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

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

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Book Review - Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense

Category Book Reviews
So how much of that business "conventional wisdom" is really true (or even wise)?  Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton make a great case for evidence-based management in the book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management.

Part One - Setting the Stage: Why Every Company Needs Evidence-Based Management; How to Practice Evidence-Based Management
Part Two - Dangerous Half-Truths About Managing People and Organizations: Is Work Fundamentally Different from the Rest of Life and Should It Be?; Do the Best Organizations Have the Best People?; Do Financial Incentives Drive Company Performance?; Strategy Is Destiny?; Change or Die?; Are Great Leaders in Control of Their Companies?
Part Three - From Evidence to Action: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management
Notes; Acknowledgments; Index; About the Authors

The main gist of Hard Fact is that the common and conventional wisdom so often parroted in business today isn't really based on hard evidence to back it up.  Some platitudes have been repeated and taught so often that it's just accepted as true, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.  Pfeffer and Sutton take a look at how these half-truths are acted upon, why they can be persuasive (and wrong), and how the evidence points to a very different conclusion, if only people would step back and question the assumptions.  For instance, my favorite chapter was the one on leaders being in control of their companies.  You can find thousands of books on leadership, all showing how leader X was decisive, wise, executed flawlessly, and otherwise walked on water.  This general view of "great leaders" has lead to the ever-elusive search for the savior CEO, exorbitant compensation packages, and general neglect of the business in favor of personalities.  The hard evidence shows that often the success of a company is more based on other factors, such as the market, people, systems in place, or just plain "being in the right place at the right time".  True, solid management is a factor, but not as much as common wisdom would dictate.  This chapter, as well as the others, will make you sit back and question your assumptions.  Which, you really should be doing anyway...

You may not agree with all their conclusions, but the underlying premise is dead on.  Just because everyone assumes it to be true, doesn't make it so.  This should be required reading for senior management in all organizations...


So What About That MSFT Stock Price, Steve?

Category Microsoft
Mary Jo Foley of Microsoft Watch has an interesting excerpt from an interview that Fortune did with Ballmer.  Basically, I think this goes back to my post the other day about Microsoft's lack of focus of late.  It's looking increasingly like Microsoft is trying to be everything to everybody, and in the process will be nothing to anybody...


Under the Hood of IBM Workplace Collaboration Services article

Category IBM/Lotus
The illustrious Bob Balaban has a very nice article out titled Under the Hood of IBM Workplace Collaboration Services at the Sys-Con Australia site.  Well worth the read...


So now Windows Desktop Search can index your Lotus Notes emails...

Category Microsoft

This Protocol Handler allows you to easily find your Lotus Notes e-mail and search the contents within.

By downloading this Add-in, your locally stored Lotus Notes e-mail will be indexed by Windows Desktop Search when your PC is idle, or when you select to ‘Index Now’. Once the index is updated you can immediately search your Lotus Notes e-mail.

All I can say is I hope this was developed by a different group than the Red Bull team...  :)

I'll be interested to hear from anyone who tries this out.  For obvious reasons, I don't care to be a guinea pig for MS on this one.


Book Review - Everyware by Adam Greenfield

Category Book Reviews
Everyone has their fantasies and dreams of what "ubiquitous computing", or "ubicomp" for short, would be.  Adam Greenfield shares his thoughts and observations in Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing.

Contents: What is everyware?; How is everyware different from what we're used to?; What's driving the emergence of everyware?; What are the issues we need to be aware of?; Who gets to determine the shape of everyware?; When do we need to begin preparing for everyware?; How might we safeguard our prerogatives in an everyware world?; Conclusion; Index

The book is made up of 81 short "thesis", or general thoughts/musings by Greenfield on the subject of ubicomp, also referred to as "everyware".  This isn't a technical "how to" book on connecting the different parts of a wireless network together.  Rather, he delves into the social, ethical, and logistical issues (among others) about what it would be like to live in an always-connected, pervasive computing world.  For example, what are the privacy issues surrounding a house that is designed to monitor an elderly person for health issues?  Do you (or should you) have the ability to decide who gets notified in case of an emergency, or is that out of your hands?  Can you opt out of the monitoring?  And if something doesn't work, where is the point of failure?  Hardware?  Software?  Interaction between the two?  If you're in the mood to be contemplative and think about issues, the book will spur some interesting twists for you.  The only problem I had with the book is that Greenfield has you reaching for your dictionary every couple of pages to look up some new word that you've never heard of before.  The concepts and issues are great, but it was almost as if he wanted to make the book as intellectual as possible, and it seemed to change the focus from the ideas to the author's skill in writing and turning a phrase.  On the other hand, you'll learn a lot of new words...  :)

Good material, and worth reading.  Just don't approach it from a "how to" angle, and you'll enjoy it a lot more...


Book Review - Paranoia by Joseph Finder

Category Book Reviews
Even though I really like the novels of Joseph Finder, somehow I neglected to go back and read Paranoia.  Big mistake...  This is a great novel...

Adam Cassidy pulls a stunt at Wyatt, a telecom high-tech firm, that gets him in hot water.  Facing potential jail time, he agrees to become a corporate spy for Wyatt by getting hired at their arch-rival firm, Trion Systems.  With a stellar cover story and massive prepping, he quickly works his way up the ladder and finds himself the special assistant to the CEO of Trion.  Wyatt is pushing hard for more and more information, and wants the full details on a top secret project that promises to disrupt the industry.  But Cassidy is becoming disenchanted with the arrangement and is identifying himself with Trion.  When he tries to sever his ties with Wyatt, he finds out just how deep the hook has been set.  Basically, he's completely compromised regardless of what he does.  The only way out is to set up Wyatt's CEO with stolen goods, but he has to risk everything to pull off the theft.  And when things go wrong, he finds out that *nothing* is what he thought it was...

This is a book that is enjoyable on so many levels.  The corporate espionage plot draws you in, and you realize how much is at stake.  The characters are all pretty believable, and identifying with the choices Cassidy makes under duress is so easy to do.  And just when you think you have everything figured out, it all shifts.  I found myself reading faster and faster as I got to the end because the suspense was killing me.  This is one of the best novels I've read in awhile, and it firmly cements Finder as a top author in my book.


Book Review - Forced Ranking by Dick Grote

Category Book Reviews
If you want to start an emotional and heated discussion at work, just mention the term "forced ranking" when it comes to employee reviews.  There'll be no lack of opinions.  Having lived through the "rank and yank" system of Enron, I thought it would be good to get a positive view of the process from an expert.  The book Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work by Dick Grote does an excellent job presenting the way the system is supposed to work.

Contents: The Differentiation of Talent; Risks and Rewards; Getting Started; Getting the Mechanics Right; Forced Ranking - Behind The Scenes; Forced Distribution; Getting the Truth into Performance Management; Memos and Scripts for Managers; FAQs About the Forced Ranking System; Forced Ranking and the Law; Notes; Further Reading; Index; About The Author

Forced Ranking is the process whereby the employees in a certain grouping or level are compared against their peers to determine the relative worst/best of the group.  This may take the form of "top 10/bottom 10 percent", "20/70/10 percent", "quartiling", or a number of other ranking systems.  The net effect is to focus your development efforts on those that show the most promise for the future, and to transfer/replace those who aren't measuring up to the rest of the group.  These types of forced ranking systems eliminates the tendency for supervisors to rate everyone above average, thereby rewarding mediocrity and demoralizing the top players.  This is also different than forced distribution, where performance reviews have to fall into some distribution curve in order to dole out merit raises and bonuses.  Grote does an excellent job in explaining and documenting how the process works, how it benefits companies, and showing examples of where it's worked to perfection.  He's also not ignorant of the fact that it can fail if not done properly, and he addresses those issues in a clear and concise manner.

My personal view is that I like these types of systems.  I feel the strongest performers *should* be rewarded and given opportunities to continue their growth.  Conversely, watching people coast and get above average reviews doesn't sit well with me.  Enron's "rank and yank" system was one where I fared well, but it was a failure due to back room deal making and political decisions.  Fortunately for me and my team, we had a boss who was really good at promoting his group.  I'm currently at a company that recently started this type of calibration process.  Again, while it makes a number of people nervous ("Am I going to get fired?"), I think this is one of the best ways to show people exactly where they stand, as well as allow them to determine how hard they want to work within the organization to achieve the rank they want.

Excellent book, and one that both managers and workers involved in forced ranking systems should read.  It beats getting just the "gloom and doom" bias commonly associated with the system, and it helps you figure out how to maximize your own value to the organization.


Book Review - RFID Toys by Amal Graafstra

Category Book Reviews
RFID is one of the hot technologies these days, but it still seems to be something more suited to business applications and such.  Amal Graafstra has bridged that gap in RFID Toys and shows how you can use RFID technology in your everyday life in order to make some things more simple (and to impress your other geek friends).

