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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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12/31/2006

Time to wander off and prep for Road Trip 2007...

Category Everything Else
Tomorrow morning (hopefully relatively early), Ian, Helen, and I will start the great adventure...  We'll be off and running on our road trip from Portland Oregon to Orlando Florida.  And if all goes as expected, we'll pull into Orlando sometime either later on Friday or early Saturday.  With three drivers, we should be able to do this without too much pain and agony on the part of any one person.  The initial goal is to drive straight through from Portland to Tuscon Arizona, arriving sometime Tuesday morning.  My dad lives in Green Valley (right outside of Tuscon), so we'll stay overnight there and then hit the road again on Wednesday...  In theory, we could be in Orlando late Thursday night, but that would be *really* aggressive.

The laptop is going along for entertainment, so blogging is possible (but not promised).  That's the nice thing about a blog based on Notes/Domino, however...  I can blog all day long from the back seat if I want, and then a single wi-fi connection will catch family and friends up on our progress.

Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone, and I'll catch you all "on the road"...

12/31/2006

Looking back at 2006...

Category Everything Else
So it wasn't a terribly eventful year, but looking back through my blog I've noted the following...
  • Ian came back from his DisneyWorld internship the first week of January.  He was so ready to be back, but there was the matter of the girlfriend he met down there.  Helen's from New York state, so guess where Ian went for the summer?  New York...  And in a textbook case of revisionist history, Ian decided that Disney wasn't too bad after all, and he leaves tomorrow for a six month internship working in their HR department.  Should be an interesting road trip...
  • Cam's continuing with his quest for his high school diploma, and he hopes to find a job one of these days.  :)  He has a girlfriend too, so Sue is finally not the only female in the house most days.
  • I spoke at Lotusphere 2006 with Julian, and that went very well.  I also had the very special opportunity to speak at the Ireland User Group meeting in June.  It was my first time overseas, and I loved it.  So much so, in fact, that I'll do it again in May of 2007.
  • I did plenty of writing, too...  There's this blog (563 entries this year), the LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter, and a local business publication that will run an article of mine early in 2007.  They found me through my blog and through my Amazon reviews.  You never know where your words will end up...
  • And speaking of Amazon reviewing...  I read 212 books this year cover to cover (so much for "read less, do more") which is a new high for me.  The Amazon review total for the year was 303 books, putting me at a ranking of #97, 984 total reviews, 7721 positive review votes, 9285 total votes.  I could say again that I'll read less and do more, but why promise the impossible???
  • Work was more challenging than I usually experience.  It wasn't the technical aspects, thankfully.  It was just a lot of long hours doing technical writing that I wasn't terribly adept at.  But in terms of my Notes/Domino projects, I'm still having a lot of fun...  Nice to love what you do for a living.
  • Vacations?  Two of them...  There was the Alaskan cruise that was timed just right for decompression from work.  No expectations, no rush...  just lots of rest.  A couple weeks after that, we went down to DisneyWorld for a few days.  And as always, we loved it.  
  • And in the "I'm getting old" department, I had my first significant surgery experience.  Surgery for "bilateral inguinal hernia repair" put me on the shelf for awhile in September.  Even though the doctor said full recovery would take six weeks, I thought for sure I'd be back in a couple of days.  Yeah, right...  It was a good three weeks before I was moving semi-normally, and it *was* about six weeks before all feel relatively normal again.

Not a lot to write home about, but sometimes normalcy is good.  In this case, I'll take it.

Looking forward to 2007 and the continued interaction here...

12/31/2006

Book Review - Body 115: The mystery of the last victim of the King's Cross Fire by Paul Chambers

Category Book Reviews
Body 115: The mystery of the last victim of the King's Cross Fire by Paul Chambers is a fascinating story of London's 1987 King's Cross Underground station fire.  31 people died in the horrible blaze, but one individual remained unidentified for over 15 years.  Chambers looks at the fire and the endless efforts of England's authorities to give a name to the final victim.

Contents: Flashover; Rescue and Recovery; Identifying Characteristics; Dr. West's Examinations; The Search for Names; Inquest; The Unidentified Body; Sugita No. 5; A Lone Fingerprint; Do You Know This Man?; The Public Hearing; Vagrancy; Dentures; Accusations and Recriminations; Missing Persons; The Itinerant Seaman; The Mystery of Mr Brown; The Perfect Candidate?; Unconvential Detectives; New Leads; "Some Sort of Closure"; Epilogue; Notes and Sources; Biblography; Index

The story begins with a random (though stupid) act that occurred numerous times each day...  Someone lit up their cigarette on the wooden escalators and dropped the match off to the side.  Normally the match would go out, but this time it slipped through a crack, landed in a grease/fluff trough, and started to burn.  20 minutes later, the fire had reached the flashover point and anyone left in the area was doomed to die.  Once the fire was extinquished, the search for bodies began.  31 victims were found, and the gruesome task of identification started.  Due to the intense heat of the fire, many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition, and personal items were nothing but ashes.  Incredibly, officials were able to put names to all but one body in relatively short order.  But it was that one body, referred to as "body 115", that led to a 15 year mystery.

Rather than just a narrative about body 115, Chambers takes the reader through the different forensic techniques and their history.  Rather than just talk about matching fingerprints, you learn how fingerprinting was born and developed as a crime investigation technique.  You learn about how DNA profiling evolved and figured into this case.  There was also an attempt to recreate facial construction using individuals who broke ground in that area.  Again, you'll learn about how that all came to be.  

Body 115 is not overly dramatic, nor does it seem to suffer from 20-20 hindsight.  It's a well-written story of a horrible event in London's history, and I really couldn't put it down.

12/30/2006

Book Review - Saddam's Secrets by Georges Sada with Jim Nelson Black

Category Book Reviews
On the day after Saddam Hussein was executed for war crimes, it seems fitting to post my review of the book Saddam's Secrets: How an Iraqi General Defied & Survived Saddam Hussein by Georges Sada with Jim Nelson Black.  It's an interesting look inside Saddam's government leading up to the first Gulf War, and explains how Saddam's personal greed and lust for power led to his downfall.

Contents:
Part 1 - A World of Change; Saddam's Rise to Power; Betrayal and Revenge; A New Beginning
Part 2 - A Sudden Change of Plans; The Consequences of War; Damage Assessment; Beating the System
Part 3 - The War of Liberation; Insurgency and Survival; The Way Forward; A Time for Peace
Notes; Acknowledgments

General Georges Sada was a highly decorated fighter pilot and instructor in the Iraqi air force, and was part of Saddam Huissein's inner circle when it came to military advice.  This is somewhat unusual in that Sada wasn't an Iraqi, but an Assyrian Christian who refused to join the Baathist party.  Staying true to his beliefs and convictions, he refused to offer up advice based on what Saddam wanted to hear, but rather based on reality.  Many others had been killed for doing just that, but by God's protection Sada was able to survive Saddam's wrath and Qusay's attempts to let him rot in jail.  It's an amazing look at a powerful tyrant who relied on position and strength to enrich his own family and ignore the needs of his country.

Based on Sada's first-hand account of the events, it looks like Saddam came very close to carrying out a biological attack on Israel on one occasion.  Saddam was also obsessed with acquiring  nuclear weapons, and there's little doubt that he would have used them had it ever happened.  Sada also talks about the missing weapons of mass destruction that were the reason for the second Gulf War.  According to him, they were shipped over the borders to other countries.  Which makes you wonder who owns them now...

While you may not agree with how Saddam's trial was carried out, there's no doubt that the blood of hundreds of thousands of people are on his hands.  Saddam's Secrets shows just how evil the man was, and how the Middle East, and really the entire world, would have been incredibly unstable had he not been removed.  Well worth reading...

12/30/2006

Book Review - Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

Category Book Reviews
This book sounded like a natural fit for me...  Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose.  I read prolifically, I write...  Perfect, right?  Nope.  Guess I'll never be a writer based on this book...

Contents: Close Reading; Words; Sentences; Paragraphs; Narration; Character; Dialogue; Details; Gesture; Learning from Chekhov; Reading for Courage; Books to Be Read Immediately; Acknowledgements

I had to think a bit to figure out why this book didn't do much for me.  Prose talks about how slow reading and deconstructing of the masters can lead one to become a better writer.  By noting what works and what doesn't in terms of words, sentences, dialog and such, you can tap into the collected wisdom of the ages when it comes to putting words to paper.  That's all true, and I know that I *do* read much too fast to savor the way the construction of a story occurs.  Where I lost it however, was with the lofty ramblings about how one word was used instead of another, how a particular sentence said far more than the words contained, and how the mind of the writer was dissected along with each word.  I'm sure the greats probably did agonize over each page and paragraph.  But if I read a book in her style, I'd spend hours getting through each chapter, and the joy of reading would disappear entirely.  

I think the other part of my disconnect was that my writing tends to be nonfiction.  Nearly all her examples deal with fiction and stories, and I know that's a completely different beast when it comes to writing.  I've often said that if I wrote a novel, it'd end up being about 50 pages long as I don't do color well.  As stories are all about color (stated or implied), I don't relate to her commentary when it comes to my own work.  Yes, I *do* need to spend more time thinking about how writers construct their words.  I just can't fathom doing it at the level she presents.  

If you're seriously into writing fiction and have a more introspective nature than I do, you will probably get a whole lot more value from the time you spend with Prose.  I guess for me, I'll just have to stick to my doomed efforts to communicate with a reader...

12/29/2006

Book Review - Business Intelligence Competency Centers

Category Book Reviews
When I think of "business intelligence", I tend to envision the gathering of competitive information.  But it's really much, much more than that.  The book Business Intelligence Competency Centers: A Team Approach to Maximizing Competitive Advantage by Gloria J. Miller, Dagmar Brautigam, and Stefanie V. Gerlach explores the subject and goes into what it takes to build a Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC) at work...

