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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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04/30/2006

Book Review - Create Your Own Photo Blog by Catherine Jamieson

Category Book Reviews
Not all blogs revolve around the written word.  The recent proliferation of digital photography has given rise to the use of blogs focused on the visual element, commonly referred to as photo blogs.  Catherine Jamieson has been at the front of this movement with her Utata site, and she shares her knowledge and insight in the book Create Your Own Photo Blog.  This is an incredibly beautiful book that is also extremely useful...

Contents:
Part 1 - Getting Started: Join The Revolution; Exposing Your Style; Finding a Home for Your Photo Blog
Part 2 - Setting Up: Build Your Blog - The Toolkit; The Workbench - Inside Your Blog; The Design Studio - Skins and Customizing
Part 3 - Working With Photographs: The Photographs That Work; From Camera to Blog - Making the Magic Happen; 100 Photo Ideas to Get You Shooting; Letting People Know You've Arrived; flickr; Doing Cool Things with Your Blog
Index

Using commonly available and proven tools like flicker and Moveable Type, Jamieson walks you through the process of setting up a web site, finding hosting services, and then using her tools of choice to build and manage your photo blog.  Her recommendations involve using Moveable Type as your blogging software, the flickr site for storing your photos online, and the web hosting service of Nexcess which offers a special package for people who buy the book.  If you're already familiar with blogging or web sites, you might find that you have some/most/all of these areas covered.  In that case, you can move onto the areas that deal with how to develop your photo blog related to style, concept, quality, and so forth.  The writing style is intelligent and readable, so even the areas that may not be relevant to your particular situation are still hard to skip over.  

The feature of this book I enjoyed the most was the assistance on how to shoot good pictures.  Rather than just focus on the mechanics of the software, she gets into how to choose subjects, composition of pictures, and a number of other items related to taking compelling shots.  Even if someone wasn't quite ready to commit to starting a photo blog, they could still get quite a bit out of the book when it comes to improving the quality of your pictures.  Couple that with the ability to put them online using something like flickr (if you don't already do that), and you're well on your way almost before you realize it.

I'll spare my friends and readers and stick to what I know best...  regular blogs.  My picture-taking ability is nothing to write home about, and it wouldn't be worth blogging in my case.  But should that bug ever hit me and I change my mind, this will be the book I'd use to get started.

04/30/2006

Book Review - The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4, Fascicle 4 : Generating All Trees--History of Combinatorial Generation

Category Book Reviews
I've known about The Art of Computer Programming volumes by Donald E. Knuth for some time, but I've always avoided reviewing them for fear of not being able to do them justice.  But after being contacted specifically by the publisher asking if I was interested in the latest - The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4, Fascicle 4 : Generating All Trees--History of Combinatorial Generation - I decided to give it a try.  For the right audience, this is really good stuff.  But I can tell you that I'm not it...

Content:
Chapter 7 - Combinatorial Searching: 7.2 - Generating All Possibilities; 7.2.1 - Generating Basic Combinatorial Patterns; 7.2.1.1 - Generating all n-tuples; 7.2.1.2 - Generating all permutations; 7.2.1.3 - Generating all combinations; 7.2.1.4 - Generating all partitions; 7.2.1.5 - Generating all set partitions; 7.2.1.6 - Generating all trees; 7.2.1.7 - History and further references; Answers to Exercises; Index and Glossary

Don't refresh your browser thinking the Content section didn't load properly.  There's just chapter 7...  For those who don't understand the "fascicle" concept (like I didn't before getting this volume), it's a small book (120 pages) of material that either updates writings in previous volumes or a "preview" of material that will eventually be rolled into a single volume (in this case, volume 4).  Knuth has a lot of information he wants to convey, and by using fascicles, the public can get a steady flow of information and help shape the continuing evolution of the series.  Interesting concept, and one I can appreciate.  Another review stated that this was probably one of the "skimpiest" volumes in terms of mathematical knowledge.  If true, then I fear what will await me with future installments.  To get the most of out Knuth's work, you really do need to be well-grounded in computer science and mathematical theory.  Every page is populated with numerous formulas to prove the subject matter, and I'll admit to being completely lost in most of it.  That doesn't mean the book isn't good.  It *is* excellent work, but I'm definitely not the target audience.  I don't come from a formal computer science and mathematics background, so I'd have to really slog through everything from page 1 with supporting texts in order to fully benefit from it.  

