006

Book Review - Corpse Suzette by G. A. McKevett

Category Book Reviews
To get totally caught up on the Savannah Reid series, I picked up Corpse Suzette by G. A. McKevett from the library the other day.  And as per normal, the characters and story line didn't disappoint...

This installment centers around a luxury spa and a missing plastic surgeon.  Savannah's partner, Tammy, won a contest for a complete makeover and surgery session for her cousin Abigail.  Abby is quite overweight and bitter, and really wants no part of this.  She grudgingly goes along with everything, but the big name plastic surgeon goes missing the day before the big event.  The surgeon, Suzette Du Bois (and the source of the title pun), is nowhere to be found, and San Carmelita detective Dirk Coulter doesn't know if he's investigating a missing persons or a homicide case.  Without the star surgeon, the spa is sure to go under, and everyone working at the spa looks like a potential suspect if Du Bois is indeed dead.  Savannah has to balance her identity as a private detective and a (phony) reporter to get staff to talk with her, and each new revelation points to a different likely killer.  But things really get complex when Du Bois' cheating husband, a very likely suspect, turns up dead himself.  The missing Du Bois could now be a killer herself, and there's no telling where she might be and why she left...

This particular story had an ending I certainly didn't see coming.  And I pretty much had to read it all the way through in order to find out "who dun it".  The side story running through the whole novel is Abigail's outlook on her overweight body and how it's made her so negative.  With Savannah's southern charm and common sense, she's able to break Abigail out of the mental outlook she's trapped in, and actually bring about some very positive changes (without undergoing the knife).  That undercurrent is a little preachy at times, but it doesn't get in the way of a pretty good story.  A quick read, and one that was good for a few hours of mindless escape...

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!

11/17/2006

Book Review - Murder a la Mode by G. A. McKevett

Category Book Reviews
I fell behind on the most recent Savannah Reid murder mysteries, so I picked up a couple at the library the other day.  The first one I read was Murder a la Mode by G. A. McKevett.  It's like meeting up with an old friend and realizing how much you missed them...

Reid is between investigation gigs, and things are somewhat slow.  But life gets infinitely more exciting when she's given a last-second spot on a reality TV show staring her favorite romance novel hunk, Lance Roman.  It's a medieval setting where five women are trying to outlast each other to get "The Man Of My Dreams".  All the other contestants are the skinny bimbo model types, and Savannah decides that she'll just be herself with her full figure and Southern common sense.  But things take an immediate strange turn when the nasty wife of the production team is found murdered in the basement.  There's no lack of suspects, as no one much liked her.  But the husband's grief is short-lived, as the show must go on.  That is, until a gargoyle falls from the castle wall and nearly kills another contestant.  Then there's the sword accident that takes out a third...  While Savannah is still weak-kneed around Roman, she and Dirk (her former partner back in the cop days) have to try and figure out who is killing everyone, as well as what the motive might be.  And the list only gets shorter when someone else ends up injured or dead...

The fun thing about a Savannah Reid novel is the characters.  Savannah is a southern belle who is quite comfortable with her body size, but takes no grief from anyone.  Dirk, her friend and sometimes partner, is the typical clueless guy who is good at his cop/detective job, but doesn't have much of a life outside of that.  The Dirk/Savannah relationship always seems to be on the edge of crossing over from best friends to lovers, but to date it hasn't happened.  There's also a nice plot twist thrown in at the end that takes you in a direction you didn't plan on going over the last few pages.  

Overall, a nice escape from reality for awhile, and a lot of fun in the process...

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!

11/17/2006

Book Review - Lessons in Grid Computing - The System Is a Mirror by Stuart Robbins

Category Book Reviews
When I ordered this book, I expected it to be a compilation or a series of chapters on the promise of grid computing.  What I got was something far different, and much more interesting...  Lessons in Grid Computing: The System Is a Mirror by Stuart Robbins.  Definitely worth reading and pondering (yes, I do ponder once in awhile)...

Contents:
1. The Prime Theorem - Information Systems Mirror the People that Build Them
2. Interfaces - How The Work and What Happens When They Are Broken
3. Relationship Management - We Can No Longer Manage the System as Single Nodes
4. Virtualization - A Natural Stage in the Maturity Cycle of Technologies
5. Orchestration - Finding a Sensible Order Amid Too Many Complications to Count
6. Complexity - Databases, Passwords, Collaboration, Funding, Smashed Atoms, and a Professor
7. Distributed Resources - Two Types of Diffusion - Compute Resources and Human Capital
8. Flash Teams - Analysis of New Organizational Groups from Several Perspectives
9. Network as Narrative Form - Basic Building Blocks Connected to Create Various Structures
10. Identity - Finding the Needle in the Haystack and Giving It a Name
11. Organizational Architecture - How we Organize Ourselves Is as Important as What We Say and Do
12. (Theory of) Resonant Usability - Everything Is Moving to the Presentation Layer, Where Humans Interact
13. Turbulence - Creating Stability in the Face of Chaotic Disruption
14. Libraries - Two Lives, Two Windows, and the Search for Information
15. Abstraction - Lift Yourself Above the Conflicting Details and Look for Similarity
16. Insubordination as an Asset - Why You Must Allow Employees to Disagree with Your Decisions
17. The Consortium - The Multisourced IT Organization and a Software Commons - Our Future
18. The Everysphere - An Example of Synchronous Events between "Unrelated" Objects
19. Q Narratives - Understand the Story and You Will Understand the Business Process
20. Leaving Flatland - To Adjust Somehow after Learning That Your World Has Another Dimension
21. We Are The Platform - Some Final Observations about the System and the Mirror
Index

Normally I wouldn't go into that level of detail on the table of contents, but I felt the single word chapter headings didn't give a flavor for what was going on.  Robbins' premise is our information systems are mirrors of the people and groups that build them, and that management styles must change in order to build and facilitate the next level and generation of computing technology.  In other words, "the systems won't talk to each other if the people are not talking to each other."  All well and good, and you could easily spend 300 pages in a technical or philosophical discussion on that.  But Robbins has effectively written a loosely coupled novel that takes these subjects and explores them in the lives, relationships, and companies of a series of individuals.  At first, each chapter seems to be a short story on its own.  But soon, characters from previous chapters start showing up in the lives of people in later chapters.  And in fact, the last two chapters loop around and shed a whole new light on earlier interactions.  And not all chapters are even in the same style.  There's one chapter (Libraries) that maintains a story on the top half of each page, and a running monologue of the writer critiquing the story on the lower half.  Very different, but strangely effective.  

The overall theme explored in all the chapters is that a grid system of technology requires a grid system of management and interaction with others.  Without that in place, the power of grid computing will not be fully realized.  For instance, The Consortium explores a concept where a group of companies arrange to share technology and fill gaps for each other.  Company A might have plenty of disk space but not much excess computing power, where company B needs more offsite backup capacity but has CPU cycles to spare.  Might they form a grid and become more effective at no additional cost to either party?  Simple example, but a powerful concept that can be extended to human resources.  My expert DBA can work with your company on adhoc projects in his free cycles while I have access to your security specialist to help me figure out my sticky problems.  Neither of us has to hire contractors that take weeks to get hired and up to speed, and we each benefit from the combined expertise.