Contents: Getting Started with RFID; Getting in the Front Door; Stepping into Your Car; Logging into Windows XP Using RFID; Building an RFID-Enabled Safe; Taking Inventory with an RFID-Enabled Smart Shelf; Letting Fido in with an RFID Pet Door; Tracking Employees and Time with Active RFID; Monitoring Assets and Sending Alerts; The Three R's - Reading, wRiting, and RFID; Extreme RFID; Hardware Overview; Index

Graafstra is well qualified to speak on this subject.  He's had himself "chipped" in order to control a number of the devices in his home (like his door locks).  There's a little bit of background on how RFID works, and then he dives right into the projects.  In order to build the devices he talks about, you really need to be adept at using tools like soldiering irons, xacto knives, drills, and so on.  In most cases, you'll be hacking existing devices and modifying their form factor in order to integrate them into other things.  For instance, logging onto Windows XP via RFID involve opening up a keyboard, clearing out an area in the wristrest, modifying the RFID device to fit the smaller area, and then all the associated wiring involved in tying it all together.  If you're not comfortable with hardware, you'll likely find many of these projects rather daunting.  And bottom line, I'm not letting *anyone* cut me open to put in an RFID chip.  :)

This is a very good book if you're looking to understand the bridge between RFID theory and implementation.  Even if you don't build any of the devices, you'll start to get an idea as to how RFID might change the way we live our lives on a daily basis.


Book Review - The Truth About Getting Your Point Across by Lonnie Pacelli

Category Book Reviews
If you're part of the corporate world, you should recognize that communication skills are at the top of the "must have" list in order to succeed.  Lonnie Pacelli has written a compact guide that can help improve that area of your professional existence...  The Truth About Getting Your Point Across... And Nothing But the Truth.

Contents: The Truth About You and Your Recipient; The Truth About Setting Direction; The Truth About Running Meetings; The Truth About Developing Effective Presentations; The Truth About Writing Status Reports; The Truth About Brainstorming; The Truth About Problem Solving; The Truth About Interviewing; The Truth About Giving Feedback; The Truth About Being A Good Listener; The Truth About Informal Communications; The Truth About Influencing Those Who Don't Work For You; The Truth About Communicating Globally; References

The book is divided up into 59 two to four page "truths" that cover an aspect of communication.  For instance, in the Communicating Globally chapter, #59 is "Just Because They Can Speak Your Native Tongue Doesn't Mean They Understand Everything You Say".  Oh, so true.  He then relates an incident from his experience speaking in front of a Japanese group that appeared to understand what he was presenting.  Only later he found out that he spoke too quickly and used a number of unfamiliar terms.  From that, he came up with a number of suggestions to help you avoid that same problem.  Short, valuable, and to the point.  Personally, I really dug into the Developing Effective Presentations chapter.  Some things I've already done right, like Truth #18 - Entertaining An Audience Breeds Effective Learning.  But other things I need to take to heart, like #21 - Develop Content Once - Use It A Thousand Times.  I need to make sure I have my presentation material organized such that it's easy to reuse and adapt to different audiences.

There's a lot of value in this book, and you'll walk away with a few new things to work on every time you read it.  Definitely a good volume to have on your bookshelf.


Book Review - Essential Business Process Modeling by Michael Havey

Category Book Reviews
Trying to document and model the business processes in your organization is an ever-changing target.  There has been a lot of work in the industry lately to come up with a standard way to do that.  Michael Havey attempts to cover that work in the book Essential Business Process Modeling.

Part 1 - Concepts: Introduction to Business Process Modeling; Prescription For a Good BPM Architecture; The Scenic Tour of Process Theory; Process Design Patterns
Part 2 - Standards: Business Process Execution Language (BPEL); BPMI Standards - BPMN and BPML; The Workflow Management Coalition (WFMC); World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) - Choreography; Other BPM Models
Part 3 - Examples; Example - Human Workflow In Insurance Claims Processing; Example - Enterprise Message Broker; Key BPM Acronyms; Index

This isn't necessarily one of those subjects that sets my heart racing as a developer.  There are a lot of acronyms and standards from different agencies all trying to interact and coordinate a very difficult subject.  But I can appreciate the work that Havey has done in trying to tie together all this material into a single volume.  I got the most out of the concepts section, as that's where I am in my experience/knowledge of BPM.  Once you get beyond that level of understanding, the second part can add the details on the specific standards that come into play here.  I also appreciate the real-life examples at the end, as it puts some flesh on the theoretical concepts.

Although not a book I'd pick up for an entertaining technical read, it does work well for its intended purpose.


Book Review - Mind Performance Hacks by Ron Hale-Evans

Category Book Reviews
Do you want to stretch your mind's capabilities and understand how to get the most out of that thing we call a brain?  Ron Hale-Evans has written a good O'Reilly Hacks book titled Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain.

Content: Memory; Information Processing; Creativity; Math; Decision Making; Communication; Clarity; Mental Fitness; Index

In this book, you'll find 75 hacks/tips/tricks that you can use to take your memory, focus, and concentration to a new level.  Some are complex and require some practice, like #5 - Use the Major System.  This is a series of mnemonics that you can use to help remember large numbers of related and unrelated items.  There are also alternatives to that system, such as the Dominic System (#6).  Either way, you may find that something like this can help you dramatically improve your "remember-y".  Other hacks are more in line of making changes in your lifestyle that will affect your cognitive abilities, such as #70 - Get a Good Night's Sleep and #71 - Navigate Around the Post-Lunch Dip.  Simple steps you can take to avoid mental pitfalls.  I particularly enjoyed #27 - Play Mind Music.  I finally understand why I find that I can't listen to a podcast and program at the same time.  Very good stuff...

You won't adopt and use every one of these hacks, nor does the author intend you to do so.  But you can think of this as a toolbox that you can use to improve your performance and understand things that often are unconsciously occurring to us on a regular basis.  A very good read...


An air of "desperation" around Microsoft?

Category None
Watching the media feeding frenzy the last couple of days about the slipped Windows Vista software got me thinking about Microsoft's behavior the last two years or so.  The company made their fortune on Office and Windows, and they are true cash cows.  Those software monopolies pull in so much money that Microsoft can afford to offer just about everything else for free (or at a loss) and *still* have an enormous cash flow.  It's understandable why Gates and Company would feel threatened by open source software like Linux and OpenOffice, because you might have to be fiscally responsible if those packages make a dent in your market.  You might even have to compete on level ground.

So with all that, it seems like their actions over the last two years smack of desperation.  "Focus" is supposed to be something positive for a corporation, and Microsoft has none.  They are running after any and every market that seems to make money in order to get in on the action.  Game consoles?  Yup.  Digital music? Yup.  Search and advertising?  Gimme some of that!  But let's not stop at the consumer market.  Let's throw everything we can at any development technology that moves.  Let's announce that we are going to be bigger/faster/better at everything we put our foot in.  And let's not stop at the desktop.  We want the data center, too.  Internet Explorer's forgotten.  Firefox making inroads?  Hey!  Internet Explorer is strategic!  And we *rock* at collaboration...  better than IBM and their "legacy" software that is going to die any day now ('cuz we said so)...  And *how* many more "evangelists" did we add to the payroll this month to say good things about us in public?

Hey, you know you've got problems when even Daniel Lyons is roasting your chestnuts over an open fire...  (Microsoft Vista: Not 'People Ready')

Every year, Gates gives some keynote address at a Microsoft conference where he talks about his digital vision of the future, and how Microsoft is going to take us all there (provided the demo doesn't crash).  It'd be interesting to get clips of these talks over the last five to ten years and really see how "visionary" Bill is.  The media isn't real good at follow-up, and we the audience have attention spans about the same as a gnat.  Therefore, I think that every new speech is treated as proclamations from on high, with no attempt to see how the track record of prior proclamations stack up.  My guess is it's not a pretty picture...

I get the feeling that Microsoft is entering an "end game" phase of their corporate history...  one that marks the end of "business as usual" and sets the stage for a transition that may not be a welcome one.  No one company stays on top forever, or survives long term without gut-wrenching changes during their corporate life.  Microsoft created the game and set the rules over the last couple of decades.  Now the rules, as well as the game itself, are changing and Microsoft seems to be holding on desperately to what got them to this stage.  And the strategy of being all things to all markets in order to survive has never been a successful one...


So now we're running on Blogsphere 2.5.1...

Category Blogging
I'm ashamed to admit I was still running a 1.2 beta version of Blogsphere until last night.  But I had made so many tweaks that I wasn't sure things would still work if I upgraded.  But I decided to just throw caution to the wind, download the new template, back up the old one, and go for it.  With the exception of some JavaScript code I was running to hide my mail address, everything worked pretty well.  A small number of tweaks remain, but overall everything seems to be humming along...


Book Review - Cell by Stephen King

Category Book Reviews

What would happen to society if a mental "reboot" signal was sent through the cell phone system all at once?  That's the premise of Stephen King's latest, Cell.

Clay Riddell is celebrating his first major cartoon contract, and is looking forward to getting home to his wife and son.  But all that changes in an instant when a strange signal is sent out to all the cell phones on the cellular system.  Those who placed a call or were on the phone are turned into mindless deranged zombies who are reduced to basic functions, like searching for food.  Riddell finds a few others who weren't affected by "The Pulse", and they head off to see if his son and wife are OK.  In the beginning, his group is able to avoid detection because the "phoners" all react predictably.  But strange telepathic skills are starting to emerge from the flock, and Riddell's group is being unwillingly driven to their final destination...  an "execution" at the hands of their former loved ones.  The goal is to stay alive, take out as many of the phoners as possible, and still find his wife and son if at all possible...