It wasn't a total loss for me, though...  I enjoyed the History and Further References chapter, where he shows the tree theory and how it affected such things as literature and culture through the ages.  Whether the ancient Chinese had all this in mind when developing the I Ching is open to debate, but the theory and underpinnings of trees is definitely there.  And for those readers who really want to work through and apply the material, there are exercises galore at the end (with answers graciously provided for those who get stuck).  You could likely set up a college level course based on this (and associated) book, and it would be foundational to a computer science degree.

So, for the right audience, this is the type of book that will allow for weeks of thought and learning.  But if you're more like me, someone who deals more with business systems and development (without a comp sci degree to back it up), you'll likely miss most of the value here.

04/29/2006

Book Review - Don't Make Me Think (2nd Edition) by Steve Krug

Category Book Reviews
If I read a book on web design or web usability, the thing that will turn me off the quickest is the dogmatic rantings of a self-proclaimed "expert" on the subject.  It's far too easy to call one's preferences "best practices" and think that everyone needs to conform to them.  Hate it, hate it, hate it!  So why did I pick up and read Don't Make Me Think : A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2nd Edition) by Steve Krug?  Because it's one of those usability books that actually clicks with me and restores my faith in common sense design techniques.

Contents:
Guiding Principles: Don't make me think!; How we really use the Web; Billboard Design 101; Animal, vegetable, or mineral?; Omit needless words
Things You Need To Get Right: Street signs and Breadcrumbs; The first step in recovery is admitting that the Home page is beyond your control
Making Sure You Got Them Right: "The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends"; Usability testing on 10 cents a day
Larger Concerns And Outside Influences: Usability as common courtesy; Accessibility, Cascading Style Sheets; and you; Help! My boss wants me to ______.
Recommended Reading; Acknowledgments; Index

First off, Steve Krug does this web design stuff for a living.  So rather than live in the world of theory and stopwatches, he's actually seen and built things that both work and fail.  Because of that, his common sense experience shines through in his writing.  Couple that with some unique page design and entertaining graphics, and it's hard to not sit through and read the book from end to end in one sitting.  In fact, that's *exactly* what he designed the book for!  For those of us who have been working on the web for a very long time, it's amazing how much we take for granted and just "assume".  But the audience of our site(s) may be far less sophisticated, and the only way to understand usable web design is to see things through fresh eyes.  His pragmatic approach to usability testing is refreshing, and is something that you can easily do on any project without having to spend thousands for a full-blown lab.  Those findings will drive much of your design and help you to realize what works and what doesn't.  And it will probably surprise you what falls into which areas...

This is one of those classic titles on a subject that needs to be read by everyone who makes their living doing web site design.  There's absolutely no reason *not* to spend the three or so hours it will take to cover the material.  I'm willing to bet it will make a positive impact on your design skills, and your audience will thank you profusely...

04/29/2006

Invitation to join the ITtoolbox Wiki...

Category IBM/Lotus
I received the following email the other day and I don't really have the bandwidth to take this on...  But feel free to head on over and lend your insight and expertise...

I just wanted to follow up with you real quick and see if you have had a chance to check out ITtoolbox Wiki, the IT knowledge sharing community at:
http://www.ittoolbox.com/r/da.asp?r=149383.

Given your expertise on IBM Lotus Notes, I thought you might be interested in connecting with other IT professionals, sharing your knowledge, and building global recognition as an authority in information technology.

One way to gain recognition would be to provide links to your publications when you reference them in the wiki entries you create and edit.  In addition to gaining recognition, you can learn from others in the community who may edit and create entries in areas of interest to you.

I hope you enjoy the community at ITtoolbox Wiki.

Best regards,

Sonja Soderberg  
ITtoolbox  
"Professional IT Community"  

http://www.ITtoolbox.com  

04/29/2006

Book Review - Ajax for Dummies by Steve Holzner

Category Book Reviews
Ajax is obviously one of the hot web technologies these days, and now we have the Dummies title that covers it...  Ajax for Dummies by Steve Holzner.  While it might be easy to write this off as "just another Dummies book", I don't know that I'd be so hasty...