The book does wander into some (in my opinion) overly philosophical issues at times, but the overall effect of the book with its story format is very compelling.  The author does say that "pondering" the chapters is recommended, and I agree.  It's a book that will definitely cause to you think about how technology will be structured in the next decade and beyond...

Computer Training
Learn the latest internet techniques with computer training. Get a job in the technology field by completing your IT training. Read the results of a computer training study that emphasizes its importance. One class that is important to take is A+ training certification because it is a qualifying factor at most companies. Check out this educational site on A+ certification to get an idea of what the classes entail.

11/17/2006

Duffbert does admin! Exclude From Log setting in the server doc is great...

Category IBM/Lotus
I rely upon the domlog.nsf file for a number of things in some of my web applications.  My user base wants to know basic hit counts for various items in the applications, so I parse out relevant entries into "webhit" databases that can then be sliced and diced.  So far so good...

But have you ever looked at the domlog.nsf file for an active Domino web server?  It gets really large, really fast.  And quite frankly, I don't care that the browser had requests to four different gif files every time a particular page was loaded.  I wondered if there was a way to filter out certain types of domlog.nsf entries so that I was getting more wheat, less chaff.

Keep in mind I'm a developer by nature, not an admin...  :)

Some research took me to the Exclude From Log section in the Server document.  The URL field allows you to place certain strings that, when appearing in the URL of the log entry, cause it not to be written to domlog.nsf.  I quickly determined that I really had no need for the following entries:

*.gif
*.jpg
*.jpeg
*.bmp
*.js
*.css
*IEmen.htc
*?OpenImageResource

After the filtering kicked in, I was starting to see a lot more important content rather than a ton of junk to sift through.  Very nice...

As an experiment to see how much volume I was saving, I compared a one hour time period (1 to 2 pm) from last Friday (pre-filter) and today (post-filter).  The number of domlog.nsf entries dropped from approximately 35000 documents to 16000 documents.  Over a 50% savings in volume.  I *really* like that!

Even better, that means my daily domlog.nsf parsing agents will only have to run against 50% of the previously normal volumes.  Whoo-hoo!

You know you're a geek when something like this really makes your day...

11/17/2006

True Confessions - I'm finally implementing OpenLog...

Category IBM/Lotus
I have a confession to make...  when it comes to error handling in code, I'm very lax.  

There...  I've said it.  The guilt of listening to multiple Lotusphere speakers telling me I am a bad coder got to be too much...

Seriously, I've wanted to implement OpenLog for quite some time.  But it's one of those Covey "important but not urgent" activities that never quite seemed to get my time when it should have.  Today I decided to shelve the "urgent but not important" items for a couple of hours and set up OpenLog on our development server.  In the matter of about an hour, I had the database configured and two applications writing event messages out to it.  I have a proposal out to the developers and admins to, by the end of this month, have the OpenLog database moved to production, a replica placed on all the production application servers, and about a dozen of my applications configured to send at least start/stop times to OpenLog.  

These particular jobs are ones that process domlog.nsf each night, looking for different items from the day before.  I've had agent timeout issues before, but I've been flying somewhat blind in the overall timing and configuration of the agent scheduling.  Now with OpenLog, I'll have a much better idea as to how long each is taking, as well as a heads-up if there's timeout issues (before the user has to alert me to the problem).  I also will be motivated to start putting basic error handling in all my agents, as well as retrofitting agents in existing applications.

Putting that in place almost feels like a cleansing of the soul...  :)

Thanks again, Julian!

11/15/2006

So guess who's going back to DisneyWorld to intern?

Category Everything Else
Two words...  "revisionist history"...

Ian applied for and was accepted for an advanced internship at DisneyWorld this week.  Yes, this is the same Ian who was pretty burned out after his last tour there.  But to be fair, this is different.  He'll be working in an office doing security and background checks, which actually ties in with his major in Criminal Justice.  The pay is better, too.  1500 applied for this position, 75 were interviewed, and apparently he was the top candidate.  Good job, Ian!

The matter of logistics starts to fire up now.  The main one is transportation.  College interns can live in Disney housing and use their buses to get to work and back.  Not so in the advanced intern program.  You're on your own.  He's already lining up roommates and a housing situation, but there's the matter of the car.  As it stands right now, it looks like Ian and I will do a *major* road trip the first week in January to drive from Portland, Oregon to Orlando, Florida (those locations are about as far away as you can get from each other in the continential United States).  Yahoo says total drive time is 47 hours...  Then once we get down there, I'll take a one-way flight back to Portland.

While I'm not thrilled about 47 hours in a car over x number of days, there *is* a certain adventure-quality to it.  Maybe I'll take the laptop and do a "road trip diary"...  Two guys, four wheels, and a whole lotta pavement.  At least the trip back in June should be better weather than in January.  Actually, we'll be heading down to San Francisco and then cutting over to try and avoid winter weather in January.  In June, we'll probably take the mid-America route.  At least it won't be 47 hours of the same thing each way.

11/15/2006

"If I Did It"... this is a new low in publishing and promotion

Category Everything Else
O. J. Simpson is out promoting his new book "If I Did It", which takes a hypothetical look at how he would have killed his ex-wife and her friend "if he did it".

Is anyone else appalled by the audacity and greed at work here?  I don't care if the publisher considers this "his confession"...

What's worse is that with the legal concept of "double jeopardy", he can't be tried criminally for those murders again.  So the final chapter could be "guess what?  I *did* do it!", and there's nothing much that could be done about it.

Society is so screwed up...

11/14/2006

You can now subscribe to my book reviews directly from Amazon...

Category Book Reviews
Amazon just installed a new feature that allows you to obtain an RSS feed from a specific reviewer.  Now you never have to visit my blog again!  :)

Here's the RSS link to Duffbert's Amazon Book Reviews...

Since I post my reviews both here and on Amazon, this should address the request from readers to *just* see my reviews.

11/14/2006

Book Review - Juicing the Orange by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn

Category Book Reviews
Have you ever wondered why some ad campaigns soar and others thud?  It's definitely not the amount of money thrown at them.  In Juicing the Orange: How to Turn Creativity into a Powerful Business Advantage by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn, they argue that it comes down to creatively solving that one key business issue the client has.

Contents: Redefining Creativity in Today's Marketing Environment; Outpacing the Commoditization of Your Brand; Fighting for Your Brand's Voice; Establishing and Leveraging a Category Advantage; Overcoming a Serious Branding Problem; Reviving a Mature Consumer Brand; Reenergizing a Mature Business Brand; Choosing the Best Media for the Message; Marketing a Network of Businesses Under One Brand; Rethinking Customer Engagement; Lessons Learned; Notes; Index; About the Authors

Fallon and Senn are co-founders of Fallon Worldwide, a global advertising company.  They use a number of real-life client examples to show what it takes to run a successful advertising campaign.  Much of it starts by listening to the company and also to the people who buy (or don't buy) the products.  These insights, coupled with an examination of the industry and competition, often points to the business problem to be solved.  It may be an attempt to "uncommoditize" your offering or an effort to re-educate the buying public as to what they should or shouldn't be doing.  For instance, Purina Dog Chow was a respected brand, but sales were slumping.  After listening to pet owners, vets, breeders, and trainers, it became apparent that the brand wasn't the issue.  The buying public had mistakenly assumed that variety was good for a dog's diet, where the professionals knew that consistency is more important.  Instead of trying to push the brand, they started educating the consumer on dietary best practices.  Once informed, the consumer reverted back to a single brand of dog food, and Purina was able to once again capitalize on their strong branding.