For some reason that I haven't quite figured out, I normally don't read King's works.  Strange, because I like these types of novels.  But I just haven't gotten to the point where he's on my "must read" list of authors.  I may have to make a conscious effort to change that, because I really did like this book.  It was an interesting premise for a story line, and while I didn't much care for the ending, it was still an enjoyable read...


Book Review - Web Site Cookbook by Doug Addison

Category Book Reviews

When you run a web site, there's always "one more thing" you have to take care of.  Web Site Cookbook by Doug Addison can help you figure out what some of those things are, as well as how to fix them.

Contents: Web Server Startup; Site Planning and Setup; Page Design and Navigation; Formatting Text and Code; Formatting Graphics; Displaying and Delivering Information; Interacting with Visitors; Promotion and E-Commerce; Maintenance and Troubleshooting; Index

This is an O'Reilly "Cookbook" title, so it follows the standard format for the series.  You get a Problem, a Solution, a Discussion of the solution, as well as a See Also section if there's a source for additional information.  The pros and cons of books like this are that not all of the problems will apply to you, and you may feel like you didn't get your full money's worth.  For instance, if you already have a domain name and a site, the recipe for Registering A Domain Name doesn't help you out at all.  However, if you run a PHP site and you want to incorporate the use of captchas to foil automated bots, then the recipe for Using A Graphical Character String For Form Authentication might be all that you need to make this book worth buying.  It's really hard to predict whether any given person will value the material.  On the other hand, all the recipes in the book *are* well written and do what is intended by the author.

So, I like the book, but I'm aware that there might be differing opinions on how good it is.  Basically it comes down to what you're looking for.  If you get a chance to scan the book before purchasing, it might help you make your decision...


Book Review - Repairing and Upgrading Your PC by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson

Category Book Reviews

Repairing & Upgrading Your PC by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson is the latest addition to my "hardware repair" shelf, and it's a worthy one to be there.

Contents:  Getting Started; Working on PCs; System Maintenance; Motherboards; Processors; Memory; Hard Disk Drives; Optical Drives; External and Removable Storage Devices; Video Adapters; Displays; Audio; Input Devices; Wireless Networking; Cases; Power Supplies and Power Protection; Index

The Thompsons have put together an excellent book that covers both repairing, upgrading, and just plain cleaning up your computers.  The writing is clear and concise, and does an excellent job explaining the "why" behind their recommendations and techniques.  There are also a large number of sidebar tips that add even more value and color to your computing experience.  For instance, I didn't know that spindles of optical disks with the same brand name can contain discs manufactured by different companies (and as such could have varying levels of quality).  There are even utilities that help you identify the underlying manufacturer.  Interesting stuff.  And if you like plenty of pictures to show you how to do various tasks, this book fits that criteria too.  Full color photos document all the important steps, so there should be no confusion between what you read and what you see.  There are even before and after pictures of a keyboard that has been cleaned using the dishwasher method.  That's right...  they cover how to clean that grungy old keyboard with your dishwasher...

An excellent book, and one that will more than pay for itself when it comes to keeping your computers running at an optimal level.  Now if you excuse me, I have to go try out the dishwasher trick...


Book Review - Web Design in a Nutshell (3rd edition) by Jennifer Niederst Robbins

Category Book Reviews

If you're doing web design, it's probably the case where you have separate (and large) books on your shelf that cover (X)HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.  But if you could put all the essential stuff in a single volume that you'd use on a regular basis, you'd end up with Web Design in a Nutshell (3rd edition) by Jennifer Niederst Robbins.  This is a nicely done reference of a large number of intertwined technologies...

Part 1 - The Web Environment: Web Standards; Designing for a Variety of Browsers; Designing for a Variety of Displays; A Beginner's Guide to the Server; Accessibility; Internationalization
Part 2 - The Structural Layer - XML and (X)HTML: Introduction to XML; HTML and XHTML Overview; Document Structure; Text Elements; Creating Links; Images and Objects; Tables; Frames; Forms
Part 3 - The Presentation Layer - Cascading Style Sheets: Cascading Style Sheets Fundamentals; Selectors; Font and Text Properties; Basic Box Properties; Color and Backgrounds; Floating and Positioning; CSS for Tables; Lists and Generated Content; CSS Techniques; Managing Browser Bugs - Workarounds, Hacks, and Filters
Part 4 - The Behavioral Layer - JavaScript and the DOM: Introduction to JavaScript; DOM Scripting
Part 5 - Web Graphics: Web Graphics Overview; GIF Format; JPEG Format; PNG Format; Animated GIFs
Part 6 - Media: Audio on the Web; Video on the Web; The Flash Platform; Printing from the Web
Part 7 - Appendixes: HTML Elements and Attributes; CSS 2.1 Properties; Character Entities; Specifying Color; Microformats - Extending (X)HTML
Glossary; Index

I'm at the stage where I know the fundamentals, but I often have to look up a command format or refresh myself on some of the available parameters of a certain tag or CSS property.  That's going to be where I benefit most from this book.  I can do away with some of the more unwieldy volumes that take up large chunks of shelf real estate (and that don't get opened all that often) and replace it with this "all in one" book.  Along with the basic "Intro to..." material, she covers the core options and parameters of each part of the technology, enough so that I would find my answers 95% of the time.  That last 5% can either be looked up online, or no book's going to help me in the first place.  I also liked the material on graphics and media, as that tends to be a weak point for me.  And finally, the chapter on managing browser bugs presents an extremely straight-forward description of the problems with various browsers, and the basic hacks you have to be sure to code for.  It's hard to find that type of information in a single location.

As I mentioned, this book will end up replacing at least three larger "single subject" books on my shelf at work.  That should leave me room for other fun stuff to bring in from home.  I recommend this book if you know the fundamentals and want your reference material in a single location...


Book Review - Mary, Mary by James Patterson

Category Book Reviews

After James Patterson's last Alex Cross novel London Bridges, I was beginning to think that the Cross character had perhaps run its course.  So with a little trepidation, I picked up Mary, Mary from the library.  It now appears that London Bridges was an anomaly, and Patterson/Cross are back on track.

Alex Cross is vacationing with his kids and grandmother at Disneyland, when he gets a call asking for a short one day consult on a celebrity killing in LA.  Reluctant to give up his vacation time, he decides to make this one exception.  That was his first mistake...  While he was gone, the mother of his 3 year old shows up and takes the child back to Seattle, while also petitioning the court for permanent custody.  His ongoing romance to Jamilla is also floundering, so he's left with little social life and a feeling that his personal life as a father is failing.  The Mary Smith killer is keeping him occupied however.  Pretty soon he finds himself traveling coast to coast on a regular basis helping the LAPD analyze the emails and clues as to who "Mary Smith", the killer, might be, as well as who might next be in the sights of the killer.  And even when they have a person in custody who fits all the evidence, Cross isn't quite sure there isn't something else going on...

The action part of the story line for this novel was good.  There are a number of characters that Patterson puts "in play" as potential suspects, and there's really not much elimination until the end.  I was completely surprised at the twist ending, which was good.  From a character standpoint, Patterson has set up Cross for some significant romantic changes ahead.  All the regular players are moved out of the picture, and a few new ones make their appearance.  All goes to show that Patterson isn't done with this series...  And if they continue to play out along these lines instead of London Bridges, that will be a good thing...


Book Review - SCJP Sun Certified Programmer for Java 5 Study Guide (Exam 310-055)

Category Book Reviews

I've been toying with the idea of retaking the Java Programmer certification test, as I took and passed it back in 2002 (version 1.2).  Quite a bit has changed since then, and it might be nice to get up to date.  To that end, I took the opportunity to review Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates' latest edition of SCJP Sun Certified Programmer for Java 5 Study Guide (Exam 310-055).  Certification books don't come with much better "street cred" than this...

Contents: Declarations and Access Control; Object Orientation; Assignments; Operators; Flow Control, Exceptions, and Assertions; Strings, I/O, Formatting, and Parsing; Generics and Collections; Inner Classes; Threads; Development; About the CD; Index

Sierra and Bates are the co-creators of the popular Head First book concept, and in my opinion are unequaled in the field of writing technical material that engages all the senses.  They are also responsible for the actual Java certification test itself, so it's not like they don't know what's being quizzed.  :)  In addition to material on *how* to take a certification test, they cover all the different content areas of the Java Programmer test, with a focus on learning what needs to be known for the test.  This is not necessarily a tutorial on Java, as they don't try and exhaustively cover every minor point on a subject.  If you're going to encounter it on the test, it'll be here.  If it's not on the test, it's either skimmed over for general context or ignored.  The book also includes a CD that has sample tests that you can use to gauge your preparedness for the exam.  It certainly beats having to go out and spend another chunk of money on practice tests.  And again, these people have some of the best credentials out there for teaching and training Java technical material.  Even if I hadn't had the chance to review this book, I'd have put it at the top of my recommended list on reputation alone.  Having gone through it, I can confirm that decision would have been the correct one.

When I first took my Java test in 2002, this was the type of study guide I was looking for (and I looked at all of them).  This time around, my search is finished with a single volume...  this one.