Contents: Introduction; Business Intelligence in the Organization; Primary Functions of the Business Intelligence Competency Center; Planning a Business Intelligence Competency Center - Using the Information Evolution Model; Human Capital; Knowledge Processes; Culture; Infrastructure; Setting Up and Ensuring Ongoing Support; Cases from the Field; Ten Recommendations for a Highly Effective Business Intelligence Competency Center; List of Abbreviations; Additional Roles; Index

This book is authored by SAS employees, and the organization figures prominently in many of the examples and case studies.  Even so, the content doesn't turn into a 200 page advertisement for the company.  The significant issue for building a BICC (for me) was the emphasis on coordinating the use of data within the organization.  Business intelligence encompasses the use of *all* the information in your company.  The data marts that often end up as an IT resource should be the foundation of a BICC area.  The goal is to have a single authoritative source for data and answers, and to eliminate the "one-off" areas of siloed information.  The book goes into plenty of detail on how to design a BICC, what it takes to run one, and what type of changes a company will need to make to allow it to all work together.  There's also a good series of questions at the end by which you can judge your potential options and plans.

This isn't necessarily a "fun" or easy read.  It will appeal most to those who are already inclined to want to move down this path.  It could well serve as your guidebook to manage the creation of your own BICC.  And don't feel that you'll be steered down a specific software path (like SAS).  For a book that's sponsored by a software vendor, it's more software-neutral than I expected...

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12/27/2006

Book Review - Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude by Jeffrey Gitomer

Category Book Reviews
I've been gravitating more towards personal improvement books and blogs of late, and this particular book was one that I was looking forward to receiving...  Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude: How to Find, Build and Keep a YES! Attitude for a Lifetime of SUCCESS by Jeffrey Gitomer.  It may not be everyone's particular style of choice when it comes to self-improvement, but I loved this little gem...

Contents: Insight to Your Inside Attitude; Attitude Self Awareness; Attitude Actions; Attitude Attributes; Attitude Achievement; Attitude Fulfillment

Gitomer is well-known as a sales motivator, and many of his prior titles deal with the art of the sale.  While there's still a bit of a sales focus in YES!, it's more designed to be a personal motivator for your attitude in all areas of life.  In terms of content, he's similar in nature to the big names of personal improvement, such as Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn, and others.  But his style of writing is more "in your face", more "cheerleader" in look and feel, and I don't mean that in a bad way.  He uses a never-ending kaleidoscope of fonts, colors, and print layouts to get his point across.  You definitely don't get bored reading the book...

He is big on surrounding yourself with positive influences as well as structuring your schedule to get positive input each day (preferably first thing in the morning).  By consciously focusing on these things, you start to ensure that your attitude moves from (potentially) negative to positive, and then to the level of YES!.  There were a number of things that resonated with me when reading this, such as taking an hour a day to work on your skills instead of spending that time watching news (largely negative) or TV (mostly worthless).  At the end of a year, those hours will add up and make you really knowledgeable on whatever you focused on.  You might become an expert on some part of your career, or you may be an expert on American Idol.  Which is going to be more beneficial to your personal success?  I've found this to be true when it comes to my writing activities.  I've gotten much better at it (whether I'm "good" is up for debate), and I'm sure it's due to spending time at it as opposed to following the latest reality series...  I would like to apply this same focus to attitude, and see the improvement that would make both at work and home.

An excellent book, fun to read, and very thought-provoking.  And if you take his words seriously, your life will never be the same (and that's a good thing)...

12/27/2006

Book Review - Leading People by Harvard Business School Press

Category Book Reviews
Most people I run into at work use the terms "manager" and "leader" interchangeably.  But they *are* different, and Leading People by Harvard Business School Press stresses those differences (and a bit more) in a concise volume.

Contents:
Leading People - The Basics: The Challenge of Contemporary Leadership; What Makes an Effective Leader?; How to Acquire Leadership Skills; How to Craft a Vision; How to Motivate the People You Lead; How to Care for Yourself
Tips and Tools: Tools for Leading People; Test Yourself; To Learn More; Sources for Leading People; Notes

This Pocket Mentor guide is ideal for someone who's just starting to move into management, and really doesn't know much about how to be a leader.  The definition offered here is that a manager copes with complexity, while a leader copes with change.  Management is often more technically oriented, while leadership is more about vision.  Both of these roles need to possess the skill base of manager *and* leader, but that's a general dividing point that's useful to remember.  The book also goes into the different types of leaders (charismatic, transformational, pragmatic) as well as the various leadership styles (coercive, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and coaching).  All the types listed have benefits and drawbacks, and each has a time and place where they are most appropriate.  As the book is only 85 pages, it's a small investment in time to start to build your mental framework around the subject of leadership.  I wouldn't recommend this as your only leadership book by any means, nor is it intended to be such.  But as a starting point (or a remedial short course), it serves its purpose well.

12/26/2006

Book Review - I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

Category Book Reviews
I was in the mood for some good comedic writing, and this library pickup fit the bill perfectly...  I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron.  Ephron is the screenwriter for such movies as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, and Silkwood.  So without a doubt, the woman knows her way around a page.  In "I Feel Bad", she explores her thoughts on aging, parenting, and other such things.  Chapter titles include:

I Feel Bad About My Neck
I Hate My Purse
Serial Monogamy: A Memoir
On Maintenance
Blind as a Bat
Parenting in Three Stages
Moving On
Me and JFK: Now It Can Be Told
Me and Bill: The End of Love
Where I Live
The Story of My Life in 3500 Words or Less
The Lost Strudel or Le Strudel Perdu
On Rapture
What I Wish I'd Known
Considering the Alternative

Even though I'm not necessarily the correct gender to fully appreciate some of these musings, I still had a great time reading it.  Blind as a Bat applies to *anyone* who's wondering why the font size in all printed material continues to shrink.  What I Wish I'd Known has some sage advice (and I *am* feeling nostalgic for some of my 35 year old pains).  And her rantings about how the neck tells all when it comes to age had both my wife and I laughing out loud...

It's not a long read (137 pages), so the time commitment is minimal.  But the payback in some therapeutic laugher is priceless...

12/26/2006

Book Review - CNET Do-It-Yourself Mac Projects by Joli Ballew and Andrew Shalat

Category Book Reviews
So you just got a new Mac for Christmas and you're ready to explore some of the cooler things you could do with your new toy?  Check out CNET Do-It-Yourself Mac Projects by Joli Ballew and Andrew Shalat.  It will take you beyond the regular uses you may normally think of...

Contents:
Part 1 - Easy: Turn Your Mac into a Fax Machine; Turn Your Mac into a Jukebox; Keep a Backup of Your Mac's Hard Drive with Disk Utility; Stream Music Wirelessly Throughout Your Home; Put Your Favorite Photo on a T-Shirt, Apron, or Quilting Square; Fine-Tune Your Music Library; Download Free, Fun, Useful, and Crazy Widgets to Personalize Your Mac; Use Your Mac as an Information Portal with RSS Feeds and Downloadable E-Magazines; Prepare Your Used Mac and Sell It on eBay
Part 2 - Challenging: Convert Your VHS Home Movies to Digital Format; Use Your USB Webcam to Establish Video and Voice Communications with PC Users; Transfer Data from Your Old PC to Your Mac; Create Your Own Radio Broadcast; Use Automator Actions to Perform Repetitive Tasks; Control Your Mac with Your Voice; Send and Receive SMS Messages to and from Cell Phones; Connect to a Windows PC from Your Mac Using Remote Desktop Connection Client Software
Part 3 - Advanced: Create a Movie with QuickTime Pro and E-mail It to Friends and Family; Create Your Own Video Podcast; Turn Your Mac or Mac Mini into a DVD Media Center; Create a Slideshow of Your Favorite Photos and Burn It to DVD to Show on TV; Make a Mac Network that Is Friendly to PCs; Make a Copy of Your Kid's Favorite DVD Before They Destroy It; Convert Digital Movies, Videos, and DVDs for Viewing on a Video iPod
Index

If you're a die-hard Mac user, you've probably done a number of these already.  But for those who are making the switch from PC to Mac, there's a world of possibilities out there that are just waiting to be explored.  Ballew and Shalat have compiled a number of interesting projects you can try out, and the instructions are extremely easy to follow.  Each project starts out with a list of what you'll need as well as what it will cost.  That certainly beats getting halfway into something, only to find out that you don't have the critical component (and don't want to spend the money for it, either).  From there, the work is divided up into a number of discrete steps, such as gather up the hardware, make the connection, install additional software, etc.  Each step has a number of substeps that walk you through what's needed to complete everything.  Very easy to follow, and even a basic understanding of computers should be enough to get through most of these...  You can even head over to the CNET site on-line and see video versions of the same projects.  So they have both the "show me" and "tell me" learners covered...  :)

A nice gift choice for someone you know who just got a Mac, or for yourself with that check from Aunt Mary...

12/25/2006

Book Review - Security in Computing (4th Edition)

Category Book Reviews
It's easy to find security books that will tell you how to break or secure a system.  But there's not an abundance of books that go into the foundational information in great depth.  This one does just that...  Security in Computing (4th Edition) by Charles P. Pfleeger and Shari Lawrence Pfleeger.

Contents: Is There a Security Problem in Computing?; Elementary Cryptography; Program Security; Protection in General-Purpose Operating Systems; Designing Trusted Operating Systems; Database and Data Mining Security; Security in Networks; Administering Security; The Economics of Cybersecurity; Privacy in Computing; Legal and Ethical Issues in Computer Security; Cryptography Explained; Bibliography; Index

Security in Computing is probably best thought of as a "textbook" on the subject.  At 850 pages, it's pretty dense and structured similar to what you'd expect to pick up at a college bookstore.  In all the chapters, you'll be introduced to the essential terms and concepts, which then serve as the base for additional discussion of the finer details and implications.  And like most textbooks, there are exercises at the end which you can just see being assigned by your prof.  There's a strong emphasis on cryptography, as two of the chapters deal with that topic.  Without getting into minutiae and esoterica, the authors give you all the foundational information you could ask for.