I think the thing I appreciated most about this book was the honesty.  Not all their efforts were stunning successes, and they didn't try to gloss those over or deflect the blame.  There's risk involved in many memorable campaigns, like Skoda's ads making fun of their horrible reputation after they had reversed their engineering failures.  Even the winners were not always a sure thing or nearly got axed before they were executed (like the EDS cat herder commercial).  But after reading these stories and the underlying principles, you'll come away with a much greater appreciation for what goes into a successful marketing effort.

A fun read, and one that I really wish had been longer...  I was enjoying 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!

11/14/2006

Julian flat out rocks!

Category IBM/Lotus
His second Web Services article is now available...

11/13/2006

Book Review - Changing Minds by Howard Gardner

Category Book Reviews
I had pretty high hopes for the book Changing Minds: The Art And Science of Changing Our Own And Other People's Minds by Howard Gardner.  It looked like it would be a good book for learning the art of, well, changing peoples minds.  Instead it was an academic journey that I found difficult to draw applications from...

Contents: The Contents of the Mind; The Forms of the Mind; The Power of Early Theories; Leading a Diverse Population; Leading an Institution - How to Deal with a Uniform Population; Changing Minds Indirectly - Through Scientific Discoveries, Scholarly Breakthroughs, and Artistic Creations; Mind Changing in a Formal Setting; Mind Changing Up Close; Changing One's Own Mind; Epilogue - The Future of Mind Changing; Appendix; Notes; Index; About the Author

Gardner puts forth his theories of mind change based on three factors...  four "entities" of mind change (stories, theories, concepts, and skills), six "arenas" of mind change (from nations down to one's own person), and seven "levers" of mind change (all words that start with "re", like reason, resources, and resonance).  He uses a number of examples from history to show how ideas and people were able to move others from one mindset to another.  On the surface, it sounded like an interesting premise that I could apply in my day-to-day activities.  And at times, the writing almost succeeded.  There'd be glimpses of the person behind the writing, almost as if there was a conversation going on.  Then there'd be a retreat to academic analysis and pacing that made it a chore to slog through.  His attitudes and preconceptions are also quite evident.  For example, he seems to hold Darwin and his theories in high regard, while denigrating "fundamentalist" Christianity.  Granted, this wasn't a book on keeping an open mind, but I didn't quite want to be labeled as ignorant if I don't happen to agree with him or hold the same views in life.

Someone who is heavily into academic theory or the study of the human mind might well find this interesting.  But if you're a busy professional looking for practical insights to work with, this is going to be a real stretch...

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!

11/12/2006

Book Review - IBM Rational ClearCase, Ant, and CruiseControl: The Java Developer's Guide to Accelerating and Automating the Build Process

Category Book Reviews
If you're a Java developer, you likely have (or should have) some sort of automated build process.  IBM Rational ClearCase, Ant, and CruiseControl: The Java Developer's Guide to Accelerating and Automating the Build Process by Kevin A. Lee shows how this is done using these particular tools.

Contents:
Part 1 - Overview: Introduction to Software Build and Release Management
Part 2 - Environment: Tools of the Trade; Configuring Your SCM Environment
Part 3 - Definition: Defining Your Build and Release Scripts; Apache Ant Best Practices
Part 4 - Execution: Running Your Build Scripts; CruiseControl Best Practices
Part 5 - Reporting: Baseline and Change Request Reports; Build Reporting and Auditing
Part 6 - Release: The Art of Releasing; Release Packaging and Deployment
Part 7 - Conclusion: Putting It All Together
Glossary; Bibliography; Index

There are a multitude of tools out there that you can use to build your configuration management processes.  This title uses the IBM Rational ClearCase tool as the source code repository, and Ant/CruiseControl to control the build process.  It's not a definitive guide to any one of the software packages, but it's a very good blending of all three into a process that works well for making sure your software compiles and builds properly (and automatically).  The concepts behind why build management is important are covered well, followed by detailed instructions on how to actually use the software.  You could probably learn from this book if you had never dealt with Ant or anything else, but I get the feeling that some background in these areas would make the book a lot easier to understand.  I could see this being a great book for someone who is switching from one repository tool (like Subversion) to ClearCase, and wants to know what they need to do to keep (or begin) their build management scripts.  

Probably one of the better books out there on the overall process of automating your build process.  If you haven't taken those steps to automate your builds, you really need to do something about that...  :)

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!

11/12/2006

Book Review - Sams Teach Yourself Visual C# 2005 in 24 Hours by James Foxall

Category Book Reviews
The "in 24 Hours" series breaks down subject matter into 24 chapters that should take you around an hour to complete.  If this style is one that appeals to you, and if you're looking to figure out Visual C# 2005, then you're in luck with Sams Teach Yourself Visual C# 2005 in 24 Hours, Complete Starter Kit by James Foxall.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Visual C# Environment: Jumping in with Both Feet - A Visual C# 2005 Programming Tour; Navigating Visual C# 2005; Understanding Objects and Collections; Understanding Events
Part 2 - Building a User Interface: Building Forms - The Basics; Building Forms - Advanced Techniques; Working with Traditional Controls; Using Advanced Controls; Adding Menus and Toolbars to Forms
Part 3 - Making Things Happen - Programming: Creating and Calling Methods; Using Constants, Data Types, Variables, and Arrays; Performing Arithmetic, String Manipulation, and Date/Time Adjustments; Making Decisions in Visual C# Code; Looping for Efficiency; Debugging Your Code; Designing Objects Using Classes; Interacting with Users; Working with Graphics
Part 4 - Working with Data: Performing File Operations; Working with Text Files and the Registry; Working with a Database; Controlling Other Applications Using Automation
Part 5 - Developing Solutions and Beyond: Deploying Applications; The 10000 Foot View
Index

A nice thing about this book is it's a complete learning solution.  The CD in the back has the Express Edition of Visual C# 2005 on it, so the purchase of this book gives you the complete environment you need to get started.  Looking at the contents, you can see that the primary emphasis in the beginning is creating the graphical elements of the interface.  Most of the "programming" consists of filling in dialog and property boxes to make the interface behave as desired.  You have to get into Part 3 before you learn how to actually code the C# language.  For someone brand new to programming, this is probably a decent idea.  Get the person doing and creating something quickly, even through it many not do much of anything in an overall context.  As an experienced developer, I kept wondering "but what does the language look like and how does it work?"  Personally, I would have preferred the material to be in reverse order, but I'm possibly not the intended audience for this particular style and approach.