Book Review - Fixing PowerPoint Annoyances by Echo Swinford

Category Book Reviews

I'm spending more time these days giving presentations, and PowerPoint has become a required piece of software.  But that doesn't mean life with PowerPoint is smooth.  This is a book I plan on putting to really good use...  Fixing PowerPoint Annoyances by Echo Swinford.  Right in time for a presentation coming up in June!

Contents:  Presenting Your Presentation; Dumb Defaults; Formatting and Editing; Importing; Organization Charts, Diagrams, and Drawing Tools; Charts and Graphs; Animations, Action Settings, and Hyperlinks; Sound and Video; Printing and Distribution; Index

As I was going through this book, I kept repeating certain phrases in my mind.  One was "so there *is* a way around that?" and the other was "I didn't know you could do that!".  Some of the annoyances in this book hadn't yet become that to me because I didn't know it was possible in the first place.  Since she covers versions 2000, 2002, and 2003, there's a really good chance that much of this book will apply to you regardless of whether you've upgraded or not (I'm in the 2000 - NOT category).  I also realized some of the faux pas I was committing that caused "less than desirable" results.  For instance, I can bring down the resolution of my graphics to 72 dpi because projection doesn't gain anything by being higher.  No more multi-meg presentations with graphics now...  Or how come my text shrinks in the text boxes as I type more and more?  I thought it just worked like that.  Wrong!  It's things like these (and many more) that will make my next presentation preparation go much better than it has in the past.

This is another one of those books that I'd recommend to anyone who has to work with PowerPoint on a regular basis.  Life's too short to put up with many of these annoyances, and Swinford can reduce your frustration level by orders of magnitude.


Book Review - Google Map Hacks by Rich Gibson and Schuyler Erle

Category Book Reviews

One of the most popular features to come out of Google has been their Google Maps site.  In addition to just being able to see places and get directions, there's a whole application programming interface (API) behind it.  Rich Gibson and Schuyler Erle start to show you what that can do in the book Google Maps Hacks: Tips & Tools for Geographic Searching and Remixing.

Contents:  You Are Here - Introducing Google Maps; Introducing the Google Maps API; Mashing Up Google Maps; On the Road with Google Maps; Google Maps in Words and Pictures; API Tips and Tricks; Extreme Google Maps Hacks; Index

Gibson and Erle have bundled up 70 hacks that begin to show you the power and "coolness" of Google Maps.  The whole "Web 2.0/Mashups" phenomenon has led to tools like Greasemonkey that allow you to mix and match features from various sites to create whole new pages where the sum is greater than the parts.  For instance, there are a number of sites that take real-time traffic information, mix it with Google Maps, and give you a whole new way to avoid traffic (Hack #30 - Stay Out of Traffic Jams).  Or let's say that you're tracking an internet packet to see the route it takes to get to you, and you want to add a visual element to it.  Hack #26 - Follow Your Packets Across the Internet takes traceroute information, mixes with it Google Maps, and gives you a visual rendering of how things get from there to you.  There's even a home-brew hack by the author who has spent too many car trips with barfing kids.  Hack #70 - Will the Kids Barf? takes the straight-line distance between point A and B, then the distance via roads.  If the Detour Index is over 120, experience has taught him that barf bags might be wise...  There's an abundance of code examples in many of the hacks, so it should take little effort for you to personalize many of these hacks to your own use and locale.

Great book, fun read, and a real eye-opener to the power of mashups.  Well worth reading...


Book Review - Google Advertising Tools by Harold Davis

Category Book Reviews

If you're interested in monetizing the content in your blog or website, it's worth reading this book to see how it's done...  Google Advertising Tools by Harold Davis.

Part 1 - Making Money with Your Website: Build It and They Will Come - Creating Popular Web Sites; Driving Traffic to Your Site; Optimizing Sites for Search Engine Placement; Making Money with Affiliate Programs; CPC Advertising; Profiting from Adult Sites
Part 2 - Getting the Most from AdSense: Understanding Google, AdSense, and AdWords; Working with AdSense; Making Sense of AdSense
Part 3 - Working with AdWords: Using AdWords; Improving Campaign and Ad Group Performance; AdWords Reporting and Conversion Tracking
Part 4 - Using the AdWords APIs: Understanding the AdWords API; Programming the AdWords API; Navigating the AdWords Objects Hierarchy; Keyword Estimation
Glossary; Index

When I first started reading this book, I was a little surprised at the title.  In Part 1, the author covers much more than just Google's revenue opportunities.  He talks about the different associate programs like Amazon (which I participate in), and I was picking up quite a bit of information on how the whole web advertising model works.  But then starting in Part 2 and beyond, he focuses directly on the Google platform, and how you can implement AdSense (which I also participate in) and AdWords on your site to drive traffic and/or generate revenue.  Many of the abbreviations common to advertising (like CPC) were a bit foreign to me, but after this material I now have a much better understanding of what's going on.  If I were counting on my blog to generate substantial revenue, this information would be invaluable to me.  And if I were an advertiser looking at AdWords, I wouldn't venture into the water without this book.  Serious, solid information that can offer you a real return on investment on your book-buying dollar...


Book Review - Fixing Access Annoyances by Phil Mitchell and Evan Callahan

Category Book Reviews

I consider myself fortunate that I converted my last regularly used database off of Access awhile back.  While the software served me well in learning about database systems when I first made the move to PCs, I always found myself fighting with things that should have been easier than they were.  Now I find out that it wasn't just me.  Phil Mitchell and Evan Callahan have put together a great book titled Fixing Access Annoyances.  If you spend any time in Access, this ought to be on your bookshelf.

Contents:  Access Basics; General Annoyances; Performance, Versions, Security, and Deployment; Data, Tables, and Database Design; Queries; Forms; Reports, Mailing Labels, and Charts; Expressions, Macros, Code Modules, and Custom Controls; Appendix; Glossary; Index

The Annoyances series is set up in such a way that each chapter covers a series of "questions" posed as to why a particular software package behaves in a certain way.  The questions range from minor "why does Access always do x" to "my #$@%@ database is corrupted!", and the conversational tone between the questioner and the authors is fun to read.  After reading some of these things, you wonder why *anyone* would use Access!  Mitchell and Callahan, although experts in Access, maintain a healthy cynicism towards the product's features and foibles, and all it would take is for you to find three to five annoyances that bug you to no end in order for you to think this is the best money you've spent in a long time.  They also try and cover a range of things, from beginner to advanced level gripes, so that you should see value wherever you are in the continuum of Access experience.

If I had this book available to me a year ago, I might still be running my reading log database in Access instead of in Notes.  I certainly would have experienced far less frustration than I did.  After making sure you have a solid Access reference guide on your shelf, this should be your second purchase on the subject...


Book Review - Memory In Death by J. D. Robb

Category Book Reviews

I'm so glad that J. D. Robb (also known as Nora Roberts) is a prolific writer, as it means that I normally don't have long to wait between episodes of the In Death series.  In her latest, Memory In Death, Lieutenant Eve Dallas is confronted with one of her more emotionally trying cases to date...  the murder of her foster mother.

Christmas 2059 is rolling around, and Dallas is trying to clean up a scene where a Santa flew out a window hyped up on drugs.  Just another day at the office until she gets back to the station, only to find a woman waiting for her there.  This lady claims that she's Eve's foster mother, a person that Eve hated with a passion.  She gets tossed out, and Eve starts dealing with the emotional turmoil of reliving her past (which is gruesome).  The reason for the woman's visit becomes clear, however, when she shows up at Roarke's office and attempts to blackmail him and Dallas to the tune of $2 million to not turn over files pertaining to her abusive childhood.  Roarke also throws her out, and promises to kill her with his bare hands if she doesn't leave New York immediately.  Problem is, someone beats him to it, and she's found murdered in her hotel.  Eve ends up first on the scene, and really should dismiss herself from the case.  But she feels it's her duty to stand up for the victim, regardless of how she feels about the person.  There's no clear clues as to who might have done her in, but Eve's gut says that her son and daughter-in-law, vacationing with the lady, are somehow tied in...

As I've stated on just about every other In Death review, I really love this series.  I started this book on a Saturday morning, and it was done by Saturday night.  I won't even think about the things I *should* have gotten done that day that remained unfinished.  This storyline fills out more of Eve's childhood, from the point where she killed her abusive father until she left foster care.  It's been alluded to in the past, but never fleshed out in this detail.  And even though the original meeting threw her for a loop, I got the feeling that confronting this ghost from her past might also help her deal with the nightmares of her father.  Just a guess...  As always, well written and an extremely enjoyable read.

And when's the next one coming out???


And you wonder why we get all hot and bothered by the Microsoft "Application Analyzer"?

Category Microsoft

Paul sums it up pretty well...

A really good reason to run it in your own shop, document your results, and make sure you cover how/why results may differ if run with different XML parameters.  

One of those "ounce of prevention, pound of cure" things...

Good job, Paul...


Next speaking stop... Dublin Ireland in June at their user group meeting!