Contents:  
Part 1 - Getting Started: Ajax 101; It's All About JavaScript
Part 2 - Programming in Ajax: Getting to Know Ajax; Ajax in Depth
Part 3 - Ajax Frameworks: Introducing Ajax Frameworks; More Powerful Ajax Frameworks; Server-Side Ajax Frameworks
Part 4 - In-Depth Ajax Power: Handling XML in Ajax Applications; Working with Cascading Style Sheets in Ajax Applications; Working with Ajax and PHP
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten Ajax Design Issues You Should Know About; Ten Super-Useful Ajax Resources
Index

As I said, I wouldn't write this off as just another Dummies title.  For one, Steve Holzner has an excellent track record of writing tech books that have become the go-to references in the industry.  As per usual, he also does a great job on this book, albeit in the "Dummies" style of presentation and writing.  There is an abundance of code and screen shots that make it easy to follow along, and he presents just enough background on JavaScript and other Ajax components to bring you up-to-speed if those are not your strong areas.  The only "nit" I have is that some of the code and screen shots in Chapter 2 don't quite mesh.  The code statements for what should be on the screen don't quite match what actually printed out.  It's as if the screen shot was made with a slightly reworded JavaScript routine.  It still is essentially the same, but it threw me slightly as I was going through the material.

I felt the book really came to life in Part 3 with coverage of the different frameworks.  I don't think any of the other books I've read on Ajax to date have had quite this much information on all the different frameworks you can implement to eliminate much of the "heavy lifting".  Since Steve does a good job of presenting the pros and cons of each, you'll quickly determine if a framework is the way you want to go, and which options might be best for your particular project.  

While not the most technical book on the subject, Ajax for Dummies does bring some angles to the table that aren't present (or as strong) in other books.  It'd be a good introduction to the subject matter, or a nice second volume to gain a different perspective on the technology.

04/29/2006

Book Review - The Only Guide To A Winning Bond Strategy You'll Ever Need

Category Book Reviews
I always thought that investing in bonds would be a pretty basic activity...  You see an interest rate, you buy the bond, you get the payments.  Wrong!  I've been set straight by the book The Only Guide to a Winning Bond Strategy You'll Ever Need : The Way Smart Money Preserves Wealth Today by Larry E. Swedroe and Joseph H. Hempen.

Contents: Introduction; Bondspeak; The Risks of Fixed-Income Investing; The Buying and Selling of Individual Bonds; How the Fixed-Income Markets Really Work; The Securities of the U.S. Treasury, Government Agencies, and Government-Sponsored Enterprises; The World of Short-Term Fixed-Income Securities; The World of Corporate Fixed-Income Securities; The World of International Fixed-Income Securities; The World of Mortgage-Backed Securities; The World of Municipal Bonds; How to Design and Construct Your Fixed-Income Portfolio; Summary; Afterword; Appendices; Notes; Glossary; Acknowledgments; Index

While not an expert investor by any means, I thought I understood the basics about bonds.  I figured that buying a bond meant that you looked at the rating on how strong the company is, chose something that was investment grade, and then buy the security that provides the interest rate that you want to achieve.    The reality is far, far different.  I didn't realize there's really eight risks you have to manage when buying bonds: interest rate risks, credit risk, reinvestment risk, inflation risk, event risk, tax risk, liquidity risk, and agency risk.  I didn't understand that the lack of transparency in the broker market means that you can get severely burned on a bond purchase and end up losing your stated interest rate *and* your principal.  And of course, there are a myriad number of products, each with benefits and risks, and you can easily end up buying something that was designed to be "sold", not designed to be "invested".  Swedroe and Hempen do a great job in outlining these things and many more in a relatively clear way.  I say "relatively" because there is a fair amount of math and financial concepts presented here that you *do* need to understand and think about.  This book would never be mistaken for a "Bonds for Dummies" title, but for serious investors looking to thoroughly understand the subject matter without delving into all the minutiae of formulas and calculations, you'd have a hard time topping this offering.

I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who is serious in their financial investments and takes personal responsibility for them.  While you may be at the stage of life where equities are more important to you than bonds, there's information here that will allow you to round out your financial education and acumen, and it's a purchase that will pay for itself many times over.

04/27/2006

Book Review - Practical Development Environments by Matthew B. Doar

Category Book Reviews
It's much more common these days to see development environments that use standard tools for things like the build process, source management, testing, and so forth.  But if you're just getting introduced to these areas of automation and control, how do you get a broad understanding of the issues and offerings without buying a ton of books that are far too detailed for what you need?  Practical Development Environments by Matthew B. Doar addresses this need quite well...