Even with that minor nit, I still think the material is solid.  If I knew someone who was computer-savvy but hadn't done much programming, I'd have no hesitation to suggest this title if their desire was to learn Visual C#.

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!

11/12/2006

Book Review - Managing Iterative Software Development Projects by Kurt Bittner and Ian Spence

Category Book Reviews
I can understand how iterative agile methodologies aren't always welcomed in a formal corporate IT structure.  But using the guidelines in Managing Iterative Software Development Projects by Kurt Bittner and Ian Spence can add just enough formal structure to keep the benefits and comfort the traditionalists.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Principles of Iterative Project Management: What Is Iterative Development?; How Do Iterative Projects Function?; Controlling Iterative Projects; Are You Ready for Iterative Project Management?
Part 2 - Planning and Managing An Iterative Project: A Layered Approach to Planning and Managing Iterative Projects; Overall Project Planning; Evolution and Phase Planning; Iteration Planning; Iteration, Phase, and Project Assessments; A Scalable Approach to Managing Iterative Projects; Getting Started with Iterative Project Management
Part 3 - Appendices: A Brief Introduction to Use-Case Driven Development; Outlines, Templates, and Checklists; Examples
Index

The biggest mark against typical agile methodologies like Extreme Programming is that they appear to come across as a chaotic work effort designed to get things out fast with little documentation.  That's an unrealistic oversimplification, but unfortunately that's the perception all too often.  The result is that organizations stick with waterfall-style development activities, and things take far longer (and may not ever deliver the intended system) than they should.  Bittner and Spence take the iterative style of development (short iterative releases, constant user feedback and re-evaluation) and put some of the more traditional project management checks in place.  The iterations are mapped out ahead of time, and the project is managed as a whole, with "sub-projects" contained within.  While not necessarily much different than the popular agile methodologies, it comes across as a more controlled formal process, without losing the flexibility of the iterative method of software development.  If you're a small, informal team to start with, this might feel like overkill and a move back to "the Dark Side" of project management.  But for those in formal IT shops that spend far too much time analyzing and not enough time actually building software, this could be the perfect approach to becoming agile.

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!

11/11/2006

Book Review - Programming Ruby - The Pragmatic Programmer's Guide (2nd Edition) by Dave Thomas

Category Book Reviews
If you're comfortable with a programming language like Java or C++, then Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmers' Guide, Second Edition by Dave Thomas with Chad Fowler and Andy Hunt is pretty much a single stop source for everything you'll need to know to get going with Ruby.

Contents:
Part 1 - Facets of Ruby: Getting Started; Ruby.New; Classes, Objects, and Variables; Containers, Blocks, and Iterators; Standard Types; More About Methods; Expressions; Exceptions, Catch, and Throw; Modules; Basic Input and Output; Threads and Processes; Unit Testing; When Trouble Strikes
Part 2 - Ruby In Its Setting: Ruby and Its World; Interactive Ruby Shell; Documenting Ruby; Package Management with RubyGems; Ruby and the Web; Ruby Tk; Ruby and Microsoft Windows; Extending Ruby
Part 3 - Ruby Crystallized: The Ruby Language; Duck Typing; Classes and Objects; Locking Ruby in the Safe; Reflection, ObjectSpace, and Distributed Ruby
Part 4 - Ruby Library Reference: Built-in Classes and Modules; Standard Library
Part 5 - Appendixes: Socket Library; MKMF Reference; Support; Bibliography
Index; Summary Tables

The first think I noticed is that this isn't a "beginner's guide to Ruby".  Yes, you may be a beginner to Ruby, but the material is written at a level that assumes you are comfortable with the concept of programming and application development.  As such, there's not any time wasted on fluffy stories and rabbit trails. The layout of the material is very similar to what you'd expect to find in a tutorial work for a language like Java.  The basic syntax and constructs are covered first, followed by more architectural concepts like objects and typing.  Again, if you have a background in an object-oriented programming language already, this is all going to fall into place for you quickly.  Once you learn how to work with Ruby, the book continues to retain its usefulness by including all the language reference material you'll need on a day-to-day basis.  It's complete enough to give you the answers you need, but concise enough to scan through to get ideas from classes and libraries that you may not have used or known about before.

Given Ruby's background coming from Unix-type environments, many of the examples and writings tend towards that platform (although they aren't "Unix only").  I liked the Windows chapter they included, as there are some interesting ways that you can use Ruby and COM to get some automation of applications going.  Hooking into the Windows API is an intriguing concept also, as you can start scripting some tasks you do on a regular basis.  There weren't as many "example A does ..." illustrations as I would have liked.  It seemed that most of the code snippets were bits and pieces of things that would likely be parts of larger programs.  If you're looking for something akin to a Ruby cookbook, this isn't it.

I can understand why this is considered one of the classic Ruby books on the market.  It's definitely an option to consider if and when you're ready to start moving to Ruby.

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!

11/11/2006

Open an ING DIRECT Orange Savings Account and get a $25 bonus...

Category Everything Else
I received an email the other day from ING DIRECT, an online bank that I use as our "emergency" savings account.  They are running a promotion where they will add $25 to your account if you open an account of $250 via referral.  Not a bad 10% interest rate right out of the box...  :)  And in the interest of full disclosure, I'd be credited with a $10 "referral fee".

ING DIRECT is a online bank that links your account with any other banking account you might have.  In my case, I have the account linked to my personal checking account, and all the withdrawls and deposits are done via online transfer.  What I really like is that they currently pay 4.40% interest rather than the measly .75% you often see with regular passbook accounts...

I got started with ING DIRECT via a friend on this type of promotion, and it's been an extremely profitable way to park the money I don't want to use on a day-to-day basis.  If you're interested in taking advantage of this opportunity, send me an email at duffbert+ing AT gmail.com and I'll forward a referral email to you.  Normally I wouldn't bother with something like this, but I've been really impressed with their setup and service...

11/11/2006

Book Review - The New Capitalists - How Citizen Investors Are Reshaping The Corporate Agenda

Category Book Reviews
I will admit to thinking that pension funds like CalPERS were a bunch of meddlesome activists who were throwing their weight around.  But after reading The New Capitalists: How Citizen Investors Are Reshaping The Corporate Agenda by Stephen Davis, Jon Lukomnik, and David Pitt-Watson, my views have been significantly altered.  The true owners of corporations are now stepping up and demanding accountability.

Contents:
Part 1 - The New Capitalists: The Civil Economy - The Democratization of Ownership; Business Past - The Uncivil Economy
Part 2 - The New Capitalist Circle of Accountability: The Future Corporation - A Capitalist Manifesto; Institutional Investors - Mobilizing Ownership; Boards of Directors - A New Accountability
Part 3 - The New Capitalist Ecosystem: Monitoring the Market - The Information Moguls; Accounting Standards - Escaping Brother Luca's Boxes; NGOs and Capital - Civil Society Meets the Civil Economy
Part 4 - The New Capitalist Agenda: Action Memos - The New Capitalist Agenda; Epilogue
Notes; Selected Bibliography; Index; About the Authors

The authors start out by making the point that corporations are no longer held solely by rich individuals and families.  The largest investors in many cases are mutual and pension funds that represent millions of individuals.  The capital they provide are the savings and retirement dollars of the man on the street, therefore making people like you and I the real owners in corporate America.  And rather than just being share"holders" looking for a quick trade, these large funds are becoming share"owners".  They are demanding accountability from company management and the board of directors, and they will bring about change if it doesn't happen.  The recognition of this ownership role (as well as the use of it) is leading to partnerships between groups that were formerly antagonistic towards each other.  The new Capitalist Agenda that the authors advance is the roadmap for how both of these groups can work with each other and mutually benefit from the partnership.