This is *not* a practical hands-on treatment of software security.  If you're expecting to read up on the latest hacks and virus techniques, you'll be disappointed.  This also isn't the type of book you'll be pulling off your bookshelf every day as reference.  But if you're a security professional, you *need* to know these essential concepts.  This would be one of those "other" security books that you should own to make sure you're covering all the bases on your education.

12/25/2006

This is really gonna mess up Allchin's Vista home computers not running anti-virus software... :)

Category Microsoft
From CNNMoney.com: Report - More flaws found in Microsoft's Vista

Computer security researchers and hackers have found more flaws in Microsoft's Vista, the long-awaited update to the Windows operating system, according to a report Monday.

One programmer said it was possible to increase a user's privileges on all of the company's recent operating systems, including Vista, while a computer security firm said that it found five other vulnerabilities, including one error in the software code underlying the company's new Internet Explorer 7 browser, the New York Times reported.

<snip>

The Determina researchers told the paper they had notified Microsoft of four other flaws they had discovered, including a bug that would make it possible for an attacker to repeatedly disable a Microsoft Exchange mail server simply by sending the program an infected e-mail message.

I know I get as frustrated as others that IBM doesn't do more "in your face" marketing against Microsoft's security woes, but conversely they don't have to continually look like idiots when it comes to proclaiming the security of their software...

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12/25/2006

Book Review - Punk Marketing by Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons

Category Book Reviews
I got the chance to get an advanced reader copy of the book Punk Marketing: Get Off Your @$$ And Join The Revolution by Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons.  This should be required reading for all marketing and advertising people who still think that the world hasn't changed much...

Contents:
Prologue - Welcome to the Revolution: Don't Blame Us, Just Thank Us
1 - The Punk Marketing Manifesto: You Read - We Make Your Life Better
2 - Kill the Middlemen: Do So Before They Kill You
3 - Brand Not Bland: How to Stand Out So That You Are "The Chosen"
4 - Who's Eating Your Lunch?: Make Them Spit It Out
5 - The Sell Phone: Use and Abuse of the Cell Phone for Marketing
6 - The Captive Consumer: Do Not Try This At Home
7 - Now It's Story Time: Art of Making a Case through Storytelling
8 - Leave Me Alone, Will Ya!: Too Much Stuff, Too Little Time
9 - Lies Lies Lies - The Truth About Truth: And Factoids about Facts
10 - As Seen on TV: Place It Baby, Place It
11 - At Last, a Job in Hollywood!: You Are the Content
12 - Game On: No One Is A Loser
13 - It's More Than Just Us: Hard as That Is to Believe
Notes
Index
Last Words

Punk marketing is defined as a rebellion against tradition, an attitude that says the same old thing doesn't work any more.  Laermer and Simmons take a irreverent, no-holds-barred look at today's marketing landscape, and how consumers interact with advertising.  The days of throwing a 30 second ad on TV and calling it good are over.  There are so many media outlets clamoring for attention, and the advertising din has made it nearly impossible to stand out using traditional styles.  Furthermore, the old ad agencies no longer hold the power to control the market.  TiVOs have reworked the way people view a program, and the odds are high that your audience is fast-forwarding past your multi-million dollar ad budget.  Punk marketing looks at how nontraditional methods of marketing are needed to reach your specific markets.  Techniques such as viral marketing, cell phone interaction, and product placement in shows and movies are becoming the way to make a mark without just talking louder and longer.  But even these avenues are fraught with peril if you don't remember the attitudes of the persons being marketed to.  For instance, cell phone interaction can be great if it's participatory.  But if you just start sending repeated ads to a cell phone audience, you've sealed your fate.  Bottom line...  you have to be different in order to be seen, and you *will* make mistakes.  But standing pat on the past campaigns are becoming less effective with every passing year.

Even if you're not necessarily involved in marketing, you'll enjoy the attitude of the writers.  I was reminded often of Tom Peters' style of writing with even more raw emotion.  I knew I was in for a different read when I hit the dedication page...  "To everyone who's ever s**t-canned us...  and their spouses."  That same in-your-face attitude carries through the entire book, and it makes for a compelling read.  The fact that they nail the attitudes and habits of today's consumer makes it great...

Definitely worth preordering...

12/25/2006

Book Review - The Messenger by Daniel Silva

Category Book Reviews
This book was on my library hold list for quite awhile, and it made for pretty good reading...  The Messenger by Daniel Silva.

Gabriel Allon is a spy with the Israeli Mossad, while also maintaining his status as one of the world's best art restorers.  He's been sidelined for awhile due to a messy episode in his past, and he's trying to maintain a low profile.  He starts to get pulled back in when money links between the Saudis and terrorists are discovered, as well as a suicide and rocket attack on the Vatican.  He's completely on board when an attempted car bombing nearly kills a fellow Mossad agent.  Allon wants revenge, and he's willing to risk quite a bit to get it.  The money flow is coming from a prominent Saudi who maintains tight security and a legitimate business empire.  The main terrorist that Allon is after is linked to the Saudi, but hasn't been tracked or identified in many years.  Allon uses the Saudi's love of art to get someone on the inside of the business operation as an art director.  Her job is to identify the terrorist so that he can be taken out.  But things go awry when the Mossad tracking is discovered, and she's about to be tortured and killed for her knowledge of the plot.  Allon has to rescue her while still dealing with the terror plot that has uncovered a plan to attack the Vatican again...

As far as spy novels go, this one was pretty good.  The pacing was just about perfect, in that there were not a lot of side stories that distracted from the main plot.  This is apparently part of a series involving the Allon character, but this is the first one I've read.  While it might have been a bit more colorful if I knew the history behind the person, it didn't distract much from the enjoyment of this particular episode.  I was a little confused about how the Mossad tracking was discovered, in that it sort of just "happened".  Still, it wasn't that strange that I got hung up on it.

Based on what I saw here, I'd definitely consider going back and catching up on prior installments...

12/24/2006

Book Review - Python For Dummies by Stef Maruch and Aahz Maruch

Category Book Reviews
Python For Dummies by Stef Maruch and Aahz Maruch is a pretty good introduction to the Python language, while also stressing proper technique and style...

Contents:
Part 1 - Getting Started: Introducing Python; Getting Your Hands on the Keyboard - Using Help, Interactive Mode; and IDLE; Basic Elements and Syntax; Grand Tour of the Python Language; Working Like a Programmer
Part 2 - Building Blocks: So This Strings Walks into a Bar; Counting Your Way to Fun and Profit; Processing Lists and Tuples; Diving into Dictionaries
Part 3 - Structures: Staying in Control; Fun with Functions; Building Applications with Modules and Packages; Getting Classy; Introducing New-Style Classes; Feeling Exceptional; Tackling Some Advanced Features
Part 4 - Libraries: Using Python's Primary Services; Processing Text; Digging into Disk Data; Accessing the Internet
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten Critical Python Idioms; Ten Great Resources
Part 6 - Appendixes: Getting and Installing Python; Python Version Differences
Index

Python For Dummies starts out by explaining how Python came to be, why it's different than other languages, and what sort of applications are best suited for the Python approach.  After that's out of the way, you get coverage of each Python feature and how it works.  If you've ever gone through a book on a new programming language, you'll recognize the general layout and approach.  The authors don't assume much prior programming experience (typical for a Dummies book), so the material is approachable and the writing is conversational in tone.  I appreciated the section on "Working Like a Programmer", as it tries to establish proper development technique and mindset.  Too often, books like this just toss out the features and no thought is given to grounding the reader in style.  Unfortunately, that can lead to bad habits that are hard to correct down the road.

About the only thing I found lacking in this book were some larger, more comprehensive coding examples.  Most of the code snippets are pretty small in nature, and aren't indicative of the type of programs you'd find in the wild.  There are a couple larger examples, but I think it would have been nice to see a few more "real life" programs dissected and analyzed.  Still, for someone getting started, you'll have enough to get started with...

If you're looking for a gentle introduction to Python to get your feet wet, this might be an option you'd like to consider...

12/24/2006

Book Review - The Ruby Way (2nd Edition) by Hal Fulton

Category Book Reviews
This is a book I could see being really helpful for someone who's done the Ruby tutorial and now needs to actually *use* the language to do something...  The Ruby Way (2nd Edition) by Hal Fulton.

Contents: Ruby in Review; Working with Strings; Working with Regular Expressions; Internationalization in Ruby; Performing Numerical Calculations; Symbols and Ranges; Working with Times and Dates; Arrays, Hashes, and Other Enumerables; More Advanced Data Structures; I/O and Data Storage; OOP and Dynamic Features in Ruby; Graphical Interfaces for Ruby; Threads in Ruby; Scripting and System Administration; Ruby and Data Formats; Testing and Debugging; Packaging and Distributing Code; Network Programming; Ruby and Web Applications; Distributed Ruby; Ruby Development Tools; The Ruby Community; Index

Fulton states in the introduction that this book is not designed to be a "teach yourself Ruby" title.  Instead, it's meant to explore the power and utility of the language by means of examples.  Think of it as a *really* large cookbook-style volume.  In each chapter, there are a series of how-to sections that are practical examinations of a particular technique.  For instance, in the regular expressions chapter, you'll see sections such as using anchors, positive and negative lookahead, recursions in regular expressions, and detecting doubled words in text.  This solutions-based approach to Ruby is perfect for someone who has covered the basics via a tutorial or some other book, but now has to actually use the language to do something.  Personally, I find having a book like this is extremely valuable in making the jump from rank novice to functional developer.  I know good code when I steal it...  :)

12/23/2006

Book Review - Lifehacker by Gina Trapani

Category Book Reviews
This is a book I've been looking forward to reading for awhile, and I wasn't disappointed...  Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tricks to Turbocharge Your Day by Gina Trapani.  You should see the number of post-it notes I already have in my copy...