Category Ireland User Group Meeting

Paul Mooney placed a bug in my ear, asking if I'd be interested in visiting Dublin in June to speak at their user group meeting.  At first, I didn't quite see how I could pull that off.  But the wife thought it would be a good idea for me to do that (!), and she started looking at airfares.  Long story short, I'm booked for a somewhat whirlwind visit across the pond in June.  Arrive there on Thursday, June 15th (after a LONG couple of days of travel), speak on Friday, June 16th, and then head back home on Monday, June 19th.  

Collapse from exhaustion on Tuesday, June 20th...  :)  

And I'll finally get to use my passport for something more than cruises and crossing the Canadian border...


Book Review - Baseball Hacks by Joseph Adler

Category Book Reviews

While I'm not a diehard baseball fan, there is a certain appeal (or perhaps nostalgia) about "America's Pastime".  And there isn't another sport around that takes their statistics as seriously as baseball does.  So if you're a computer geek who loves baseball and statistics, what do you do?  You get Baseball Hacks: Tips & Tools for Analyzing and Winning with Statistics by Joseph Adler.  Even I, a non-baseball fanatic, can appreciate the appeal of this book.

Contents: Basics of Baseball; Baseball Games from Past Years; Stats from the Current Season; Visualize Baseball Statistics; Formulas; Sabermetric Thinking; The Bullpen; Where to Learn More Stuff; Abbreviations; Index

The author and his co-contributors have come up with 75 statistical "hacks" all related to baseball.  In here, you'll learn how to keep a scoresheet in the traditional fashion as well as how to use a format that is generally used for computer entry and analysis.  After showing you where to find downloadable stats and how to get them in a format you can use, they then take you through open source packages like MySQL and R (a statistical software offering) as well as standards like Access and Excel.  By loading the data into these formats, you can then slice and dice with the best of them.  Some of the hacks show you common statistical generation like batting average or on-base percentage, but there are more esoteric ones you can look into, like Park effect and Fan Save value.  If you've always dreamed of combining your love of statistics and baseball into a single passion, this book will push you over the edge.  Once you get done here, you should be able to figure out the batting average of Barry Bonds on Tuesday night games against left-handed pitching with two men on base...  :)

Seriously, a very well-done book that will appeal to both the baseball fan interested in statistics, as well as the computer geek who loves his (or her!) baseball recordkeeping...


End of an era... no more Marquam Group/Boom Vang account...

Category Everything Else

After I got laid off from Enron in 2001, I ended up working for Boom Vang Consulting (later to become Marquam Group) for a few years before ending up at my current place of employment.  When I left Marquam Group, I negotiated to keep my connection into their network, my email account, and access to the Business Partner Forum and the KnowledgeBase.  I also ran the Portland Notes/Domino User Group email from there....

But as of now, I've decided to close that account down.  I've transferred the Portland Notes user group mailings to a separate gmail account that seems to be working well.  The only mail I still got at that account (other than spam) were Microsoft Certified Professional newsletters (yes, I *do* have a Microsoft certification!).  And I found that weeks would go by between visits to the Business Partner Forum.  Not that I was really active there anyway, but still...

Just one less thing to keep track of or be responsible for should something go wrong...

Feels strange to shut down an account that you've had for 5+ years...  :)


Book Review - Cybernetica by Michael J. Cavallaro

Category Book Reviews

In the realm of sci-fi reading, I really like near-future/cyber style novels.  I was contacted by Michael J. Cavallaro, the author of
Cybernetica, asking if I would be interested in reviewing his work.  Of course I accepted, and it's a pretty good read with a couple of minor cautions.  

The basic storyline revolves around an escalating war between a group called "drifters" and the government/corporate areas that control the population via "sublimation".  Sublimation involves chip implants that modify behavior and actions via an enormous computer networks.  Drifters are unchipped individuals that aren't affected by sublimation, and they want to overthrow the control of society.  Control of the network is key to the war effort, and both sides need to maintain/gain that control.  It's very easy to see plot and stylistic elements from both The Matrix and Total Recall in the book.

On the positive side, Cavallaro does an excellent job painting a scene.  Becoming immersed within the story happens with little effort.  There were only a couple things that I would offer to prospective readers.  The first item is that the editing of the book is pretty bad.  I'm used to seeing one or two misspellings or incorrect word usages in a book of this size.  Cybernetica seems to have these errors much more frequently.  I'm not sure if this is a self-published effort, but it certainly seems as if that was the case.  (Edited 03/27: The author contacted me and said the first print run was rushed. These errors have been corrected in the second printing. Thanks, Michael!)  The other suggestion I'd make is to try and read the book without interruptions.  I had a number of books going on while reading this one, and I was having problems following the story line at times.  If I had read this through in two or three days, I'd have had less problems tracking the story.

But even with those caveats, it's an interesting read for fans of cyber sci-fi...


Book Review - Dirty Blonde by Lisa Scottoline

Category Book Reviews

What happens when your secret private affairs start to threaten your very public dignified image?  Do you hide, deny, or meet it head on, fighting for what you want?  I had the pleasure of reading an advanced readers copy of Lisa Scottoline's latest, Dirty Blonde.  It took me less than a day to read it all the way through, which should give you an idea of how much I liked it...

Cate Fante is a newly minted federal judge, and she's joined an elite fraternity at a very young age.  But she has some dark secrets in her personal life involving seedy bars and one night stands, and it's obviously important that those two lives and images remain separate.  But her first major case on the bench completely exposes her and leaves her open to ridicule, loss of job, and perhaps even murder.  The case involves a claim that a popular show idea was stolen, and that the producer breached the oral promises he made to the pair that came up with the concept.  While it's clear the idea *was* stolen, the law forces her to dismiss the case.  When the defendant is murdered and the plaintiff is found dead of an apparent suicide, Cate feels personally responsible.  But one of the cops investigating the case has evidence of her improprieties, ties it to the murder/suicide, and is determined to bring her down.  As her world crumbles around her, she has to figure out what's important, why she behaves this way, and whether it's all worth fighting for...

This is a really gritty novel, and it's pretty easy to identify with the lead character.  Granted, we aren't all heading into bars and picking up scummy individuals for a motel romp, but I'm sure we all have things we'd rather not see on the front page of the paper.  And every time you think it's as bad as it could get, it gets worse for her.  But even with this rather distasteful aspect of her personal life, she's a likeable character that I found myself pulling for.  Throw in a few twists along the way, and the novel didn't quite end exactly how I expected.  This was a really fun read, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes legal thrillers...


Can't help but laugh when I read the Microsoft Collaboration Tools blog...

Category Microsoft

Since their blog started as a result of the Red Bull beta fiasco, it's hard not to read the subsequent entries in that light.  Although I realize their scope and goal for the blog are far broader than mine, I can't help but think Red Bull when I read each entry.  And because of that, it's difficult to take some of these posts seriously...

First, there's a lot of "who we are" posts that focus on putting human faces on the team.  All well and good, but not much in the way of substance as far as the tools go.  Of course, based on the different analysis postings of Red Bull, I can see why they may not want to go down that road.  I still find it interesting that their beta/slip-up/vaporware release before Lotusphere was heavily covered via the press, but their subsequent release (new and improved!) has not garnered a *single* press mention on my Google News Alerts for Microsoft.  Talk about trying to stay low-profile...

Next, we have the latest "I am..." post by Kahren Allakhverdyan, the person in charge of software testing.  Love the last couple of lines in this posting:  

Currently, most of our team is working on the Microsoft Data Migrator for Lotus Domino 2006. This tool will be able to migrate data from the Notes Applications on the Domino server to Microsoft WSS technology.

Being last to handle and complete the product, prior to releasing to the customer, our test team's mission is to assure that the applications and messaging products are bug free, reliable, scalable, secure and truly world class products.

Bug free?  Reliable?  World class?  They can't even get the number of database uses right, nor basic information such as Notes/Domino release numbers.  If this is what they consider a world class product, sell your Microsoft stock now.

And finally, we have the new Friday FAQ series, where there will be question and answers from people who are running their migration tools.  This is where the scope and perception issue come in.  I think Red Bull, so I'm looking forward to hearing them answer real life questions about it.  Instead we get information on the "migration tool from Lotus Notes 6.5 mail to Exchange" and on the Exchange Connector for Lotus Notes.  When it comes to Red Bull, all we're getting is general philosophy behind how Microsoft analyzes a Notes/Domino installation in order to convince them to migrate.  

I thought it was a wise move on their part to start a blog and try to manage the PR nightmare they had after the first release.  But so far they've yet to figure out that just having a blog isn't enough to sway opinion or combat negative press.  You need to do more than just post bios of the team while ignoring real issues and problems.  

Of course, if I were trying to defend the current iteration of Red Bull in a public forum, I'd probably try and deflect attention away from it too...  :)


Book Review - Degunking Your Home by Joli Ballew

Category Book Reviews

Now *here's* a practical book that I really needed...  I have teenagers...  :)  Joli Ballew's Degunking Your Home.