I used to think that corporations should be relatively free to do what they thought was necessary to conduct business.  But the abuses of Enron, WorldCom, and many others cured me of that misconceptions.  Instead of viewing these funds as drains on corporate America, I now see them as a vital balance of power.  The New Capitalists helped me to solidify those thoughts and clarify my viewpoints.  An interesting 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!

11/11/2006

Just completed my Lotusphere registration...

Category Lotusphere 2007
Now I just have to hope I can convince work to pay for some percentage of it.  :)

11/10/2006

Interesting article on Nitix Linux and Domino targeted at the Indian SMB market

Category IBM/Lotus
From ExpressComputerOnline.com: "Organisations have neither the time nor the money to struggle with complex technologies"

We wanted to give our customers a scalable, robust messaging and collaborative solution, one that’s simple and affordable. We intend to make technology as simple as we can for small and medium businesses to use.

IBM has partnered with Net Integration Technologies with a version of Nitix that includes IBM Lotus Domino Messaging Express or IBM Lotus Domino Collaboration Express. The solution is called Nitix with IBM Lotus Domino and it is priced at $598. Nitix’s role is to provide value adds to the customer’s infrastructure in terms of firewall, VPN, backup and DR.

In India we are looking at companies with 250 users for this product. However this product can scale up to 1,000 users. As of now the market is not as open in the SMB space as compared to the enterprise segment. Presently we have about 30 partners. We are targeting only SMBs and have tied up with IBM, for which we plan to appoint an additional 30 to 35 partners in the next one-and-a-half-month’s time to promote this product. As of now we have 60 to 70 installations in the Indian market and these customers are satisfied.

Great use of "in the door" strategy.  Obviously there's not a lot of margin in a full OS and email/collaboration server at $598.  But it's a great deal for the SMB, and it opens the door to *so* many more possibilities once they start using Notes/Domino.  The same concept as giving away the razor so you can sell the blades on an ongoing basis.  Only with Notes/Domino, you can easily build your own blades if you need or want to...

11/10/2006

"Vista doesn't need anti-virus software"...

Category Microsoft
From InformationWeek:  Microsoft Exec Says Vista Is So Safe He Doesn't Need Anti-Virus Software

Windows co-president Jim Allchin has said that Windows Vista, which met its release to manufacturing milestone earlier this week, is so superior to Window XP on security that he feels safe letting his own son run a PC without anti-virus software.

A prominent security analyst countered that that attitude would be fine as long as everyone using Vista was a seven-year-old.

"Don't misunderstand me, this is an escalating situation. The hackers are getting smarter, there's more at stake, and so there's just no way for us to say that some perfection has been achieved. But I can say, knowing what I know now, I feel very confident."

So confident, in fact, that his seven-year-old son's Vista PC lacks anti-virus software.

"Honestly, he doesn't have an antivirus system on his machine. His machine is locked down with parental controls, he can't download things unless it's to the places that I've said that he could do, and I'm feeling totally confident about that," Allchin said. "That is quite a statement. I couldn't say that in Windows XP SP2."

By no means am I an expert in security, operating systems, or likely anything else, for that matter.  But this has got to be one of the most ignorant, stupid statements to come out of the mouth of a Microsoft executive.  There has never been a totally secure operating system.  Never.  Period.  Every attempt by Microsoft to "focus on security" has been met with at least one well-publicized hack shortly thereafter.  Conceptually, I'm sure Vista is far better than the current Microsoft operating systems.  But to say that you can bypass anti-virus controls is like announcing a million dollar reward to the first hacker to successfully launch a Vista OS virus.  The hackers won't even care about the million.  They'll just want the street cred for being the first to bust Vista...

I have a feeling that this will rank right up there with some of Ballmer's classic lines.

11/09/2006

IBM Lotus Notes information leakage on port 1352

Category IBM/Lotus
One other thing to keep an eye out for:  IBM Lotus Notes information leakage on port 1352

Problem Andrew Christiansen contacted IBM® Lotus® to report a potential vulnerability in unauthenticated transactions using the Notes Remote Procedure Call (NRPC) protocol on port 1352.

The advisory address is as follows:
http://www.fortconsult.net/artikler/advisories.php

The NRPC protocol uses an unauthenticated transaction to look up a user who is not yet authenticated so that the user can fetch their ID file during Notes® setup. This transaction is optionally used when a user is first registered or when a roaming user connects from a new client.

As described in the advisory, it is possible to construct a list of possible user names and attempt to validate them using the unauthenticated name lookup transaction. If the user name exists and the person record contains an ID file, it is possible to download the user ID file. The attacker must then successfully execute a brute force attack on the password in order to use the ID file.

Head over to the IBM link to check out the recommended fixes for this...

11/09/2006

IBM Lotus Domino tunekrnl Privilege Escalation Vulnerabilities

Category IBM/Lotus
Just a heads-up if you're running Notes/Domino on Linux:  IBM Lotus Domino tunekrnl Privilege Escalation Vulnerabilities

Description:
Andrew Christensen has reported some vulnerabilities in IBM Lotus Domino, which can be exploited by malicious, local users to gain escalated privileges.

The vulnerabilities are caused due to boundary errors in tunekrnl, which is setuid "root". This can be exploited to cause buffer overflows by passing overly long input to the program.

Successful exploitation allows execution of arbitrary code with "root" privileges.

The vulnerabilities are reported in versions 6.x and 7.x for Linux on zSeries and version 7.x for Linux on x86 platforms.

Solution
:
Update to version 6.5.5 Fix Pack 2 (FP2) or 7.0.2.

11/09/2006

Book Review - The Medici Effect - What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation

Category Book Reviews
Got a great book the other day called The Medici Effect: What Elephants & Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation by Frans Johansson.  It about what happens when you step into that area called The Intersection...

Contents:
Part 1 - The Intersection: The Intersection - Your Best Chance To Innovate; The Rise of Intersections
Part 2 - Creating the Medici Effect: Break Down the Barriers Between Fields; How to Make the Barriers Fall; Randomly Combine Concepts; How to Find the Combinations; Ignite an Explosion of Ideas; How to Capture the Explosion
Part 3 - Making Intersectional Ideas Happen: Execute Past Your Failures; How to Succeed in the Face of Failure; Break Out of Your Network; How to Leave the Network Behind; Take Risks and Overcome Fear; How to Adopt a Balanced View of Risk; Step into the Intersection
Notes; Index; About the Author

The Medici Effect is all about the intersection of ideas, cultures, disciplines, and strategies in new and previously unexplored ways.  The term comes from the Medici family in Florence Italy in the 15th century.  A convergence of thinkers and doers all converged on Florence, which became ground zero for the Renaissance period.  New concepts thrived in that environment where people were learning and listening to each other, breaking out of their own fields to combine ideas into revolutionary new areas of study.  Johansson asserts (and correctly so, in my opinion) that innovation thrives in these "intersections" that are missed by many, but offer the best chance for breaking away from the "same old thing".