Contents:
Free Up Mental RAM; Firewall Your Attention; Automate Repetitive Tasks; Streamline Common Tasks; Get Your Data To Go; Control Your Email; Organize Your Stuff; Kickstart Your Productivity; Master The Web; Tune Your Computer; Index

If you're a fan of David Allen's Getting Things Done, Merlin Mann's 43Folders, or any other personal productivity sites, you'll immediately take a liking to this book.  Trapani has collected 88 different "hacks", or tricks and tools to help you be more productive in your life.  The vast majority of them are free, either as concepts to be implemented or software you can download and install.  There are ten different chapters in the book that focus on particular areas of your life, such as staying focused on the task at hand or organizing your life.  Granted, a large number of them relate to your interaction with the computer (as we spend so much time in front of one).  But don't be fooled into thinking that you won't get anything out of this book unless you're a hardcore geek.  Definitely not the case...  This also isn't a "system" where you have to adopt all 88 hacks to get any benefit from it.  Each tip stands on its own, and you can pick and choose the ones that apply to your specific situation or style.  And with productivity tips, even a single one, successfully implemented, can make a dramatic difference in your life.

It's recommended that you read this book in front of your computer.  That's a really good idea, as you'll be hitting the web constantly to check out software and sites.  If you decide not to read in proximity to your PC, then I recommend grabbing some scratch paper or post-it notes.  You'll want to flag certain pages as you go for review when you *do* get back to your digital brain.  I have a very large crop of yellow post-its sticking out the top and sides of my copy.  I'll be spending some additional time with this book, to be sure...

This is definitely one of the most enjoyable books I've read of late, and I'd recommend it with no hesitation to anyone looking to streamline their life.

12/23/2006

Book Review - Offshoring: Understanding the Emerging Global Labor Market by Diana Farrell

Category Book Reviews
Offshoring (outsourcing to a different country for lower priced labor) is one of the more contentious issues confronting Americans these days.  In the book Offshoring: Understanding the Emerging Global Labor Market by Diana Farrell, the view is taken that offshoring has far more positives for the economy than negatives.  But try telling that to the displaced worker...

Contents: Understanding offshoring; Sizing the emerging global labor market; Ensuring India's offshoring future; China's looming talent shortage; Who wins in offshoring?; The truth about foreign direct investment in emerging markets; Offshoring and beyond; Smarter offshoring; US offshoring - rethinking the response; How France and Germany can benefit from offshoring; Governing globalization; Index; About the Authors

This book is a compilation of articles from the McKinsey Global Institute, a think tank committed to examining global economic issues.  With that as their background, it's quite easy to tell that their bias isn't towards the individual, but towards countries and corporations. The main thrust is that for each dollar spent on offshoring, the economy recovers that dollar and more in terms of increased activity and spending by the developing country.  In addition, the labor pool in developing countries is far from limitless, and is constrained by a number of cultural and language issues which make for a mismatch as an offshore resource.  The main offshore players, such as India, also have to be careful as to managing their overall position.  Overdevelopment in a few key cities is causing labor shortages and wage pressures there, which in turn make them vulnerable to other offshoring options.  In other words, there are no locked-in advantages for any of the players.  If a company is considering offshoring part of their workforce, there are things to keep in mind in order to minimize the risk and maximize their return.

On one hand, I thought the book was well-written from the particular perspective of the authors.  It's difficult to be "pro-offshoring" without incurring the wrath of significant portions of the population.  On the other hand, I felt as if the individual got overlooked in their analysis.  The statistics are used in such a broad way as to ignore reality.  For instance, "from 1979 to 1999, 69 percent of US workers who lost their jobs as a result of trade in sectors other than manufacturing found new work within half a year.  On average, they received similar wages in their new jobs (though roughly half took pay cuts)."  So the reality is that 30% of workers (and let's not dwell on those in manufacturing) were still unemployed after six months, and of the 70% that *did* find other jobs, half had a lower standard of living.  It's a good thing offshoring will allow for cheaper prices...  we're going to need them to make our lower paychecks stretch further.  The authors do advocate for far better transition benefits for displaced workers that what is normally seen.  Commendable, but companies looking to cut their bottom line don't often have that level of concern for their "resources".

This is worth reading so as to get both sides of the offshoring story.  As an individual, just don't expect it to necessarily be *your* side of the issue.

12/23/2006

Book Review - Linux Administration Handbook (2nd Edition)

Category Book Reviews
Administering a Linux environment (or *any* environment, for that matter) requires you to be a master of many different skills.  But since you can't know everything, you'll need some help.  This is a classic...  Linux Administration Handbook (2nd Edition) by Evi Nemeth, Barth Snyder, and Trent R. Hein.  One of the most practical books on the subject I've seen...

Contents:
Section 1 - Basic Administration: Where to Start; Booting and Shutting Down; Rootly Powers; Controlling Processes; The Filesystem; Adding New Users; Adding a Disk; Periodic Processes; Backups; Syslog and Log Files; Software and Configuration Management
Section 2 - Networking: TCP/IP Networking; Routing; Network Hardware; DNS - The Domain Name System; The Network File System; Sharing System Files; Electronic Mail; Network Management and Debugging; Security; Web Hosting and Internet Servers
Section 3 - Bunch O' Stuff: The X Window System; Printing; Maintenance and Environment; Performance Analysis; Cooperating with Windows; Serial Devices; Drivers and the Kernel; Daemons; Management, Policy, and Politics
Index; About the Contributors; About the Authors

Now when I think of "handbook", I normally envision something relatively small and thin...  facts only.  Not this book!  At 1000 pages, it occupies a chunk of space on the bookshelf, but it's space well utilized.  Rather than regurgitating the documentation manual for all the Linux utilities, the authors cut to the chase and go straight to practical explanations.  They'll tell you, based on their experience, what works and what doesn't.  The target audience is someone who is already relatively familiar with Linux, but needs to administer it in a production environment.  There's not much wasted space with handholding and tutorials.  Furthermore, they try and cover most of the popular Linux server distributions:  Red Hat Enterprise (4.3 ES), Fedora Core (5), SUSE Linux Enterprise (10.2), Debian GNU/Linux (3.2 "Etch"), and Ubuntu (6.06).  By using icons for each distro in the margins, you can quickly focus in on specific information for your particular environment.  That seemed to make the wealth of information presented even more valuable, as I could "at a glance" figure out where I needed to read.

If your day job involves making a Linux system run smoothly, you owe it to yourself and your users to have a copy of this nearby...

12/22/2006

A little Friday humor... Christmas Cookies Recipe

Category Humor
An oldie but a goodie (Thanks, Bas...)

-----------

Christmas Cookie Recipe

1 cup of water                     1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of sugar                     1 tsp salt
1 cup of brown sugar               lemon juice
4 large eggs                       1 cup nuts
2 cups of dried fruit              1 bottle Crown Royal/Whiskey/Rum

- Sample the Liquor to check quality.

- Take a large bowl, check the Liquor again, to be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink.

- Turn on the electric mixer...Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.

- Add one teaspoon of sugar...Beat again.

- At this point it's best to make sure the Liquor is still OK, try another cup.. just in case.

- Turn off the mixer thingy.

- Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.

- Pick the frigging fruit off floor...

- Mix on the turner.

- If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers just pry it loose with a dewscriver.

- Sample the Liquor to check for tonsisticity.

- Next, sift two cups of salt, or something.... who giveshz a sheet.

- Check the Liquor.

- Now shift the lemon juice and strain the nuts.

- Add one table.

- Add a spoon of ar, or somefink.... whatever you can find.

- Greash the oven.

- Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.

- Don't forget to beat off the turner.

- Finally, throw the bowl through the window.

- Finish the bottle of Liquor.

- Make sure to put the stove in the dishwasher.


- Cherry Mistmas and a Nappy Hew Jear.

12/20/2006

My tentative Lotusphere 2007 session schedule...

Category Lotusphere 2007
As usual, there is far too much stuff to try and see, and the picking and choosing was a chore.  But with the help of Ben's session database, I came up with what I think I'll be doing.  And if I didn't choose your session, I'm really sorry.  But contrary to popular belief, I have not yet perfected cloning...

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

Sunday, January 21st

8:00 AM
JMP402 Introduction to SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and Web Services
Speakers: George Langlais, John Grosjean
SW 1-2 - Sunday  08:00am - 10:00am

10:30 AM
JMP202 "It Takes Two to Tango" - Learning Java Using the Eclipse Development Platform
Speakers: Paul Calhoun, John Kidd
SW 3-4 - Sunday  10:30am - 12:30pm

1:30 PM
JMP301 JavaScript and AJAX JumpStart
Speaker: Scott Good
SW 1-2 - Sunday  1:30pm - 3:30pm

4:00 PM
JMP302 XML + IBM Lotus Domino = DXL
Speaker: Mac Guidera
DL Americas Seminar - Sunday  4:00pm - 6:00pm

JMP203 An Ounce of Testing is Worth More Than a Pound of Cure
Speaker: Leslie Forbes
SW Pelican - Sunday  4:00pm - 6:00pm

Monday, January 22nd

11:00 AM
BP104 Worst Practices in IBM Lotus Domino Environments - Learning From the Mistakes of Others
Speakers: Bill Buchan, Paul Mooney
SW 10 - Monday  11:00am - 12:00pm

1:00 PM
AD501 Writing, Debugging and Troubleshooting IBM Lotus Domino Agents with Eclipse
Speakers: Bob Balaban, Jonathan Sir Hendrey
DL S. Hemisphere I - Monday  1:00pm - 2:00pm

2:15 PM
AD502 Creating Maintainable IBM Lotus Notes and Domino Applications - Writing Readable Code
Speaker: Rocky Oliver
DL S. Hemisphere I - Monday  2:15pm - 3:15pm

3:45 PM
BP306 How to Make IBM Lotus Domino Sites That Don't Look (or Act) Like Lotus Domino
Speakers: Scott Good, Henry Newberry
SW 10 - Monday  3:45pm - 4:45pm

5:00 PM
AD213 Integrating Presence Awareness Using IBM Lotus Sametime Toolkits
Speaker: Carl Tyler
DL S. Hemisphere IV-V - Monday  5:00pm - 6:00pm