Contents:  Why Is My Home All Gunked Up?; Learn the Degunking 12-Step Program; Throwing Stuff Away You Don't Really Need; Getting Rid of Clutter Using the Four-Box Method; Degunking Problem Area: Closets; Degunking Problem Areas: The Kitchen; Organizing Living Areas; Organizing the Home Office, Utility Rooms, and Bathrooms; Create Long-Term Storage and Maintain Storage Spaces; Taming Daily Tasks through Organization; Cleaning Efficiently and Successfully; Express Cleaning; Prepare Yourself for Cleaning Emergencies; Maintain a Degunked Home; Checklists; Must-Have Stain Removers; What to Do with Items You No Longer Want or Need; Index

As I said, having two teenagers pretty much guarantees that this book will be applicable from page one.  Not to say I'm completely innocent of all clutter.  But you know you're in trouble when you muck out the kids' living areas and you end up with twice the dishes you thought you owned.  Joli uses the 12-step Degunking method to show how you can eliminate all the clutter and filth you currently have, and better yet, how to keep it that way once you get there.  As with all "programs", there has to be a commitment to start and maintain your effort, but still...  this is not hard to grasp and follow.  I think I'd probably buy it for the kitchen tips alone.  Notice a trend here?  :)  If you've never read a book in the Degunking series, it's a real treat.  The writing is *very* practical and humorous, and it's impossible to walk away without picking up *something* that makes your life/work area/environment more efficient and less cluttered.  Even if you don't have time (or the inclination) to follow the whole program, there are subsets (10 minute, 30 minute, one hour, half-day, weekend) that can at least get you further down the road than you were before.

If you've just become oblivious to all the junk around you and you need help in starting to deal with it all, this is a solid first step...


Book Review - Micro-ISV - From Vision to Reality by Bob Walsh

Category Book Reviews

I have a number of professional colleagues who have gone the route of becoming micro-ISVs or ISV (independent software vendors).  While I know it's a lot of work, I don't think I realized exactly what all goes into that.  Bob Walsh has what I would consider a "must read" title if you're in that area or thinking of going down that path...  Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality.

Contents:  Having a Vision; Developing the Micro-ISV Way; Presenting the Product; Business is Business; Focusing on the Customer; Welcome to Your Industry; What Happens Next?; Appendix; Index

The fact I'm reading this doesn't mean I'm contemplating quitting my day job.  :)  Apress sent me the book and it looked interesting enough that it ended up in my backpack for reading while at work.  What I found inside was a lot of wisdom and advice that can give the small entrepreneur a fighting chance to succeed on their own.  Not only has Walsh traveled this path before, but he's enlisted the advice of a number of other successful micro-ISVs in the way of stories and interviews.  The overall result is that you get an extremely realistic view of what you will encounter if you choose this path.  He deals with everything from the motivation behind the decision to launch your own business, to best practices in setting up your development environment to lay the groundwork for future growth (and less headaches), to how coexist with the 800-pound gorilla in the room known as Microsoft.  Even if you're not thinking of going independent, there are a number of websites he covers that are nearly worth the price of the book.  For instance, there are sites where you can get stock photography to use to create nice websites (without paying a bundle in royalties).  There are sites that cover the competitive landscape of your customers and competitors, which is just good business practice to follow regardless of who's writing your paycheck.  He even talks about how you can set up automated feeds to scan for mentions of your site/company/product in news and blogs.  Again, an excellent practice to follow for more than just small development companies.

This is one of those books that goes on a short "homework" pile for me.  Now that I've read the book, I need to go back through it at my computer and bookmark the sites that grabbed my attention.  And if I were ever to contemplate striking out on my own, my first task would be to re-read this book and start taking serious notes.  It's money well spent to swing the odds in your favor.  A recommended read...


How Would You Like A Much Bigger Pfg Efl Nfd Iem S?

Category Humor

Using the "power" of HTML, the spammer wanted to display this message in the body and subject line:

How Would You Like a Much Bigger Pfg Efl Nfd Iem S?

Of course, what I read in the title was How Would You Like A Much Bigger Pfg Efl Nfd Iem S?

Yup...  Always wanted a bigger one of those...  whatever it is...


Have I angered the book gods?

Category Everything Else

Have I committed some unforgivable offense against my UPS driver?  Days, even weeks have gone by with no visits...  no bundles of gifts from my friends at the publishing houses...  My piles of books to review shrink to where I have a toe or two left over when I count the remaining volumes...  Why has life dealt this cruel blow of fate to me???

<hold on...  someone's at the door...>

OK...  never mind...

A picture named M2


Book Review - Irresistible! Markets, Models, and Meta-Value in Consumer Electronics

Category Book Reviews

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  That seems to be apropos if you are a consumer electronics company.  Never has the demand been so high with the margins so small.  This is pointed out all too well in the book Irresistible! Markets, Models, and Meta-Value in Consumer Electronics by George Bailey and Hagen Wenzek.

Contents:  Irresistible Electronics, Turbulent Times; The New Role of Technology and Services in Next-Generation Businesses; The Consumer's Internet - Thin Clients & Fat Hosts for Everyone; The Smart Home - Coming to Your House Soon, but Not Too Soon; Telehealthcare - The Key to the Living Room; Online Gaming Environments - People, Technology, Money, and Social Networks; The Soul of the Next Generation of Consumer Electronics Products; IBM's Global Technology Outlook and Its Implications to Consumer Electronics; Embedded Linux - For Embedded Systems Today and into the Future; Software Development Strategies for Connected Consumer Electronics; Differentiation Through Product and User Interface Design; Consumer Relationships - A Tale of Channels and Brands; Consumer Electronics in China in Year 2001; Index

As a compilation of various aspects of the subject by different authors, this book fares better than many in that style.  Perhaps it was just that I was more interested in the material than some of the other compilations I've read.  Regardless, I enjoyed getting a deeper look into what drives this fascinating part of our culture.  Time to market has dropped dramatically, as has the ability to have a market to yourself for any length of time.  One of the chapters talks about how the iPod, a runaway best seller by any standard, is already seeing pricing pressure and is cutting their margins to maintain volume.  It's that way with nearly every significant electronic product out there.  Wondered why people can sell "items" from online gaming to others on eBay for large sums of money?  It's explained in here, along with ramifications on what that means to the people running the game.  It's not something that can be ignored if you want to protect your product.  Very interesting slants on things you may just take for granted...

If you're curious as to the future of home electronics and the search for the next "killer gadget", this book will make you think...


OK... this must be the latest version of "real collaboration" from Microsoft...

Category Microsoft

Sean Harris emailed me about an eWeek article about Microsoft's Office 2007 suite.  In the article, we get this rich quote from Microsoft's John Cairns, senior director of  licensing and pricing in Microsoft's Information Worker division:

Asked about the large number of offerings, Cairns said customers have been telling Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., about the changing nature of their work and their new and diverse needs. "We believe these offerings will provide the flexibility customers need to meet all of their needs," he said.

There are three new offerings among the seven Microsoft Office client suites, two of which are specifically targeted at business users. The new Office Professional Plus 2007 has a number of enhancements, most notably the addition of server-enabled capabilities that allow customers to do things like document routing and approval, create electronic forms and pass those around, and publish spreadsheets more easily, he said.

Microsoft, however, considers the new Office Enterprise 2007 suite "the biggest news for the enterprise" as it contains all the software found in Office Professional Plus 2007 as well as two additional applications: Office OneNote and the new Office Groove, which are aimed at to boost collaboration and mobility for users. "We believe that this will be the benchmark suite for those companies that take collaboration seriously," he said.

Um...  sure...  New release of products that have had little to no traction in the marketplace, and *that* is the new benchmark of collaboration?


The March Developer Newsletter from LotusUserGroup.org is now out!

Category LotusUserGroup.org

The March issue has all sorts of neat things, including the introduction of Jess Stratton to the writing family!

Go check it out...


Book Review - The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Category Book Reviews

I earn more than my parents *ever* did, and more than I ever dreamed possible growing up.  But when I look at the bank accounts and bills, it certainly doesn't seem that way.  I had the opportunity to read The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey.  No gimmicks, no tricks, and it may be just what I need to get things in order...

Contents:  The Total Money Makeover Challenge; Denial; Debt Myths; Money Myths; Two More Hurdles; Save $1000 Fast; The Debt Snowball; Finish the Emergency Fund; Maximize Retirement Investing; College Funding; Pay Off The Home Mortgage; Build Wealth Like Crazy; Live Like No One Else; More Total Money Makeover Stories; Budgeting Forms

The thing I appreciate most about this book is that Ramsey doesn't try to present some "buy my 10 step program for $500" pitch nor does he promise that getting out of debt is easy and painless.  If it was, most of us wouldn't have a problem.  What he does do is lay out a series of "baby steps" that if followed with "gazelle intensity", will work to get you out of the mess you might be in today.  The first step is to get an initial emergency fund of $1000.  Do whatever it takes...  second job, garage sales, you name it.  Just get a cash buffer so that you can get yourself off the credit card trap.  Once that's done, you list all your debts and start putting as much as possible towards paying off the first one.  Once that's done, then you roll that amount plus whatever else you can afford to the second.  This "snowball" effect can quickly whittle down the number of creditors you have, as well as the amount you owe.  Couple this with a budget and a hard look at things that have gotten you in debt (like that third car or the boat), and you're well on your way to reducing the financial stress in your life.  Or as he puts it...  "Live like no one else now, so you can live like no one else later".  Each of the following steps builds upon the work you've already done, and it's a very logical progression.  The book is also liberally sprinkled with a number of stories from real people who have followed these steps and eliminated incredible amounts of debt...  Totals that are truly jaw-dropping...