The book is extremely practical, in that all the chapters are driven by real-life examples of these intersectional thinkers.  You'll see how Richard Garfield combined the idea of collectables and gaming to come up with the mega-hit card game Magic: The Gathering.  The singer Shakira takes musical styles from widely different cultures and combines them into a sound that is all her own (and very popular to boot).  Eric Bonabeau studied the activities of ants searching for food and applied the observations to network routing and scheduling.  These and many other examples show how being a generalist (or at least open to other fields) can lead to connections not possible for highly specialized thinkers.  Johansson lays out steps you can take to place yourself in that constant flow of ideas, so that you can start seeing new possibilities in rather mundane unrelated things.

I was very impressed with this book, and have already started to look at events and ideas in a different light.  I'd recommend this read for anyone looking to spur their creativity beyond the norm...

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11/07/2006

Book Review - Pragmatic Ajax - A Web 2.0 Primer

Category Book Reviews
The Pragmatic Programmers publishing group does a great job coming up with books that cut right to the real-world aspects of technology.  Pragmatic Ajax: A Web 2.0 Primer by Justin Gehtland, Ben Galbraith, and Dion Almaer is another title that follows in that tradition...

Contents: Building Rich Internet Applications with Ajax; Creating Google Maps; Ajax in Action; Ajax Explained; Ajax Frameworks; Ajax UI - Part 1; Ajax UI - Part 2; Debugging Ajax Applications; Degradable Ajax; JSON and JSON-RPC; Server-side Framework Integration; Ajax with PHP; Ajax with Rails; Proxy-Based Ajax with DWR; ASP.NET and Atlas; Ajax in the Future and Beyond; Index

Rather than start you out with a simple Hello World example of an Ajax application, they dive right into a application they call Ajaxian Maps (a play on Google Maps).  While you don't get all the hand-holding instruction of what each Ajax component is along the way, you quickly get a sense of what power can be unleashed with these techniques.  Once you've seen it all in action (complete with code), then you start to get the nitty-gritty of what and how it all works.  That's more the tutorial section you're used to seeing in other books on the subject.  I really appreciate how they then go to the different Ajax frameworks that are out there, and that you can use to hide some of the plumbing that is part and parcel of every Ajax application.  While a number are mentioned, they spend most of their time on Dojo and Prototype.  And I also appreciated the chapter on debugging your Ajax application.  Web apps can be a bit tricky to debug, but the information in here gives you a solid foundation to move forward in that area.

Overall, one of the best "practical" books on Ajax that I've had the pleasure to review.  Everything is rooted in and tied back to real examples in use today, so it's not one of these "I took the tutorial, now what can I use it for?" books...  Very much recommended...

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11/05/2006

Book Review - The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver

Category Book Reviews
It's been awhile since I had a really good crime mystery read.  Therefore, I was excited when The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver arrived at the library.  The latest Lincoln Rhyme novel delivered just what I was looking for...  twists, turns, and plenty of forensic work.

The plotline here starts out on two tracks.  A killer nicknamed The Watchmaker is murdering people using slow torture techniques.  His signature is leaving a particular clock style at the scene. Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, his partner, are put on the case in order to solve it before more people die.  Sachs is also running her own case involving an apparent suicide that really turns out to be a murder.  The murder points to a run-down bar where a group of cops meet on a regular basis.  There's a strong chance that the cops are corrupt, so Sachs has to step carefully as it's not clear who she can trust.  The two cases converge when The Watchmaker is captured but the reality of his killings turn out to be a carefully staged plan to expose the corruption that Sachs is investigating.  But the layering of deception goes even deeper than that, and Rhyme has to continue to dig through each apparent motive and story to finally get to the core truth behind The Watchmaker...

If you want plot twists and turns, this book will definitely satisfy.  There are a number of scenes that appear to be transpiring in one fashion, only to be something else entirely.  The layering of plots by the killer never seems to end, and each new revelation ends up being the start of a new level of distraction.  A couple of the twists seemed to be a bit over the top, but not so much as to put me off the story.  It's a book I really didn't want to put down, even though I had other things I should be doing...

11/05/2006

Book Review - AJAX - Creating Web Pages with Asynchronous JavaScript and XML by Edmond Woychowsky

Category Book Reviews
AJAX: Creating Web Pages with Asynchronous JavaScript and XML by Edmond Woychowsky is one of those book that's entertaining to read, but it's structured somewhat differently that most Ajax books I've read and reviewed.

Contents: Types of Web Pages; Introducing Ajax; HTML/XHTML; JavaScript; Ajax Using HTML and JavaScript; XML; XMLHttpRequest; Ajax Using XML and XMLHttpRequest; XPath; XSLT; Ajax Using XSLT; Better Living Through Code Reuse; Traveling with Ruby on Rails; Traveling Farther with Ruby; The Essential Cross-Browser HTML DOM; Other Items of Interest; Index

Most Ajax books dive into the XMLHttpRequest object pretty quickly, since that's the key element that makes for the unique client/server interaction.  From there, the HTML, DOM, and JavaScript elements are filled in.  This book takes nearly the opposite tack.  The HTML, XML, and JavaScript elements of Ajax are presented first, and you don't get the XMLHttpRequest until you're pretty deep into the material.  As such, I almost felt like I was reading a book on web development that just happened to cover Ajax as part of the material.  One thing that this book *does* do that's not seen in most Ajax books is build the example application using a substantial amount of relational database access.  If you're looking to use Ajax in that type of programming environment or application, this book will help you tie it together a bit better than others.  From a pure readability viewpoint, it's pretty entertaining.  There's a number of literary and cinematic references that make the material light and conversational.  

I'm not sure this would be a title I'd recommend for someone's first exposure to Ajax.  It's not as focused as many other offerings out there.  But if you're looking for an additional Ajax title or one that talks more about relational database usage, this would fit the bill.

Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - Book Review - AJAX - Creating Web Pages with Asynchronous JavaScript and XML by Edmond Woychowsky
Attract new business to your web page with great web site design. Leave it up to the professional designers to develop a great look with professional web design.  Get some great tips and ideas by browsing web design portfolios. Find what you are looking for and bring your design to life with the help of a web site design directory for businesses in your area. By reviewing web design resources you can get an idea of what you would like to have for your own site.

11/05/2006

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

Category Book Reviews
I finally got to the end of my Adrian Mole stash with the book Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend.  While I enjoyed the read, it's probably best that I'm moving on to something else now.  I think that reading all of the installments back to back was a bit much...