Contents: Introduction; Project Basics; Project Concepts; Software Configuration Management; Building Software; Testing Software; Tracking Bugs; Documentation Environments; Releasing Products; Maintenance; Project Communication; Politics and People; How Tools Scale; Resources; Index

I like the way things are laid out here.  Take the Tracking Bugs chapter for example...  It starts out with a list of requirements that a tool needs to be able to do well in order to be useful in tracking bugs.  Things like ease of data entry, easy review of bugs, tracing the history of a bug, generate reports, and so forth.  Once the requirements are out there, then he examines some of the common tools available along with their pros and cons.  There's the ever-present spreadsheet (not bad for something small and simple), Bugzilla, GNATS, FogBugz, JIRA, and TestTrack.  Each of those products are covered in a page or two so that you can understand the history, strengths, current direction, and why you may or may not want to choose this particular tool.  There's also no dogma here on whether something needs to be free/open source or not.  Both commercial and open source packages are covered.  This is followed by more general bug tracking system discussion, and then it all ends with a checklist of questions you should feel comfortable answering about your particular choice in this area.  By the time you're done with a chapter on a particular subject, you should have a decent foundation on the concepts you need to know to make an informed choice.

It's not a book you'd mistake as a reference manual on any one (or more) tools, but that's not what it sets out to be.  This is the book you'd want if you don't know what you don't know.  If you keep that in mind, it delivers on its purpose.

04/27/2006

Amazing how earning $3 billion in a quarter is bad... :)

Category Microsoft
Microsoft announced their quarterly results today, and they "only" made close to $3 billion and missed estimates.  The stock got hammered after hours, too.  I think some of the news story quotes are enlightening, however...

From Bloomberg:

Some customers held back purchases amid delays in Microsoft's new Windows and Office products. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer relies on the two products for more than 50 percent of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft's revenue and nearly all its profit. Growth in both products has been less than 10 percent for three quarters in a row.

That's scary that with all the "stuff" Microsoft is doing, Windows and Office still are the only things keeping Microsoft afloat.  

From TheStreet.com:

Microsoft has decided to forgo profitability in favor of heavy investments in its video-game business, online advertising and other areas the company deems high growth.

The "strategic decision," as CFO Chris Liddell calls it, explains the company's surprisingly weak bottom-line performance in the just-completed third quarter and the disappointing earnings guidance for the fourth quarter and fiscal 2007.

In the third quarter, the cost of revenue increase by 53% from $1.3 billion a year ago to $2 billion. Sales and marketing increased by about 14% in the quarter and R&D was up nearly 9%.

One big culprit: spending on the Xbox 360. Sales have gone up significantly, but because Microsoft loses money on every unit sold, the company's profitability suffers. Liddell said the delay of Sony's PlayStation 3 as an opportunity for Microsoft to grab share, and he forecast heavy spending on the console throughout the rest of the fiscal year, but not into 2007.

The company's Home and Entertainment segment, which makes the Xbox 360, increased revenue by 80% to $1.1 billion due to strong demand for the console. But the division's loss grew even faster, ballooning by 121% to $388 million.

The company's Client division, which sells Windows, grew by nearly 8% to $3.19 billion in sales while making a profit of $2.5 billion. The Information Worker business, which sells Office and other products, grew by 5% to $2.95 billion in sales and earned a profit of $2.1 billion.

Growth in other areas was more dynamic. Business Solutions, which runs Microsoft's fledgling enterprise applications business, grew revenue 20.7% to $216 million while narrowing its loss to $13 million from $39 million a year ago.

For as much as Microsoft wants to be in every software market out there, the reality is that without Office and Windows, they'd be hemorraging money.  Even with the built-in monopoly they have in the OS market, they still are not dominant from a financial standpoint in any other area.  

I know that many have talked about Microsoft needing to split themselves up to be more agile and responsive in today's market.  But if they did that, the only part that would survive would be Windows and Office.  How long can you build game consoles as a stand-alone company and lose money on each unit you ship?  Nice to know every purchase of Word and Excel is making it possible for someone to play the latest Xbox 360 game...  

Numbers like this also explain why Ballmer and company fear Linux and OpenOffice so much.  When 100% of your product profit comes from software that has viable free alternatives, you probably don't sleep well at night...