Fortunately, I'm in much better shape than most everyone highlighted in the book.  But it wouldn't take much to make it all go south.  And I could be doing so much better from "finishing the emergency fund" on...  My wife will be reading this next, and then I hope to make some definite changes to make sure that money and lenders don't become my master...  A recommended read...


Lotusphere DVD already paying off in unexpected ways...

Category Everything Else

So today I'm scrolling through the company electronic bulletin board, and I see a notice for a training video.  They need an office person, a customer, a narrator, and some extras.  Sounds like something that might be fun...  sit around as an extra, read a book, and see myself in a company video.  All film personalities have to start somewhere, right?

I send off an email to the guy doing the coordination and let him know I'm game to play an extra.  I also sent him a clip from the Lotusphere DVD so he could see what I look like on film.  Figured it might be good to let him know that I have a "face for radio".  :)  He sent back a quick email saying I was on his list, followed quickly by a second email.  In *that* one, he said he really liked the video, and would I please consider auditioning for the narrator role?  See?  A face just made for radio...  

I got the script, and the narrator actually appears in person, not just "in voice".  I certainly didn't think "narrator" was an idea, because I really don't think my voice is a strong point.  But perhaps the ability to move around and look natural in front of a camera might compensate.  Who knows?

Anyway, there'll be auditions next week, and we'll see how it goes.  Hopefully IBM will still be able to afford me next year at Lotusphere...  :)


Book Review - CIO Wisdom 2: More Best Practices by Phillip Laplante and Thomas Costello

Category Book Reviews

I just finished slogging through the book CIO Wisdom 2: More Best Practices by Phillip Laplante and Thomas Costello.  In my opinion, this is a book that you'll either love because it was just what you needed, or you'll think it as being too much stuff that you don't care about.

Contents: The Changing Role of the CIO; Scope of the CIO; It's All About the Marketing; Creating a Community of Practice for CIOs; Securing the IT Facility; Running Business-Critical Applications Over the Internet - "The Middle Mile"; Information Management - What's Next?; Enterprise Integration - Methods and Technologies; Toward Collaborative Supply Chains Using RFID; Real-Time, Mission-Critical Business Intelligence - Lessons from the Military and Intelligence Community; Software Return on Investment (ROI); Starting with the Users; Business Process Improvement; The Five Ws of IT Outsourcing; Outsourced Environments; Enterprise Information Architecture; Adaptive and Aware - Strategy, Architecture, and IT Leadership in an Age of Commoditization; Open Source - Time for a Plan; IT Governance - Toward a Unified Framework Linked to and Driven by Corporate Governance; E-Government; Compliance; Navigating the IT Procurement and Outsourcing Process; Index

Compiliation books like this one always drive me a bit batty when it comes to reviewing.  On one hand, they are a good way to get a broad view of many varying slants on a given topic.  On the other hand, the quality and style of each chapter can be frustratingly erratic.  A solid chapter on one aspect can be followed by one that leaves you scratching your head.  In CIO Wisdom 2, we have a number of topics covered, some of which are specific to CIO effectiveness, and others of which seem to be "technology du jour 101" chapters.  For instance, the 5 Ws of IT Outsourcing is pretty specific to issues that CIOs deal with now.  But the RFID chapter seems to be more along the lines of introducing a technology for someone who doesn't know what it is.  Granted, if you were a CIO looking to implement something like that, you'd find it timely and invaluable.  But there's a good chance you'd end up skipping over that chapter because RFID isn't on your radar screen.  Same with Internet applications...  If you're doing that already, you probably already know the information.  I guess I just found the range of information covered in this book a bit too broad to recommend it as a complete book.  Maybe certain chapters...

If you're a CIO or a high-level technologist and you see a chapter (or chapters) here that interests you, by all means get the book.  You'll find value there.  But if you're looking for something that delivers insight and information all the way through, you might end up disappointed.


Book Review - The Berlin Conspiracy by Tom Gabbay

Category Book Reviews

I recently received a review copy of a Cold War espionage thriller...  The Berlin Conspiracy by Tom Gabbay.  For a first novel, he did an excellent job.

Take yourself back to 1963...  Berlin during the Cold War.  Jack Teller is a retired CIA agent who decided that life wasn't for him after what happened in Cuba and the Bay of Pigs.  His disillusionment has led him to spend his days fishing in southern Florida.  But all that changes when his name specifically comes up as the desired contact of an East German agent who has some important information.  Nobody, not even Jack, knows why this agent wants him.  But he decides to go along for the ride and see what happens.  After ditching his handlers to run the contact his own way, he learns that there is a plot to assassinate President Kennedy in Berlin.  The unusual twist is that the plot is being run by people in the US government, and it's up to Jack to figure out who is involved and what the motivation might be.  He quickly finds out that he's become a loose end that needs to be tied up, and as a result he's being framed to take the fall for the killing.  The question becomes not only can Jack stay alive, but can he keep the President from being shot...

The whole "who shot Kennedy" conspiracy obviously comes into play here, and Gabbay does a nice job in approaching that from a different angle.  The plot line blends pretty seamlessly into historical fact, and it's not a stretch to imagine this particular scenario playing out.  This was a recreational read that I found myself looking forward to at nights when I did some reading before falling asleep.  I have no doubt that if and when Tom Gabbay writes another novel, it will be on my "to read" list.


Book Review - Sustainable Software Development by Kevin Tate

Category Book Reviews

Would you like to start practicing agile development without the "extreme-ism" of Extreme Programming (XP)?  Sustainable Software Development: An Agile Perspective by Kevin Tate does a good job in its explanation without some of the emotional baggage that XP often encounters.

Contents: Sustainable Software Development; Unsustainable Software Development and its Causes; The Principles of Sustainable Software Development; Working Product; Defect Prevention; Emphasis on Design; Continual Refinement; Culture Change and Sustainable Development; Practice Summary; Extreme Programming and Sustainable Software Development; Sustainable Software Development and the CMM; Recommended Reading; Conclusion; References; Index

If you've studied any of the agile methodologies currently in vogue, you'll recognize most of the material in here.  There's the emphasis on short iterations, fixing defects early and often, continuous builds, and so forth.  What I liked most about this book however, was that it sounded much more "reasonable" than XP.  XP can often come across as a "cult", where you have to take it all or nothing.  That's not true, but for some it becomes a religious issue (like pair programming).  Tate takes a more reasonable approach, outlining a complete program that will definitely lead to shorter development cycles and higher quality.  But he also recognizes that it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing approach, and that even minor steps can pay off with big dividends.  The chapters from Working Product through Continual Refinement are broken up into a number of "Practices" that allow you to focus on one aspect of agile, sustainable development.  Once you understand how that works and how it plays together with everything else, you can then put it into play in your environment.  The Practice Summary chapter is a short summary of all the practices together, along with indicators next to each practice that is a keystone practice to making it all work.  If you do nothing else, implementing the keystone practices will improve your development life by leaps and bounds...

While it may not be groundbreaking material, it's solid and workable.  It's also packaged in such a way that you can start to implement lightweight methodologies without the preconceptions that XP often has (no documentation, no design, etc.).  For the right audience, it's definitely a suggested title.


"Migrating" Notes applications at Enron...

Category IBM/Lotus

An email thread today reminded me of an incident I had forgotten about during my days at Enron...  Although a few years old, I think the results were/are pretty typical of these Microsoft "migration" attempts.

Enron was a Notes shop with a number of Notes applications used to run the business.  We now wonder *what* business, but that's beside the point.  :)  When the software came up for renewal at the headquarters in Houston (I was based in Portland Oregon), Microsoft was able to convince the IT management to dump Notes and convert to Microsoft Exchange.  I wasn't part of that whole situation, but I heard about it from my counterparts down there.

Anyway, during the selling process, Microsoft made the typical statements about how easy it would be to convert Notes applications to whatever they were calling collaboration back then (this would have been around 1999/2000).  The Notes staff picked out a pretty typical Notes application with common features...  workflow, mail routing, blah, blah, blah...  Microsoft then set out to automatically convert the app.  After a couple of weeks, they apparently returned and asked for an application that was not as complex as the first one.  Guess they felt that wasn't a representative example of our portfolio.  Enron dumbed down the choice and waited for the magic to happen...  only to get Microsoft back again, asking for something less complex.  See the trend here?

After a number of these iterations, the attempt to convert applications was abandoned.  They still converted the mail system to Exchange, and the new .Net technology was the hot, sexy technology du jour for new systems.  But the fact remained that automated conversion wasn't possible then, and it's still beyond the reach of Microsoft today.

The more things change, the more they all stay the same...


Book Review - How to Break Web Software by Mike Andrews and James A. Whittaker

Category Book Reviews

If you write external-facing web apps, just accept the fact that someone will try to hack them.  The best you can do is to be aware of the different ways that web apps can be broken, and then use those techniques in your testing.  Better you find them first before "they" do.  I got a review copy of How to Break Web Software: Functional and Security Testing of Web Applications and Web Services by Mike Andrews and James A. Whittaker.  Excellent book...