Adrian is 30 now, and still has the emotions and mind of an adolescent.  That doesn't work so well however, when you're supporting two kids that are yours from a couple of affairs in the past.  Couple that with being broke, without much of a job, and still living with the parents, and you're not looking at a terribly successful person.  Even when good things *do* happen to Adrian, such as getting his own TV show and book deal, they get messed up.  The sidekick becomes the star, and his mom ends up having to write the book to bail him out.  Still told in diary format, you get the day-to-day emotions and angst of Adrian's struggle against the perceived injustices done to him.

I didn't find this one quite as funny and engaging as the others.  Perhaps it's because these failings at 13 are funny, and at 30 they're the sign of someone who doesn't have too much common sense.  Still, I kept turning pages to see what train wreck was about to befall those around him.  Suggestion however...  If you haven't read any of the Mole diaries, don't start here.  Start at the beginning, or most of this will make little sense.

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11/04/2006

Book Review - Ajax Design Patterns by Michael Mahemoff

Category Book Reviews
Although I think the book is mistitled, there's still a lot of value to be gleaned from Ajax Design Patterns by Michael Mahemoff.  It's almost more like a cookbook than a patterns guide...

Contents:
Part 1 - Introduction: Introducing Ajax; A Pattern-Led Tutorial; Ajax Design - Principles and Patterns
Part 2 - Foundational Technology Patterns: Ajax App; Display Manipulation; Web Remoting; Dynamic Behavior; Extended Technologies
Part 3 - Programming Patterns: Web Services; Browser-Server Dialogue; DOM Population; Code Generation and Reuse; Performance Optimization
Part 4 - Functionality and Usability Patterns: Widgets; Page Architecture; Visual Effects; Functionality
Part 5 - Development Patterns: Diagnosis; Testing
Part 6 - Appendixes: Ajax Frameworks and Libraries; Setting Up The Code Samples; Patterns and Pattern Languages; References; Index

Each of the chapters, such as Widgets, show a number of techniques and features that you can use in an Ajax application.  In this particular case, there's the Slider, Progress Indicator, Drilldown, Data Grid, Rich Text Editor, Suggestion, Live Search, and Live Command-Line.  Although each of these are presented as a "pattern", I think that's really a misuse of the term as it's commonly utilized in our industry.  Patterns are general architectures that have been developed over time to solve particular types of design issues.  A pattern called "Slider" is really just an example of how a slider widget can be used effectively in an Ajax application.  Because of the specificity of a slider, I see that as more of a recipe than a pattern.

Having cleared that gripe, it's still an effective book.  Each pattern/recipe starts with a basic usage story, followed by the problem statement, the forces that come into play, the actual solution, decisions that need to be addressed, real-world examples, alternatives to this particular feature, related patterns/recipes, and references to more information about the feature.  This particular format makes for a very comprehensive discussion of each item, more so than you'd get in a straight tutorial or reference guide.  As such, I think it makes for a good addition to the Ajax bookshelf...

As a true "patterns" guide, I think it misses what it tries to set out to do.  As a cookbook for Ajax techniques, it works quite well...

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!
 

11/04/2006

Book Review - Build Your Own Web Site the Right Way Using HTML and CSS

Category Book Reviews
Build Your Own Web Site the Right Way Using HTML & CSS by Ian Lloyd is one of those books that I'd recommend to someone who is computer savvy but a complete novice when it comes to building web pages.  It's readable and understandable to non-techie types, and it will get them started in the right way without all the old habits that have developed over the years.

Contents: Setting Up Shop; Your First Web Pages; Adding Some Style; Shaping Up with CSS; Picture This! Using Images on your Web Site; Tables - Tools for Organizing Data; Forms - Interacting with your Audience; Getting your Web Site Online; Adding a Blog to your Web Site; Pimp my Site - Cool Stuff you can Add for Free; Where to Now? What you Could Learn Next; XHTML Reference; Index

Rather than teach HTML and CSS as separate skills, Lloyd really combines the two as a single discipline.  The book starts out with basic XHTML coding to build the structure of the page.  He even goes into div tags in preparation for the next section of the book.  That section has to do with making your page look nice with CSS.  The reader learns how to position and style the content using style sheets, rather than using techniques such as bold tags and tables.  Presenting the material in this fashion means that you shouldn't develop bad habits like using HTML for presentation rather than structure.  The examples build upon each other and are consistent throughout, so you actually end up building a complete site rather than just a collection of pages that have no relationship to each other.  There's even coverage of things such as blogs and third-party tools like statistic counters.  

Overall, this is one of the better "beginner" books I've come across.  I would feel comfortable giving this to someone who was enthusiastic about learning a new skill, and I wouldn't be concerned about where they'd end up at...

Web Site Design
Generate new users to your website with great web site design. Professional designers will work with you to develop an original look by professional web design. Get some great advice and ideas by browsing web design portfolios. Bring your design to life with the help of a web design directory to find design firms in your area. By reviewing web page design resources you can learn important tips for your personal website.

11/04/2006

Book Review - Solving The PowerPoint Predicament by Tom Bunzel

Category Book Reviews
I do just enough presentations to know that I need to concentrate on improving my delivery and contents.  I was excited to get a copy of Solving the PowerPoint Predicament: Using Digital Media for Effective Communication by Tom Bunzel.  This is more than the typical "here's how PowerPoint works" book...

Contents: Planning an Effective Presentation; Implementing Professional Design Principles; Creating Dynamic Visuals; Secrets of Animation and Navigation; Using Video and Audio Effectively; Powerful Presentation Tools; The Latest Technologies - Beyond PowerPoint to the Future; Delivering a Killer Presentation; Index

Most books that talk about PowerPoint are tutorials on how to create one for your presentation.  But realistically, nearly anyone can create a PowerPoint presentation with little effort.  Whether it's effective or not is a vastly different story.  Bunzel approaches the subject from the point of view of the presentation itself...  what keeps an audience interested, what types of displays work to reinforce the message, etc.  Once you understand what makes for a good presentation, it's much easier to decide what you should and shouldn't do in PowerPoint.  Bunzel draws upon the experience of professional presenters, many who make their living using tools like PowerPoint to communicate to others.  There are also a number of additional resources and recommendations for software you can add on to your presentation to make it stand out from others (photos, videos, software add-ons, etc).  

For me, I was surprised to see how much animation can add to a presentation.  I've always avoided the cheesy fade-ins and animations that come with PowerPoint, as I was under the impression that they were more distracting than helpful.  But after reading this book, I realize that I've been limiting the possibilities.  This is one of those books that could make the difference between boring your audience or firing them up, between being a one-time speaker to being a repeat invitee...

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!

11/02/2006

Book Review - Power of Ten by Adam Zickerman

Category Book Reviews
So my wife runs across this book...  Power of 10: The Once-a-Week, Slow Motion Fitness Revolution by Adam Zickerman and Bill Schley.  She thinks it sounds interesting, and immediately requests that I read and review to let her know what I think.  Guess that's one of the drawbacks to being a reader and reviewer...  :)  Actually, it's an interesting premise, and one that might get both my wife and I working out together for the first time in our marriage.