04/24/2006

No, I haven't decided to ignore the proposed Eclipse series...

Category Software Development
I've had a number of writing gigs that I had to get out of the way first.  Now that those are done, I can give some thought to the subject...

04/23/2006

Book Review - Jeffrey Gitomer's Little Red Book of Sales Answers

Category Book Reviews
While I'm not "officially" in sales as a career, one of my jobs in software development is "selling" the technology.  To that end, I'm always open to new ideas to become a better "salesperson".  Jeffrey Gitomer has a very nice, fun little book that has a wealth of practical advice...  Jeffrey Gitomer's Little Red Book of Sales Answers : 99.5 Real World Answers That Make Sense, Make Sales, and Make Money.  It's targeted to sales professionals, but you can glean quite a bit from it for all areas of your career.

Contents:  Part 1 - Personal Improvement That Leads to Personal Growth; Part 2 - Prospecting for Golden Leads and Making Solid Appointments; Part 3 - How to Win the Sales Battle AND the Sales War; Part 4 - Sales Skill Building... One Brick at a Time; Part 5 - Building the Friendship. Building the Relationship. Earning the Referral. Earning the Testimonial. Earning the Reorder; Part 6 - Building Your Personal Brand; Part 6.5 - The Final AHA!

Each of the "parts" consists of a number of two and three page questions that Gitomer proceeds to answer.  It starts out with basics like "What is the meaning of sales?" and "How do I make a cold call?" to "Am I available to my customers when they need me?" and "What do the leaders in my industry say about me?".  Using cartoons, a range of fonts, and a very direct, conversational style of writing, the essential points that answer the question are spelled out for the reader.  Gitomer uses his experience in sales to help you understand the steps you need to take to be successful at this thing called "sales".  He also includes a number of references back to his website where you can get additional information and/or freebies to help you along.  In fact, you can judge the effectiveness of his answers by looking at how he's practicing what he preaches by writing a book like this.

I mentioned I am a software developer and *still* found this book useful.  If you're a consultant, a book like this is a no-brainer.  You need to be selling your services and talents, and this book can help you do that.  And given you're probably a techno-geek, most of the information here won't be intuitive to you (or comfortable, either).  Regardless, mastering these skills can ensure that you have a steady flow of customers.  Even if you're not a consultant but a regular employee at a company, you should still view yourself as a "sellable" item.  Applying these ideas can separate you from your coworkers and make your position much more secure than the guy who is keeping his head down, hoping not to create waves...

This is a small investment of time and money that can pay off in large returns down the road.  Even implementing two or three ideas from the book might change your career.  If you've never considered "selling" yourself on the job, this book might just change your perspective in a positive way...

04/22/2006

Book Review - Ireland for Dummies by Liz Albertson

Category Book Reviews
I was given the opportunity to speak at a user group meeting in Dublin this upcoming June, and I decided I didn't want to be completely ignorant about the country.  While it won't be a touring vacation, I'd still like to know a bit more about where I'll be visiting.  To that end, I received a review copy of Ireland for Dummies by Liz Albertson.  It's a fun and easy read, and at least I won't be a *completely* stupid American tourist now.

Contents:
Part 1 - Introducing Ireland: Discovering the Best of Ireland; Digging Deeper into Ireland; Deciding When and Where to Go; Following an Itinerary - Four Great Options
Part 2 - Planning Your Trip to Ireland: Managing Your Money; Getting to Ireland; Getting around Ireland; Booking Your Accommodations; Catering to Special Travel Needs and Interests; Taking Care of the Remaining Details
Part 3 - Dublin and the East Coast: Dublin; Easy Trips North of Dublin - Counties Meath and Louth; Easy Trips South of Dublin - Counties Wicklow and Kildare; The Southeast - Counties Wexford, Waterford, Tipperary, and Kilkenny
Part 4 - Counties Cork and Kerry: County Cork; County Kerry
Part 5 - The West and the Northwest: Counties Limerick and Clare; County Galway - Galway City, The Aran Islands, and Connemara; Counties Mayo and Sligo; County Donegal
Part 6 - Northern Ireland: Counties Derry, Fermanagh, and Tyrone; Belfast and County Antrim; Counties Down and Armagh
Part 7 - The Part of Tens: Top Ten Traditional Irish Dishes and Drinks; The Top Ten Items to Buy in Ireland
Appendix: Quick Concierge
Index