Tuesday, January 23rd

7:00 AM
BOF202 Designers Unite: Developing Innovative Interfaces In IBM Lotus Notes
Speaker: Chris Blatnick
Y&B GH Salon VI - Tuesday  07:00am - 8:00am

8:30 AM
AD310 Using SOA and IBM Lotus Domino Web Services to Open Your IBM Lotus Notes Applications to the World
Speaker: Murray Hurvitz
SW 5-6 - Tuesday  08:30am - 9:30am

BP201 Coding Web Service Clients For IBM Lotus Domino
Speaker: Paul Calhoun
SW 1-2 - Tuesday  08:30am - 9:30am

10:00 AM
AD401 Leveraging AJAX Frameworks to Build IBM Lotus Domino Web Applications
Speakers: Vinod Seraphin, Akira Sudoh
DL N. Hemisphere D-E - Tuesday  10:00am - 11:00am

BP304 Blog It Up, Baby! Extending the New IBM Lotus Domino Blog Template
Speakers: John Vaughan, Sean Burgess
SW 5-6 - Tuesday  10:00am - 11:00am

11:15 AM
AD402 @Formulas Meet AJAX
Speaker: Jack Ratcliff
DL N. Hemisphere D-E - Tuesday  11:15am - 12:15pm

1:30 PM
INV107 IBM Lotus Notes and Domino: A Look Ahead
Speakers: Kevin Cavanaugh, Penny Scharfman
DL N. Hemisphere D-E - Tuesday  1:30pm - 2:30pm

3:00 PM
BP203 Integrating WYSIWYG Web Editors with IBM Lotus Domino
Speaker: Ben Langhinrichs
DL S. Hemisphere II - Tuesday  3:00pm - 4:00pm

ID109 IBM Lotus Notes Hints, Tips, and Tricks
Speaker: Alan Lepofsky
DL N. Hemisphere D-E - Tuesday  3:00pm - 4:00pm

4:15 PM
BP101 Designing the User Experience: Why Your Interface Matters
Speakers: Chris Blatnick, Nathan Freeman
SW 10 - Tuesday  4:15pm - 5:15pm

5:45 PM
BOF507 OpenNTF - An Open Source Community
Speaker: Bruce Elgort
Y&B GH Salon VI - Tuesday  5:45pm - 6:45pm

Wednesday, January 24th

7:00 AM
BOF205 Dynamic Interfaces with XML
Speaker: Julie Kaynor
Y&B GH Salon V - Wednesday  07:00am - 8:00am

8:30 AM
BP308 Leverage DXL and OOP to Build Powerful Tools
Speaker: Mikkel Heisterberg
SW 3-4 - Wednesday  08:30am - 9:30am

AD504 What's New in the IBM Lotus Domino Objects?
Speaker: James Cooper
DL N. Hemisphere D-E - Wednesday  08:30am - 9:30am

10:00 AM
ID212 How to "Sell" IBM Lotus Notes and Domino Inside Your Organization
Speakers: Ed Brill, Julian Robichaux
DL N. Hemisphere A-C - Wednesday  10:00am - 11:00am

11:15 AM
ID215 IBM Lotus Domino and RSS
Speakers: Mac Guidera, Dan Gurney
SW 3-4 - Wednesday  11:15am - 12:15pm

1:30 PM
AD505 DevBlast - 30 LotusScript Tips
Speaker: Bill Buchan
DL N. Hemisphere A-C - Wednesday  1:30pm - 2:30pm

BP204 Integration of OpenOffice.org and IBM Lotus Notes and Domino
Speakers: John Head, Alan Bell
SW 3-4 - Wednesday  1:30pm - 2:30pm

3:00 PM
BP101 Designing the User Experience: Why Your Interface Matters
Speakers: Chris Blatnick, Nathan Freeman
DL S. Hemisphere III - Wednesday  3:00pm - 4:00pm

4:15 PM
AD507 Leveraging the Power of Object Oriented Programming in LotusScript
Speakers: Jens-B. Augustiny, Bill Buchan
DL S. Hemisphere III - Wednesday  4:15pm - 5:15pm

BP205 The Integration Revolution: Microsoft Office 2007 with IBM Lotus Notes and Domino
Speaker: John Head
SW 1-2 - Wednesday  4:15pm - 5:15pm

Thursday, January 25th

7:00 AM
BOF508 The Lotus Software Blogging Community (Not Just Bloggers!)
Speaker: Ed Brill
Y&B GH Salon VII - Wednesday  5:45pm - 6:45pm

8:30 AM
AD303 Extreme Makeover – IBM Lotus Domino Application Edition
Speaker: Ray Bilyk
DL S. Hemisphere II - Thursday  08:30am - 9:30am

AD509 Using Web Services Features in IBM Lotus Notes and Domino
Speakers: Steve Nikopoulos, Tom Carriker
DL S. Hemisphere III - Thursday  08:30am - 9:30am

BP305 From Retro to Rocket: Retooling R5 apps to IBM Lotus Notes and Domino 7 and Beyond
Speakers: Jack Dausman, Allison Pang
SW 5-6 - Thursday  08:30am - 9:30am

10:00 AM
BP311 The Great Code Giveaway - Web 2.0 Edition
Speakers: Rob Novak, Viktor Krantz
DL S. Hemisphere III - Thursday  10:00am - 11:00am

BP312 Trap and Manage Your Errors Easily, Efficiently and Reliably
Speakers: Rob McDonagh, Julian Robichaux
DL S. Hemisphere II - Thursday  10:00am - 11:00am

11:15 AM
Open

12/19/2006

Book Review - A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink

Category Book Reviews
I'd heard quite a bit of buzz surrounding the book A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age by Daniel H. Pink, so I decided to check it out at the library.  He makes a strong case for the emergence of "right-brained" individuals in what could be called the post-information age, a.k.a, the "conceptual age".

Contents:
Part 1 - The Conceptual Age: Right Brain Rising; Abundance, Asia, and Automation; High Concept, High Touch
Part 2 - The Six Senses: Design; Story; Symphony; Empathy; Play; Meaning
Afterword; Notes; Acknowledgements; Index

According to Pink, there are three trends that have reshaped the information age.  Abundance means that we have a wide array of goods at affordable prices.  Asia denotes the rise of information workers in developing countries who can do process labor (information worker tasks) at wages far less than we make.  And automation is the term that stands for the power of the computer, and its ability to take on more and more tasks that can be distilled to a set routine.  The information age has provided the fertile ground for all of these, but the side effect is that these very benefits have made the "left-brained" information worker less of a resource and more of a commodity.  Pink contends that the skills needed to prosper now involve the blending of left- *and* right-brained thinking, the ability to see the whole and make connections in new and innovative ways.  The person who does the coding can be outsourced.  The person who comes up with the ideas and sees the trends is the one that an organization needs in order to innovate and differentiate themselves.  People don't want the raw facts any more....  There's too much of that.  They're looking for "stories", for a blending of facts into a relevant application.  The people who can provide those stories are the ones that will be in demand.

I found this book fascinating.  While I don't necessarily agree that the information age is over, I do agree that the ability to bridge the technical and emotional aspect of life is becoming increasingly important.  At the end of each one of the senses chapter, there's a portfolio section that outlines a number of steps you can take to explore that area in more depth.  I now have a list of (what else?) books that look very interesting and that should take me a bit further down this road.

A recommended read for anyone looking to make sense of what life skills you need to stand out in today's world...

12/18/2006

Book Review - The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

Category Book Reviews
I've been fascinated by books chronicling disease research in less-modern times.  I heard about Steve Johnson's The Ghost Map and looked forward to reading about London's fight against cholera in the mid-1800's.  While interesting, I didn't find this one as compelling as other books in the genre.

Johnson looks at the cholera outbreak in London during the summer of 1854.  This epidemic killed an incredible number of people in just a few days, and the medical establishment had no clue as to how it was spreading in the city.  The prevailing view was that it was spread via "miasma", or bad smells.  But one doctor, John Snow, is convinced that the disease has another cause, and does groundbreaking research to make the case that the spread is due to bad water at a particular pump in the city.  He has an ally in Henry Whitehead, a reverend in the area who is seeing a number of his parishioners dying of this vicious disease.  The story moves from the actual deaths to the struggle of Snow and Whitehead to prove the cause and save lives.

I think what I found so compelling in other books like this were the stories of the victims and survivors.  Johnson does cover some of that material, but the focus seems to be more on the fight between the establishment and Snow.  The last quarter of the book then dwells on how all this relates to the world in which we now live, how diseases like avian flu could be the cholera of the developed world in the 21st century.  While important information deserving of consideration, I found myself less driven to follow along the path he was going.  Had I come in with the right mindset (pondering the implications and applications to the present time), I might have gotten more out of this...

12/16/2006

Book Review - HTML and XHTML: The Definitive Guide (6th Edition)

Category Book Reviews
If you do web development, you should have one solid HTML/XHTML reference guide on your bookshelf.  This one ranks up there...  HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide (6th Edition) by Chuck Musciano and Bill Kennedy.  Although the CSS and XML sections are a little light, the core HTML and XHTML information is all you could ask for.

Contents: HTML, XHTML, and the World Wide Web; Quick Start; Anatomy of an HTML Document; Text Basics; Rules, Images, and Multimedia; Links and Webs; Formatted Lists; Cascading Style Sheets; Forms; Tables; Frames; Executable Content; Dynamic Documents; Mobile Devices; XML; XHTML; Tips, Tricks, and Hacks; HTML Grammar; HTML/XHTML Tag Quick Reference; Cascading Style Sheet Properties Quick Reference; The HTML 4.01 DTD; The XHTML 1.0 DTD; Character Entities; Color Names and Values; Netscape Layout Extensions; Index

This book does a good job in blending a bit of tutorial information with a lot of reference material.  All the HTML tags that exist are documented, along with whether it's an extension/deprecated/archaic, what type of browser support is involved in using the tag, and all the attributes and locations where it can be used.  I found that I was catching some tags and nuances that I had overlooked in the past, even after having done web coding for many, many years.  The book also has material on Cascading Style Sheets and XML, but I found that less useful than the HTML contents.  The basics of those two technologies are covered, but not at the level I'd want in a definitive guide.  While I think that you can't ignore CSS in an HTML book any more, I just wouldn't recommend this as an "all-in-one" book to cover both.  But other than that, this is a book that I'll want to keep around for those strange times when my HTML tags just aren't working like they're supposed to...