Contents: The Web Is Different; Gathering Information on the Web; Attacking the Client; State-Based Attacks; Attacking User-Supplied Input Data; Language-Based Attacks; Attacking the Server; Authentication; Privacy; Web Services; Fifty Years of Software: Key Principles for Quality; Flowershop Bugs; Tools; Index

Along with the general information on how web-based applications differ from client-based apps, the authors cover 24 specific attacks with detailed examples on how they work.  For instance, I was aware of SQL Injection attacks, but they show an example in there that is a twist I hadn't seen before and that is downright scary.  My guess is that there's a lot of data at risk by companies who don't have a clue.  There's a CD in the back of the book that contains a number of the tools they use to do their vulnerability testing, and that's almost worth the price of the book alone.  For instance, there's Brutus...  a brute-force authentication tool.  I had also never heard of HTTPrint, which is a tool that targets a server and uses a number of tests to "fingerprint" it and determine the operating system and other items of interest.  If you're serious about testing your web applications and securing them against unintended use, then it's best you have these software gems at your disposal.  You know the other side already does.  Once you understand how your applications can be manipulated, you can become a much better developer by building in security at a foundational layer.  For instance, don't trust your JavaScript client side editing routines to validate your data.  That input can be changed and sent back to the server.  Instead, have input validation both at the client *and* at the server to make sure no data manipulation or validation bypasses were used.  Simple stuff like that can save you a ton of headaches and grief down the road.

With the cost of privacy lapses running into the millions for companies who fail in that area, you can't afford *not* to take the time to learn how to write and test secure applications.  This may well be the best $35 you ever spent on your professional development.  Consider it "job insurance" to avoid having to look for another job because your application ended up as a case study in some IT magazine...


My "Guilty Pleasure" blogs that I follow...

Category Everything Else

You know you have a few...  those blogs on your feed reader that don't quite make it to your blogroll for fear of what others might think.  You just quietly look forward to new posts in order to laugh it up or shake your head...

Mine are:

Go Fug Yourself - Fashion faux pas by the stars with some of the best writing I've seen out in the blogosphere.  
FuckedGoogle - The "mini-Microsoft" of today's internet darling.  I feel like we've been down this road before...

And two I just added today...

Overheard In The Office - Yes, people really say these things in the workplace...
Overheard In New York - Same as OITO, but out in the wild with people whose parents probably should have practiced safer sex...


Microsoft may be learning from the first Red Bull disaster...

Category Microsoft

Remember their first attempt at Red Bull?  If you have a Google News Alert setting on "Microsoft", it was in every freaking article...  "Look at us!  We're releasing a conversion tool for Notes!".  Then they had to go into major spin control when it was shown to be nothing but a publicity sham.

This time, it's been 24 hours since the release of Red Bull Redux ("Red Cow"?  "Red Calf"?).  Google News Alerts?  Not a one...  Instead of press releases, they simply hid the announcements in a variety of blogs.

Microsoft might be learning not to play up stuff that doesn't do what it promises...  Either that, or this next revision isn't much better, and they don't want to have to publicly do damage control again...  "It was just a beta!"


January/February's "You're SICK!" search hits...

Category Blogging

To make this (normally) monthly post go somewhat quicker, I try to cull out my search hits every couple of days.  That way at the end of the month, I just have the few "interesting" entries to post.  But I lost control in early January, and then it just snowballed.  17000+ search hit documents later, the task looked pretty overwhelming.  So what does one do when one wakes up at 2:30 and can't go back to sleep?  One does some major search and deletes in that view for an hour.  :)  And now, based on still-far-too-many remaining search hits, I present to you "The Sicko's Guide to finding Duffbert's Random Musings"...  (not to be confused with The Sickos site).  :)
  • why do men adjust and scratch themselves - Just got to get "the boys" situated, thank you.
  • needle phobia - Yes, I have that, thank you.
  • maxi pads feel like diapers - Wouldn't know.
  • Ian Disney - I don't think he *ever* wants to work there again...  Vacation and visit, yes.  Work, no.
  • am I an MCP? - If you have to ask, you probably aren't.
  • tom looks like - I wish they had finished this one.
  • cats intestinal adhesions - They only cost about $1500 to fix...  :)
  • open mouth kissing for dummies - Wiley is missing a whole sub-genre here...
  • pretty buttocks - And you ended up here?  I'm not even sure the *wife* would classify them that way...
  • gay lotusphere party - Something tells me there wasn't a signboard out in front of *that* venue...
  • tattoo, dad - Ian has one, Dad doesn't...  see "needle phobia"...
  • hairy duff - Not going there.
  • deep mouth - That must have been the sequel to Deep Throat that I missed.  :)
  • Joe Litton posters - Dude...  that is *so* over the top, runt!
  • tattoo on ankle painful - Tattoo on *anywhere* painful!
  • random acts of duff - There's a tagline and marketing angle just waiting to be explored...
  • will work for duff - Does that mean you will work for me, or you want to get paid in "duff"?
  • buttocks illustrated exercise - I don't think I need *that* much instructional material in that fashion.
  • I keep waking up - It's the one time you *don't* wake up that you need to be concerned with...
  • love to swap my wife - And I'm sure she's happy to trade you in, too.
  • how many odd days in a year? - Sometimes, it seems like most all of them...

And with that, I'm now up to date...  Enjoy!


Show and Tell Thursday: Dynamic Rich Text web content using WebQueryOpen...

Category Show And Tell Thursday

Having not done a lot of web development in Domino until the last couple of years, I have to 'fess up...  I've never used WebQueryOpen/WebQuerySave agents, nor have I ever had to figure out the DocumentContext property.  That all changed today...

I have an application that gathers information on companies, and one of the features displays a printable web page with all the information about said company.  At the bottom of the page, I needed to have a section that displayed content for 0 to many articles related to the specified company.  Normally I'd just think computed text or embedded view, but the article information is rich text.  And instead of just linking them to the article, we need to display the text of the piece so that it will be printable along with the other company information.  I was afraid I had coded myself into a corner on this one until I started to play with WebQueryOpen.

Basically, I added a computed Rich Text field on the web form and then added a WebQueryOpen agent to build the value for that field before the document opens.  I wasn't sure that I could do that because of all the quirks of Rich Text, but it works like a charm.  Since the DocumentContext gives access to the document *before* it gets rendered to HTML, I guess the rich text that you add to the document isn't constrained by all those "front-end class" limitations you see in the Notes client.  Regardless, I was *thrilled* when I added the agent, refreshed the form, and got the dynamic rich content from a lookup view showing however many articles that are related to the company...  Not rocket science, but it made me feel good...  :)

Here's the agent I used in the WebQueryOpen event...

Sub Initialize
 'Build a dynamic Rich Text field for the webform based on contents from other documents.
 Dim session As New NotesSession
 Dim dbThis As NotesDatabase
 Dim docThis As NotesDocument
 Dim viewLookup As NotesView
 Dim dcLookup As NotesDocumentCollection
 Dim docLookup As NotesDocument
 Dim rtiArticleData As NotesRichTextItem
 Dim rtsArticleBold As NotesRichTextStyle
 Dim rtsArticlePlain As NotesRichTextStyle
 Dim varText As Variant
 Dim varConclusion As Variant
 Set dbThis = session.CurrentDatabase
 Set docThis = session.DocumentContext
 Set viewLookup = dbThis.GetView("vuwLookupArticles")
 'This is the rich text field we're building, along with some styling...
 Set rtiArticleData = New NotesRichTextItem(docThis, "altArticleData")
 Set rtsArticlePlain = session.CreateRichTextStyle()
 rtsArticlePlain.Bold = False
 rtsArticlePlain.NotesColor = COLOR_BLACK
 Set rtsArticleBold = session.CreateRichTextStyle()
 rtsArticleBold.Bold = True
 rtsArticleBold.NotesColor = COLOR_BLACK
 'Get the articles for this company from the lookup view
 Set dcLookup = viewLookup.GetAllDocumentsByKey(docThis.compCompany(0), True)
 'Either build the content or say there weren't any Articles for that timeframe.
 If dcLookup.Count = 0 Then
  Call rtiArticleData.AppendText("No articles within the last 90 days.")
  Set docLookup = dcLookup.GetFirstDocument
  Do While Not (docLookup Is Nothing)
   Call rtiArticleData.AppendStyle(rtsArticleBold)
   Call rtiArticleData.AppendText("Article: " + docLookup.altTitle(0) + _
   " (" + Format$(docLookup.commonCreateModifyDate(0), "mm/dd/yyyy") + ")")
   Call rtiArticleData.AddNewline(2)
   Call rtiArticleData.AppendStyle(rtsArticlePlain)
   Set varText = docLookup.GetFirstItem("altText")
   Call rtiArticleData.AppendRTItem(varText)
   Call rtiArticleData.AddNewline(2)
   Call rtiArticleData.AppendStyle(rtsArticleBold)
   Call rtiArticleData.AppendText("Conclusion")
   Call rtiArticleData.AddNewline(2)
   Call rtiArticleData.AppendStyle(rtsArticlePlain)
   Set varConclusion = docLookup.GetFirstItem("altConclusion")
   Call rtiArticleData.AppendRTItem(varConclusion)
   Call rtiArticleData.AddNewline(3)
   Set docLookup = dcLookup.GetNextDocument(docLookup)
 End If
End Sub  

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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