For what I was looking for, this book was perfect.  I'm not moving over there, nor was I looking for an in-depth discussion and critical analysis of Irish history and culture.  I needed something that would give me an overall understanding of the country and the different areas.  For instance, not having spent much time going beyond the nightly news, I didn't understand the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country.  At least now I have a basic feel for the forces at play.  I was also fascinated by the colorful history of the island over the centuries.  It's amazing to think there are buildings and institutions there that are approaching a thousand years of existence.  Makes the history of the United States look rather insignificant.  If I were going to be headed off on my own for a week or so, the travel and sightseeing information here would be incredibly useful.  Not only is there good information about what to see (and what possibly to avoid), the author also gives suggested amounts of time you might want to allocate towards a site.  If you're thinking you might like to spend half a day somewhere and she suggests an hour, you might want to give your plans a second thought.  I also liked a feature of this book that I haven't seen in others...  They include a page of Dummies Post-It flags that you can use to tag important (to you) pages for further reference as you're traveling.  A simple thing, but it makes the book even more valuable to take along and use on your trip.

My wife would like to visit Ireland and England one day, but not on the whirlwind schedule that this speaking trip will entail.  When we *do* head back over there (and I'm sure we will), this book will be an essential part of our planning...

04/21/2006

Book Review - Upgrading and Repairing PCs (17th Edition) by Scott Mueller

Category Book Reviews
This is perhaps my favorite PC repair book, and it's a classic...  Upgrading and Repairing PCs (17th Edition) by Scott Mueller.  What other PC book do you know of that's been around for 17 editions?

Contents: Development of the PC; PC Components, Features, and System Design; Microprocessor Types and Specifications; Motherboards and Buses; BIOS; Memory; The ATA/IDE Interface; Magnetic Storage Principles; Hard Disk Storage; Removable Storage; Optical Storage; Physical Drive Installation and Configuration; Video Hardware; Audio Hardware; I/O Interfaces from Serial and Parallel to IEEE 1394 and USB; Input Devices; Internet Connectivity; Local Area Networking; Power Supplies; Building or Upgrading Systems; PC Mods: Overclocking and Cooling; PC Diagnostics, Testing, and Maintenance; Glossary; Key Vendor Contact Information; Troubleshooting Index; List of Acronyms and Abbreviations; Index

Over 1500 pages of just about everything you've ever wanted to know about anything related to your PC.  Add in two hours of DVD material, and there isn't much you'll encounter in the way of hardware repair and installation that isn't in here somewhere...  The thing I like most about this book is the mix of practical repair information coupled with a full history and explanation of how things work.  For instance, the microprocessor chapter is a full course in CPU architecture.  Mueller takes the chance in the 17th edition to explain the new dual core CPUs, why you'd benefit from them, as well as every spec you'd ever want to know.  I'd venture to say that if it's not in here, the only other place to find the information you need is via Google and the manufacturer's website.  Other books might be more approachable to the relative newcomer to PC repair and upgrading.  But for someone who has been around PCs for some time and needs something deeper than a "Joe Consumer" coverage, this book absolutely can not be topped.

To me, this is a "must have" book for the computer geek.  The information has a very long track record of success, and it's well deserved.  So long as Scott keeps coming out with new editions, I'll make sure to keep my version upgraded...

04/20/2006

Book Review - Eric Sink on the Business of Software

Category Book Reviews
My contact at Apress recently sent me a copy of Eric Sink on the Business of Software by, of course, Eric Sink.  He's the person responsible for coining the phrase "micro-ISV", and he's the chief bottle-washer at SourceGear.  This book is a compilation (and commentary and/or expansion) of some of his postings from his blog, and they all relate to the subject of running a small software company where you are responsible for everything.  There is very good material in here, even if you don't think you'll ever sell anything you code on your own...