12/16/2006

Book Review - Java Generics and Collections by Maurice Naftalin and Philip Wadler

Category Book Reviews
This is one of the most in-depth books on the Java topics of generics and collections...  Java Generics and Collections, by Maurice Naftalin and Philip Wadler.  It covers the gamut from the basics to advanced...

Contents:
Part 1 - Generics: Introduction; Subtyping and Wildcards; Comparison and Bounds; Declarations; Evolution, Not Revolution; Reification; Reflection; Effective Generics; Design Patterns
Part 2 - Collections: The Main Interfaces of the Java Collections Framework; Preliminaries; The Collection Interface; Sets; Queues; Lists; Maps; The Collections Class; Index

There have been quite a few books out that deal with the new Java 5.0 features, of which generics and collections are the featured items.  But few go past the basics and common usage.  Naftalin and Wadler devote this entire book to just those new features, which means they can spend a lot more time diving into the guts of how they work.  There are nice "before generics" and "after generics" comparisons in the one section, so you can see how current coding styles can be enhanced and modified.  I also liked how some basic design patterns were used to show how generics can be incorporated into standard designs.  The collections material is just as helpful.  Each type of collection is covered in detail, both for the reference on how it's coded as well as diagrams to show the architecture of that type of list.  Again, when you get done with the section, there shouldn't be too many questions and issues surrounding collections that you can't answer or at least figure out.

Solid material, and definitely a title you'll want to have around when you start playing around with generics and collections...

12/16/2006

Book Review - UAT Defined: A Guide to Practical User Acceptance Testing by Rob Cimperman

Category Book Reviews
I was recently asked if I would be interested in reviewing one of Addison Wesley's Digital Short Cut titles...  UAT Defined: A Guide to Practical User Acceptance Testing by Rob Cimperman.  I'm not normally chomping at the bit to read or review digital titles, as the laptop does not sit well on my chest when I'm reading in bed.  :)  But after viewing this one, I may have to alter my reading habits.  I like the concept and this particular title...

Contents: Introduction; Defining UAT - What It Is...  and What It Is Not; Test Planning - Setting the Stage for UAT Success; Building the Team - Transforming Users into Testers; Executing UAT - Tracking and Reporting; Mitigating Risk - Your Primary Responsibility

The Digital Short Cut series are "books" designed to be downloaded and read from your computer or other digital device.  The format is perfect for subjects or niches that aren't big enough for a full book treatment, but are far larger than your typical article in a computer magazine or website.  In UAT Defined, Cimperman focuses on the user acceptance testing process that should be part and parcel of your software development cycle.  He starts by defining the role and use of user acceptance testing, and why it often is confused with system testing.  Where system testing is meant to find system flaws and bugs, user acceptance testing is designed to confirm that the system meets the requirements that were spelled out at the start of the project, and that the customer will accept the software for use.  By the time you get to this point, you shouldn't be finding buttons that don't work and functions that cause crashes.  The goal should be to make sure that the business functions and processes are covered with the delivered software.  The remainder of the chapters flesh out a structure for effective user acceptance testing, as well as tracking of the results.  At 119 pages, it's a relatively quick read with no real fluff...  just direct information related to the subject at hand.

Cimperman also understands the reality of how UAT often plays out in the organization.  When quality is low and deliverables are failing, a UAT program is often conceived as the answer.  As that function is built up, application design improves and things get better.  But after a time, UAT is seen as an overhead that could be cut to save costs.  As the importance of the function declines due to cutbacks, quality suffers.  Which leads to a reaction of adding or staffing up a UAT section, and so on.  Since he understands how businesses oscillate on this issue, he also knows that developing a UAT is not a "once and done" effort.  It's something that requires hard work to implement and diligence to maintain.

If you're at the stage where you know you need something more than just a simple "here you go" to your customers, this title can help.  And if you've stayed away from digital editions of titles because you have a paper fetish, consider rethinking it.  You could be missing some useful information, like I was...

12/15/2006

Book Review - Coaching People: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges

Category Book Reviews
Coaching employees is one of those things that is more easily said than done.  And it's far too easy to mistake managing with coaching.  I found Harvard Business School Press' Pocket Mentor series book Coaching People: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges an excellent concise guide for  successfully coaching people with optimal results.

Contents: What Is Coaching? How to Know When to Coach; How to Develop Coaching Skills; How to Manage a Coaching Session; How to Customize Your Coaching; Tools for Coaching People; Test Yourself; To Learn More; Sources for Coaching People; Notes

In a mere 69 pages, the writers pack in more useful information than books three and four times the size.  Everything is geared towards practicality and immediate application, so the book delivers value from the very first pages.  The distinction between what is, and what isn't, coaching is a perfect beginning, and sets the stage for what follows.  Coaching is not behavior correction or task assignment.  It's a mutual sharing to help someone reach their goals and improve their effectiveness.  The coach doesn't have to know all the answers, but they do need to be willing to listen, share, and work with the coachee to make changes and monitor the results.  The book also contains a number of practical worksheets and checklists to gauge the effectiveness of both parties.  This may take the form of a checklist to assess your listening skills, or an action plan to outline a plan and follow up on the outcomes.

For the price and size, there's no reason this shouldn't be included as part of someone's package of materials when they are promoted to a position of management.  And even if you're not officially management, you may still be an informal leader in your sphere of influence.  Working on your personal coaching skills will only help to solidify that role and enhance your effectiveness with others.  If you've never given any thought to how you can help others achieve their goals, start here...

12/15/2006

Book Review - Six Sigma for Technical Processes by Clyde M. Creveling

Category Book Reviews
Having read a fair number of business books over the years, I am somewhat aware of Six Sigma concepts.  But as a software developer, it's never been anything I was directly involved with in terms of process.  When I saw the book Six Sigma for Technical Processes: An Overview for R&D Executives, Technical Leaders, and Engineering Managers by Clyde M. Creveling, I thought that I might be able to learn more about Six Sigma for my technical pursuits.  Unfortunately, I don't think I was the intended audience.  The book's not bad, it's just that I didn't have the prerequisite knowledge to tackle it.

Contents: Introduction to Six Sigma for Technical Processes; Scorecards for Risk Management in Technical Processes; Project Management in Technical Processes; Strategic Product and Technology Portfolio Renewal Process; Strategic Research and Technology Development Process; Tactical Product Commercialization Process; Fast Track Commercialization; Operational Post-Launch Engineering Support Processes; Future Trends in Six Sigma and Technical Processes; Glossary; Index

The Six Sigma program is most commonly associated with manufacturing entities that want to lower defects, increase quality, and reduce manufacturing time.  Through a very rigorous and defined process, the manufacturing process is tracked, measured, and adjusted to get the desired results.  Very formal, but successful if you're willing to commit to it.  Six Sigma for Technical Processes covers the application of the process to research and development, as well as the task of bringing new products to market.  Rather than just building something that "seems" to be cool or is based on the hunch of some senior executive, Six Sigma processes are set in place to review each product idea from inception to launch.  These processes assess risk, ability to produce, customer needs, and a host of other variables that can make or break your product.  Six Sigma doesn't substitute for the creativity in coming up with ideas (although there are processes for generating potential products), but it systematically evaluates the ones you do have in order to focus efforts on ideas that have the best chance for success.

The book assumes a comprehensive understanding of Six Sigma concepts before you start reading.  The introduction isn't so much "what's Six Sigma" as it is "how does Six Sigma fit into technical design and research".  Acronyms abound throughout the book, and you're best off already knowing what they mean.  Otherwise, you will get lost pretty quickly.  And if you're not familiar with things like Monte Carlo simulations and analysis of means/variances, you won't get up to speed here.  That background is assumed.  As such, this book is really intended for the Six Sigma practitioner who is ready to apply the program to more than just the manufacturing arena.

If you fit the right criteria, I can see where this book would give you everything you'd need to move in the desired direction.  It's just that I didn't fit that criteria...  :)

12/14/2006

Book Review - The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen

Category Book Reviews
This book had been on my library hold list for quite awhile...  The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen.  It's a supernatural crime thriller that was definitely worth the wait...

Medical examiner Maura Isles and Detective Jane Rizzoli pull a murder case that is extremely gruesome...  The body is chopped up and mutilated, and the different parts are posed throughout the house.  In addition, there are upside-down crosses and a Latin phrase for I Have Sinned written on the wall.  This seemingly demonic murder is just the beginning, however.  Isles and Rizzoli track the clues down and find a strange group of people who are "experts" in tracking down evil...  The Mephisto Club.  The leader of the group, Anthony Sansone, is convinced that this killing is from an ancient race of beings called "The Watchers", ones who personify pure evil, and a group that has been trying to eliminate those like Sansone for centuries. Rizzoli wants to write them all off as a bunch of deranged amateur sleuths, but finds that Sansone has more pull with law enforcement than she knows about.  It also becomes personal when Isles appears to be the next target of the killer.  A related killing to the first one leads the team to a deserted house that holds a cursed past, one complete with the death and disappearance of an entire family with no leads as to where the sole surviving family member might be.  And if the survivor doesn't want to be found, it's even more difficult.  She too believes in evil, and being on the run is the only way she can keep it from claiming her just as it did her father, mother, and brother...

There's a few story-lines going on in the book, and they all converge at the end for a rather twisted finish.  The story of the current day killings and investigation is the main thread, with flashbacks to the family who lived in the house.  Those flashbacks are also mixed in with the survivor's current activities as she tries to stay one step ahead of whoever is out to kill her just as the others were killed.  Once the house is discovered with it's own dead body, all the pieces fall into place in terms of who, why, and when.  Then it's just a matter of having the end game played out.  It seems like quite a few of my "fun" reads lately have been anything but that.  This one, however, didn't disappoint.  Gerritsen writes a tight thriller with an interesting premise, and my biggest disappointment was not being able to keep my eyes open last night to finish the last 30 pages or so.  