Zickerman is a trainer who contends that you can follow his once-a-week, 20 minute program and obtain incredible results.  The program is based on ultra-slow-motion repetitions, 10 seconds on the positive movement and 10 seconds on the negative movement, for a single set of 5 to 8 reps.  That exercise should take you anywhere from 2 to 3 minutes to complete, and the goal is complete and utter muscle failure at the end.  You then move on to the next exercise for the next body part.  Five to six sets should give you a complete workout, with every main muscle group being worked harder and more deeply than you've likely ever experienced.  This total muscle fiber workout is then followed by 5 to 7 days of rest to allow the body to recover and build up from the workout.  Coupled with a sensible eating plan (also outlined in the book), the improved muscle tone and weight loss start in just 3 to 4 weeks.  The increased muscle mass leads to a higher metabolism rate, which leads to more weight loss, etc., etc., etc.  A *good* vicious circle...

It's tempting to want to write this off as another exercise fad, but I'm not quite willing to do that.  For one, the concept of slow-motion reps for total muscle involvement is a sound one, and he takes it to the extreme.  Rest is also very important in this sort of intense workout, so I understand the longer rest periods.  Still seems a bit too long to me, but experience will tell.  I personally think there needs to be *some* level of cardio in there, but you'd definitely not want to spend an hour or so every day grinding away while trying to do this also.  It'd be a recipe for over-training disaster...

The book itself is well-written and entertaining.  When you get done reading it, there's not much question about what you need to do to get started.  Trainers at your local gym may not be too enthusiastic about this new method, preferring that you show up five days a week.  But if all the conventional training wisdom worked, we wouldn't be a nation of obese people.  I'm just happy that this is something my wife would like to try, and if it's what it takes to get her into the gym, I'm all for it.  Definitely an interesting concept and well worth the read.

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11/02/2006

I'm curious to see how this Lotus Expeditor works out...

Category IBM/Lotus
From ZDNet:  IBM targets Microsoft developers with new tools

The company on Wednesday announced Lotus Expeditor, software tools designed to let developers create Web 2.0-based applications from reusable components. IBM is also teaming up with partner Mainsoft to help developers migrate their Microsoft Visual Basic.Net applications to Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) open-standards applications.

Sounds like there's a couple different things going on here.  For one, Expeditor looks to be some type of application development platform that wires together existing components.  Could be interesting...  I'm not quite sure if the Expeditor software is part of the Mainsoft effort to migrate VB.Net apps to J2EE.  Knowing the way we raked Red Bull over the coals, I certainly hope whatever IBM/Lotus comes up with in that department works a whole lot better than Microsoft's tool did.  On the other hand, we're not claiming to convert .Net and/or SharePoint apps to Notes/Domino, either...  :)

I'm sure this will be talked about more and more leading up to Lotusphere.

11/01/2006

Book Review - Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Category Book Reviews
It seems like most businesses these days try to compete by "doing more" than the other guy.  Either sell for lower cost, or have more features, etc., etc., etc...  This leads to the "red ocean", a playing field marked by bloody battles and ever-decreasing returns.  But W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne propose that a business should adopt Blue Ocean Strategy, a way to redefine the playing field and stake out an area all to yourself.

Contents:
Part 1 - Blue Ocean Strategy: Creating Blue Oceans; Analytical Tools and Frameworks
Part 2 - Formulating Blue Ocean Strategy: Reconstruct Market Boundaries; Focus on the Big Picture, Not the Numbers; Reach Beyond Existing Demand; Get the Strategic Sequence Right
Part 3 - Executing Blue Ocean Strategy: Overcome Key Organizational Hurdles; Build Execution into Strategy; Conclusion - The Sustainability and Renewal of Blue Ocean Strategy
Appendix A - A Sketch of the Historical Pattern of Blue Ocean Creation, Appendix B - Value Innovation - A Reconstructionist View of Strategy, Appendix C - The Market Dynamics of Value Innovation; Notes; Bibliography; Index; About the Authors

The authors spent time studying companies that redefined markets to figure out what they did to create a "blue ocean" market for themselves.  Companies such as Cirque du Soleil, who decided that another "circus" had nothing to offer.  But by redefining the term, eliminating high-cost elements like animals, and enhancing the theatrical experience, they were able to pull in a far different audience at a much higher premium.  Better yet, there was no other competition in that area.  Such is the goal of a blue ocean market.  Another example is Southwest Air.  Rather than comparing themselves to the cost and value structure of other airlines, they measured themselves against the transportation alternative of driving.  In order to compete on that basis, they had to minimize things traditionally valued by the carriers (meals, lounges, large planes) and maximize things sought by drivers (lower cost, frequent flights, direct destinations).  By doing so, they were able to separate themselves from the rest of the industry into an area that has delivered profits far in excess of other carriers.  

The documentation in the book on the steps and processes involved in systematically designing a blue ocean market is presented well.  It's not all luck and chance, and following these processes would greatly enhance the chance of making that next big leap.  As in most books of this type, I think there's a tendency to examine things in hindsight, making bad decisions far more obvious now than they were then.  You could follow every step put forth here, and there's still no guarantee that it all works out right.  I was also surprised at how few companies make more than one blue ocean market in their existence.  Once others move into that area, it seems like innovation then becomes very incremental.  It's as if they become invested in their new status quo, and are unable to let go to move to a new area.  There are exceptions (think Apple's Mac and also their iPod), but it seems pretty rare.

This is one of those books that most company leaders should read in order to figure out if their offerings are only meant to create more blood in the water, or whether they have the skills to swim away from everyone else in order to make their own blue ocean markets.

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11/01/2006

Book Review - Interface-Oriented Design by Ken Pugh

Category Book Reviews
When doing object-oriented programming, it's normal to dive right in to classes, methods, and properties.  In Interface-Oriented Design by Ken Pugh, the reader is presented with the premise that the interface should drive the design.  This book will make you pay a bit more attention to that area if you've overlooked it in the past...

Contents:
Part 1 - All About Interfaces: Introduction to Interfaces; Interface Contracts; Interface Ingredients; What Should Be in an Interface?; Inheritance and Interfaces; Remote Interfaces
Part 2 - Developing with Interfaces: A Little Process
Part 3 - Interfaces in the Real World: Link Checker; Web Conglomerator; Service Registry; Patterns
Appendix; Index

If you're building discrete chunks of code that can be combined with other objects to build applications, it makes a lot of sense to focus on the interface that you present to the world for your object.  With Service Oriented Architecture becoming the next buzzword, interfaces take on even more importance.  Pugh uses a "pizza ordering" example throughout the book to show how the interface to that service would be designed to take into account all the contracts that interfaces should abide by.  In fact, I think the Interface Contracts chapter was the most useful for me, as the rules are logical and appropriate for designing solid objects.  I also found the Inheritance and Interfaces chapter very useful, as it compared and contrasted the use of inheritance in your class vs. the use of interfaces.  It's common to see inheritance examples in books, but the interface examples are not as widely covered, and that's too bad.  After reading this chapter, I understood why interfaces offer so much flexibility to programming.

Some of the detailed code areas of the book are a little hard to follow, and as such it was one of those books I had to put down and come back to a few times before I worked my way through it all.  Still, there's more than enough material here to twist your thought processes around to a new way of looking at your design skills.

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