Contents:
Part 1 - Entrepreneurship: What Is a Small ISV?; Whining by a Barrel of Rocks; Starting Your Own Company; Finance for Geeks; Exploring Micro-ISVs; First Report from My Micro-ISV; Make More Mistakes
Part 2 - People: Small ISVs - You Need Developers, Not Programmers; Geeks Rule and MBAs Drool; Hazards of Hiring; Great Hacker != Great Hire; My Comments on "Hitting the High Notes"; Career Calculus
Part 3 - Marketing: Finding a Product Idea for Your Micro-ISV; Marketing Is Not a Post-processing Step; Choose Your Competition; Act Your Age; Geek Gauntlets; Be Careful Where You Build; The Game Is Afoot; Going to a Trade Show; Magazine Advertising Guide for Small ISVs
Part 4 - Sales: Tenets of Transparency; Product Pricing Primer; Closing the Gap, Part 1; Closing the Gap, Part 2; Just Do It
Index

I think every decent developer/programmer has at some point imagined writing some piece of software that they could sell and make a fortune on.  It's true that a very, very small minority ever act on that, but it's not as far-fetched as you might think in the Internet Age.  Eric Sink has made many of the mistakes common to geeks trying to run a business, and he's come out of it with hard-earned wisdom and a company that actually thrives in their niche.  If you take the time to read and learn from his examples, you'll go into the world of software product sales with much better odds of not blowing yourself up before you even begin.  The book is written in a humorous, conversational tone, and it's a fun read that goes by quickly.  

Even if you're not planning on creating the next "killer app", you can still learn quite a bit.  The section on people applies to anyone who has a career in software development, and the "Career Calculus" chapter should be required reading.  In fact, go read it on his blog at http://software.ericsink.com/Career_Calculus.html.  Since I tend to think of myself as a single-person company who just happens to have a regular position at a large company, the insights in this section will make me more valuable to both my current employer and to myself.

The *only* fault I find in this book is one that's common to compilations.  Certain examples and sayings tend to be repeated over time, and there's many months between sightings.  When they appear in back to back chapters of a compilation, you start to wonder if you misplaced your bookmark.  I've downgraded reviews based on this phenomenon in the past, but I can't do it here.  I just found so much value in the essays that the repeated stuff didn't elicit the normal reaction...

This book would make my "recommended reading" list with no problem.  In fact, I know someone who actually *is* a micro-ISV (party of one), and this book is heading off to him just as soon as I finish this review.  I'll be interested to hear his take on Sink's book "from the front lines of the war".

04/20/2006

Book Review - The Sign Of The Book by John Dunning

Category Book Reviews
Some years back, my local librarian alerted me to John Dunning and his Cliff Janeway series.  I liked them a lot, but unfortunately he doesn't write often.  Somehow the 2005 The Sign Of The Book got past me, and I picked it up.  Very good read...

Cliff Janeway is a book dealer in Denver who retired from the police force to pursue his passion.  His partner, Erin D'Angelo, is a practicing lawyer and his partner in the store.  She asks him to do her a favor...  A former best friend of hers is accused of murdering her husband in a small Colorado town called Paradise.  Her and the friend had a falling out over the affair and subsequent marriage to Erin's flame years ago.  The friend wants Erin to represent her, but Erin's not sure she can get over the affair (nor does she even know if she wants to).  She sends Janeway up to sniff around and get a feel for the situation.  It doesn't hurt that the dead husband had a large collection of books, and Janeway discovers that they are all signed copies worth considerably more than one might think.  At first, the woman is claiming she shot the husband, but it looks really suspicious.  Turns out she's covering up for the mute son they adopted.  She says that Jerry, the son, shot the husband, and she wanted to protect him.  Both Janeway and D'Angelo work with a local detective to investigate the case and turn up a large amount of local corruption and shadowy activity by the dead guy.  But just when it looks like justice was served and all is well, the case gets completely flipped on its ear...

Taking out the book angle of the series, I'd still like the story and writing.  Janeway is an ace cop who listens to his gut, takes no flack from anyone, and isn't afraid to play outside the lines.  But as a book lover, the whole book dealer element adds a lot of attraction.  And since the author really *is* a bookseller, there's a ring of authenticity that you normally don't get with this type of series.  A fast, enjoyable read, and a series I'd recommend to anyone looking for a good crime mystery...

04/19/2006

Watching my friend recover and cope via his blog...

Category Blogging
Some time back, I blogged about the fragility of life.  In that post, I talked about how a former Enron colleague, Justin Brown, had been in a light plane crash and nearly died.  He recently started a blog to talk about the post-recovery period and how he's adjusting to life...  Check out Justin's Rant Room...