For those who like a little demonic activity thrown into their crime thriller reading, this is a sure bet...

12/12/2006

The December issue of the LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter is now available...

Category LotusUserGroup.org
Either in your inboxes or here...

12/10/2006

AHL outs Exchange for Lotus

Category IBM/Lotus
From ZDNet Austrailia: AHL outs Exchange for Lotus

Nice to see coverage of a consolidation going the "right" way...  :)

Microsoft's Exchange collaboration platform will no longer be used by Amalgamated Holdings (AHL), as the diversified Australian company has started standardising its operations on IBM's rival software Lotus Notes.

AHL is in the entertainment, hospitality, tourism and leisure industries through assets such as Greater Union cinemas, film processing firm Atlab, hotel chain Rydges and Sydney's State Theatre.

"Half the business ran Notes already -- the Rydges Hotels ran Notes, and the other half of the business ran Exchange. They've decided to bring it all into a Notes environment," IMC sales director Matt Dixon told ZDNet Australia via telephone last week.

"They've got corporate-wide business applications that run on Notes as well, so it sort of made sense to bring the mail across from Exchange to have everything run on the same platform."

12/09/2006

Book Review - The Second Cycle - Winning the War Against Bureaucracy by Lars Kolind

Category Book Reviews
I've always been fascinated about how leading-edge companies lose their focus and turn into lumbering dinosaurs.  Lars Kolind tackles that subject in The Second Cycle: Winning the War Against Bureaucracy.  The information he covers is practical and geared to get you back on track (or keep you from going down that road in the first place).

Contents: The First Cycle - Why Success Breeds Failure; The Second Cycle - A New Paradigm; Meaning; Partnership; From Hierarchy To Collaboration; Leadership; The Toolbox; Three Live Case Studies; Conclusion; How Oticon Entered The Second Cycle; Index

Kolind was responsible for taking Oticon, a market-leading hearing aid manufacturer which had stumbled badly, and turning them back around to lead the industry once again.  He uses the Oticon experience as a real-life case study about what happens to put a company into a bureaucracy-bound death spiral.  When companies are successful, they tend to get protective and attached to the product and processes that got them there.  Arrogance and waste also enter the picture, and the company view of the industry becomes very self-centered.  Success breeds the "we know best" attitude, and pretty soon the reality of the marketplace does not match the reality the company thinks it sees.  This starts the downhill cycle, and it doesn't take long to destroy what was built up over many years or decades.  Kolind makes the case that a new form of innovation is needed to return the company to its creative roots and cut through the ingrained bureaucracy that takes hold over time.  The "toolbox" chapter looks at a number of indexes and processes he used to determine where the company is at in the first cycle, as well as the steps to take to drop the "same old, same old" patterns and replace them with ones that foster the innovation and collaboration needed to compete in today's market.

The book is grounded in practicality, not lofty sounding platitudes.  The tools he created and used are not part of some "master system", but ideas and concepts you can take and adapt for your own specific situation.  Because it's not a "step 1-2-3" system, each tool doesn't necessarily build on the one prior to it.  But it's not very difficult to figure out which one(s) would be more applicable to a specific situation.  There's no magic wand, and it's definitely easier to halt a slide when it first starts, instead of once it gets to rock-bottom.  But diligent application of Kolind's ideas can make a forceful impact on your company's future.

12/09/2006

Book Review - Ethics and Technology (2nd Edition) by Herman T. Tavani

Category Book Reviews
It seems that every time you turn around, there's some news story in the industry press about the ethics or legality of some aspect of technology.  To help myself understand some of the underlying issues a bit better, I decided to read and review Ethics & Technology: Ethical Issues in an Age of Information and Communication Technology (2nd Edition) by Herman T. Tavani.  While not the easiest or most riveting read, I did come away with a better appreciation for the field of ethics.

Contents: Introduction To Cyberethics - Concepts, Perspectives, and Methodological Frameworks; Ethical Concepts and Ethical Theories - Establishing and Justifying a Moral System; Critical Thinking Skills and Logical Arguments - Tools for Evaluating Cyberethics Issues; Professional Ethics, Codes of Conducts, and Moral Responsibility; Privacy and Cyberspace; Security in Cyberspace; Cybercrime and Cyberrelated Crimes; Intellectual Property Disputes in Cyberspace; Regulating Commerce and Speech in Cyberspace; Social Inclusion, The Digital Divide, and the Transformation of Work - The Impact for Class, Race, and Gender; Community and Identity in Cyberspace - Ethical Aspects of Virtual-Reality and Artificial-Intelligence Technologies; Pervasive Computing and Converging Technologies - Ethical Aspects of Ambient Intelligence, Bioinformatics, and Nanocomputing; Glossary; Index

Having never taken a class on ethics or critical thinking, I found the first three chapters interesting.  Tavani builds the foundation of how to define and describe cyberethics, as well as how to determine and argue the case of what is "moral".  These chapters are a concise course on how to build an argument and support it properly.  After those three chapters are done, the concepts that were built are used to examine many different facets of computers and life, and how ethics come into play and shape how we think.  There are the subjects you'd expect, like digital rights and security.  But he also covers issues that I don't normally think of when dwelling on computers and ethics...  gender, socioeconomic classes, race.  First you have to determine if indeed those things are ethical issues, and if so, what responsibility do you have in those areas.

On one hand, the book is thorough and detailed.  It's meant to be a textbook on the subject, and as such it delivers.  These are the types of academic discussions and debates that you'd expect in a formal setting.  I was somewhat disappointed, however, when it came to conclusions.  Both sides of each issue were debated (even when I didn't even think there *was* another side), but resolution was elusive.  I suppose I'm supposed to take this information and draw my own conclusions, but instead I came away with "so everything's right *and* wrong".  Since I tend to want to get down to practical issues rather than deal with abstracts, I found it hard to come to any resolution at the end of each chapter.

Definitely good material, and worth reading.  But it will make you work and think.

12/09/2006

Book Review - The Budapest Connection by Dr. Henry C. Lee and Jerry Labriola, MD

Category Book Reviews
I ran out of recreational reading material awhile back, so I picked this up from the library based on the synopsis and cover...  The Budapest Connection by Dr. Henry C. Lee & Jerry Labriola, MD.  What I hoped for was a medical/forensic thriller, but what I got was something that never did grab ahold of my interest...

The main character, Dr. Henry Liu, is a forensic scientist who heads up a small international crime-solving group called GIFT - Global Interactive Forensics Team.  This group has regular day jobs, but they are also available to head anywhere in the world on a private jet and consult on high-profile, difficult, or sensitive cases.  GIFT has been called in to a crime scene here involving three dead girls on a waterfront pier.  The nude bodies are arranged in a triangle, with one guy glued open and the other glued shut.  Liu reluctantly takes the lead on the case, since it's relatively close to where he lives.  The arrangement of the bodies suggest a Triad killing, and other clues link it to a Mafia matter.  A chance request from a Hungarian official to consult on a crime also touches on this case, and it means that there are Eastern European elements in play.  In all likelihood the case involves trafficking in young women ("white slavery"), and there are some people who would prefer that Liu just ignore everything he's seen and let things alone.  But of course, that's not going to happen, regardless of how many brushes with death he has...

Having never read any of Lee and Labriola's other works of non-fiction, I came into this with no preconceptions.  After a short time, I figured I must have stepped into the middle of a series as there was a lot of background I didn't seem to have on the characters.  Only after finishing the book did I find out this was a first fictional effort by the two, which makes this even harder to understand.  Other than the Liu character, everyone else was just filler with no depth.  One of the team members is making overt sexual advances towards Lui (for what reason I don't know), but he's turning her down (again, not quite sure why).  Lui travels with a bodyguard and driver during the day, but I must have missed why.  The ending is a bit strange, and I never quite had a firm grasp of who the players were and why they were part of the international crime group.  All in all, I was turning pages, but without much enthusiasm...

This could have the makings of a decent series, but the character development needs to improve dramatically (in my opinion).  I'd like to care about and understand the characters, but in this story I certainly didn't...

12/07/2006

Selling Notes in my organization... Notes-Worthy News blog

Category IBM/Lotus
I'm a firm believer that everyone has to be an "evangelist" for their platform, especially if you're using Notes/Domino and you're fending off Microsoft FUD.  But for whatever reason, much of the positive news about Notes/Domino doesn't always make it to the eyes of the greater IT population and/or the CxO decision makers.  To help reverse that trend, I started a new blog within my organization today called "Notes-Worthy News".  It's based on the new IBM blogging template shipped in ND7 (and it does run on ND6.5...), and it will be focused on product news, analyst reports, and position statements from IBM.  In addition, I will be highlighting some of the high-profile applications used by our company that "just happen" to be running on Notes/Domino.  Maybe even a few customer testimonials thrown in for good measure...  :)

This will serve a couple of purposes.  First, it will be a good point to consolidate all that positive information you hear but never seem to have at hand when you're trying to sell your solutions.  If I can build up the readership within our IT area and catch the attention of a few decision makers, I may not have to engage in defense of Notes as often.  Some things we do work very well, and they don't draw attention because they don't cause problems...

The second purpose is to show how the Notes/Domino platform can offer a blogging solution within minutes, using a fully-supported platform in our enterprise at no additional cost.  Of course, that means I'll have to learn more about the myriad number of options in the configuration panels, but so far I've been up and running with very little effort.

I'll let you all know how it goes...  Even if it does nothing but serve our Notes developer and administration area, it'll still be worth it.  But I truly hope that we'll be able to pick up a readership and educate them more on what and where we're going with Domino.

Let's see...  OpenLog last month, the IBM blogging template this month...  Next up is DominoWiki...  :)

12/07/2006

Book Review - Web 2.0 Principles and Best Practices by John Musser

Category Book Reviews
The term "Web 2.0" has started to become the hot new label slapped on internet sites to make them "cool".  As such, the words have become somewhat muddled as far as what it actually means.  Since O'Reilly came up with the term, perhaps it's best to go back to that source to discover what Web 2.0 really means.  John Musser (with Tim O'Reilly and the O'Reilly Radar team) does just that in the O'Reilly Radar report Web 2.0 Principles and Best Practices.  I found this really cuts through the hype and confusion...

Contents:
Executive Summary
Section 1 - Market Drivers of Web 2.0: Six Key Market Drivers
Section 2 - Ingredients of Web 2.0 Success: The Eight Core Patterns; Web 2.0 Patterns and Practices Quick Reference
Section 3 - Web 2.0 Exemplars: Web 2.0 Profile - Amazon.com; Web 2.0 Profile - Flickr.com
Section 4 - Web 2.0 Assessment
Appendix A - Web 2.0 Reading List
Appendix B - Technologies of Web 2.0
Endnotes

Because this is a 100 page report and not a book that's fluffed out to 300 pages, you are getting core information distilled down to the essentials.  Musser starts out with a summary that explains how the web has changed in terms of applications and usage, broken down into eight core patterns.  Using real examples of companies like MySpace.com, eBay, and many others, he notes how the time of static web pages and PC-only access has gone by the wayside.  

Section 1 goes into what is driving this dramatic change in thinking and interaction.  The global nature of customers, "always-on" connectivity, and connectivity everywhere are a few of the forces that are shaping the evolution and direction of how sites have to interact with users.  Section 2 gets into the meat of the eight patterns, such as harnessing collective intelligence, "data is the next 'Intel Inside'", and rich user experiences.  Each of the eight patterns has an overview, benefits, best practices, issues & debates, misconceptions, Enterprise 2.0 recommendations, and related patterns.  So in the space of six to eight pages, you get a complete understanding of how Web 2.0 has changed the thinking behind what's important, as well as real examples (good and bad) of sites who have made it happen.  I found myself thinking about sites like Amazon and eBay much differently, knowing how they've implemented many of these patterns.  Their actions have truly revolutionized what the web is all about.

Section 3 goes more in depth, examining Amazon and Flickr in a case study format.  Amazon went from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and learned along the way.  Flickr started at the Web 2.0 mark and incorporated much of the learning that was taking place.  Again, these studies made me think about my own work and how it measures up to these standards.  Section 4, the assessment section, is where you ask yourself a number of questions related to each of the patterns.  These questions are designed to help you think about your company and product in terms of Web 2.0 principles and best practices, and guides you towards the changes in thinking that will help you make the transition to today's leading edge practices.

Overall, I thought this was a great read.  Concise, logical, and backed up by excellent examples.  If I were going to try and explain the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon to someone, this report is where I'd like to start...

12/06/2006

Book Review - The Well-Timed Strategy by Peter Navarro

Category Book Reviews
There are plenty of business books that tell you *what* to do and *how* to do it, but few which talk about *when*.  That's the key difference in Peter Navarro's The Well Timed Strategy: Managing the Business Cycle for Competitive Advantage.  By understanding the timing of business cycles, a business person can make moves that position them well for the coming up- or down-tick in the economy.

Contents: Strategies and Tactics of the Master Cyclist Executive; Countercycling Your Capital Expenditures; The Acquisitive Master Cyclist Buys Low and Sells High; The Art of "Cherry Picking" and Other Well-Timed Tactics of the Human Resource Manager; "Macromanaging" Your Production, Inventory, and Supply Chain; Master Cyclist Marketing Through the Business Cycle Seasons; Pricing the Cycle and Managing Credit and Account Receivables; Proactive Profiting from Oil Price Spikes, Interest Rate Hikes, and Exchange Rate Risks; When You Can't Beat the Business Cycle, Hedge Its Risks!; Surviving - and Prospering from - the Economic Shocks of War, Terrorism, Drought, and Disease; The Master Cyclist's Favorite Forecasting Tools; Concluding Thoughts; The Master Cyclist Project's Treasure Trove of Data and All-Star Team; A Business Cycle Primer; Notes; Index

Navarro argues that a close examination of the business cycle (becoming a Master Cyclist) can help you make the right choices for your business in terms of when to do certain things.  Based on economic forecasting tools (covered near the end), it's possible to have a better than average view into where the economy is headed, whether it's a recession or an expansion.  These indicators, when followed, almost appear to make you look like a bit of a contrarian.  If a booming economy has signs of an oncoming recession, the cyclist will take actions like dramatically cutting back on capital expenditures.  Most other businesses will still be spending like there's no tomorrow.  But when the economy turns, these spending companies are caught with large debt payments with high interest.  The cyclist, however, is sitting on a pile of cash at a time when cash flow is king.  Continuing to follow the indicators can show when the recession is starting to ease.  The spending companies are all cut to the bone at that point, while the cyclist is able to start expansion with little competition and cut-rate pricing.  Same with advertising...  Spending on advertising at the peak of the recession can often be more effective as everyone else has cut their ad budgets.  Fewer voices, more visibility.  Then when the economy turns, guess who has mind share heading into the recovery?

I think the points made here are very valid and bear consideration.  I will admit to thinking on more than one occasion that "hindsight is 20-20" when reading some of his examples.  Granted, many of the bone-headed moves *were* just plain ill-advised and stupid.  But at the time, you don't have the luxury of knowing how the story turns out.  Also, many of the company demises outlined here are presented in such a way that it makes it look as if there was a single reason for the collapse.  In reality, company failures are normally a combination of things, not just a single failure to do (or not do) something.  In any case, the point remains that there are economic signals available to executives that are more often right than wrong.  Ignoring them because you have a hunch or you've been reading your own press releases doesn't usually turn out to your advantage.

This is an interesting book to add to your business bookshelf, and it can definitely help you chart your course in these strange economic times...

12/06/2006

And that leaves *what* option, Microsoft?

Category Microsoft
From eWeek:  Microsoft Issues Word Zero-Day Attack Alert

Microsoft on Dec. 5 warned that an unpatched vulnerability in its Word software program is being used in targeted, zero-day attacks.

A security advisory from the Redmond, Wash., company said the flaw can be exploited if a user simply opens a rigged Word document.

Affected software versions include Microsoft Word 2000, Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Word Viewer 2003, Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac and Microsoft Word 2004 v. X for Mac. The Microsoft Works 2004, 2005 and 2006 suites are also affected because they include Microsoft Word.

Ah...  but my favorite part...

There are no pre-patch workarounds available. Microsoft suggests that users "not open or save Word files," even from trusted sources. "As a best practice, users should always exercise extreme caution when opening unsolicited attachments from both known and unknown sources," the company said.

Now I realize that the use of quotes there means that perhaps the statement from Microsoft and the reporter's spin are somewhat different.  But still...  Don't open or save Word files?  Do they have a clue as to what happens in corporations millions of times a day???

Can anyone say OpenOffice.org?

12/06/2006

A shout-out to the Lotusphere registrar...

Category Lotusphere 2007
Since work is sending me to Lotusphere this year, I had to cancel my personal reservation and have it booked through the Education Pack.  While I knew there was a $250 cancellation fee, I figured that was far better than $1895 out of pocket.  Today I emailed the IBM person we had been working with for Lotusphere registration, and asked for a confirmation letter.  I mentioned my personal cancellation fee in passing, but in terms of feeling that was a small price to pay...

I got an email back shortly after that, stating that she would be resending the confirmation email.  She also said she credited me the cancellation fee, and that my credit card would be adjusted appropriately...

Totally unexpected, and completely appreciated.

Thanks!

12/04/2006

Being poor...

Category Everything Else
There but for the grace of God go I...

Being poor

12/04/2006

It amazes me that Microsoft can say that with a straight face...

Category Microsoft
From ZDNet:  Microsoft denies flaw in Vista

Sophos says that malware from 2004 will execute in Vista, and Microsoft says it's social engineering, not an OS flaw.  Fine...  But what gets me is this little bit further down...

Social engineering relies on tricking users into executing malicious code themselves -- a user has to open an infected attachment on an e-mail for these worms to infect the system. Windows Mail Client -- the Vista replacement to Outlook -- will block the worms, but businesses running third-party e-mail clients such as Lotus Notes, or webmail such as Yahoo or GoogleMail, could be vulnerable to social-engineering attacks.

Microsoft stopped short of blaming third-party e-mail clients for the problem, but said that User Account Control (UAC) -- which limits users' ability to install applications unless they have administrator privileges -- can "help to provide better protections". IT managers can run Vista end-user accounts with limited "standard user" privileges, rather than administrator privileges. Users are also given security prompts when attempting to run executable code.

"In those cases where other e-mail clients may not have made the same aggressive security design decisions as Microsoft did with Windows Mail Client, other protections such as UAC can apply still to help provide better protections against email-based social-engineering attacks," Microsoft's statement said.

If they were "agressive security design decisions", it'll be a first...  :)

12/03/2006

Any feedback on Endeca or Autonomy search engines in the Notes/Domino environment?

Category Software Development
In addition to looking at the Google search engine for "my friend's" project, the Endeca and Autonomy search platforms are also being considered.  I'm wondering if any of the Domino readers out there have had experiences with these companies in terms of indexing Notes/Domino databases?

12/03/2006

Spent far too much time with computers this weekend...

Category Everything Else
I pretty much have had my butt planted in front of computers all weekend long.  I was assisting on a work project, so I was logged in remotely from morning 'till late evening.  It wasn't 100% focus, more of a monitoring for activity when scheduled.  I rebuilt my desktop machine over the last two days also.  I've been having problems with computer locking up numerous times a day, but I can't recreate the exact situation that causes it.  I thought that perhaps by restoring to the original factory condition, I'd eliminate any software issues causing the problem.  It's still happening, so now I have to suspect something in terms of hardware...  

I hate hardware issues...

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