04/18/2006

Book Review - Apocalypse Crucible by Mel Odom

Category Book Reviews
Continuing in the Apocalypse series, I got and read the 2nd book, Apocalypse Crucible by Mel Odom.  While I like the series concept, I'm fairly dismayed over the pacing of the story.  I don't think much happened in book 2 to advance the story, and definitely not enough for 326 pages.

"Goose" Gander is still over in Turkey, helping to run a delaying action in a town, designed to slow down the Syrians.  A CIA spy that everyone is looking for has apparently focused on Gander, and Gander is holding out on his chain of command in order to figure out what's going on.  All this while dealing with the loss of his youngest son to the Rapture.  His wife is still on base back stateside, and she's in even more hot water now that a teen client tries to commit suicide with a pistol shot to the gut while the wife is trying to talk her out of the act.  But for some reason, the military brass on base seems to think she actually shot the teen, and coupled with the "missing" boy from book 1, her freedom is tenuous at best.  And then there's the military chaplain who goes to the grave of his son, planning on digging it up to see whether his son was part of the Rapture or not.  He tries to walk away from the deed prior to opening the casket, but his own personal demon shows up to force him to open the casket or be killed.  But the creature disappears before either happens, and the chaplain is still trying to make sense of what's left of his faith.  Oh, and there's the lovely OneWorld News Network reporter over on the war front, thinking she has the lead on a big story related to the CIA spy, but is being stonewalled by her boss for unknown reasons...

Yeah, I've probably made this sound worse than it actually is.  But I really thought we'd end up further down the plot after installment 2 than things ended up.  Too many "why is this happening to character x" questions posed at the end of book 1 are still hanging there in book 2, and I felt as if we could have gotten there in far less pages.  I'll still read book 3, as I have it on my shelf right now.  But my enthusiasm for the series is starting to drag, and I'm not going into it with any great expectations...

04/18/2006

Addicted to ear plugs...

Category Everything Else
A few years back, I started sleeping with ear plugs to help "mask out certain noises" (and that's all I'll say in order to preserve my marriage).  I've gotten to the point that even when I'm sleeping alone, I still end up using them because any background noise tends to wake me up.

Which brings me to work...

The area I sit in has a number of people who have to spend a fair amount of time on the phone.  As a result, I know far more about certain software systems that I don't support than I ever wanted to.  I envy those people who can zone out everything around them and not get distracted.  Me?  I tend to have this radar system going, and I end up focusing on any conversation that drifts my way.  Perhaps that's the "bright shiny object" distraction tendency of my attention.  Putting on headphones and listening to music doesn't seem to work for me, as I end up focusing on the music.  Sometimes it works, but often it's not much better in terms of concentration.  The solution?  My trusty ear plugs!  I pop a pair of those puppies in, and it sounds like everyone moves about 100 feet away.  The only drawback is when someone approaches you from behind and thinks you're aware of them, and you're just blissfully cranking code...  :)

I may have to start buying two packs each time I restock...  one for home and one for work.

04/17/2006

Book Review - Must-Win Battles

Category Book Reviews
If you've lived in the world of corporate America (and probably corporate anywhere else), you know how it goes...  A seemingly endless parade of initiatives and programs designed to revolutionize the company, each one being replaced by the new fad of the month.  As a result, the staff becomes numb to it all and nothing changes.  But what if there was a way to focus on just a few "must-win battles" that rally the company?  That's the direction of the book Must-Win Battles: How To Win Them, Again And Again by Peter Killing, Thomas Malnight, and Tracey Keys.

Content:
Section 1 - Preparing the Journey: Understanding Your Starting Conditions; What Does It Take to Lead an MWB Journey?
Section 2 - Engaging the Team: Opening Windows - Sharing Perspectives and Realities; Defining the Battles - Colliding to Decide; Committing to One
Agenda - Breaking the Silos
Section 3 - Making it Happen: Engaging the Organization; From Tent to Tent - The Unilever Ice Cream Journey; Lessons from MWB Journeys Won and Lost
Appendixes - The MWB Journey Roadmap; The Denison Survey - Questions; Using External Assistance; Index

The authors take you through the process of forming and executing "Must-Win Battles" (MWB), corporate goals that take priority over all others.  These MWBs are targets that, if achieved, would make a significant impact on your market share, profitability, or perhaps even your survival.  Following a well-documented process, they explain now to work through the entire process, pitfalls and all.  There's also an on-going fictional story of a company and CEO who embarks on this journey.  Using the story, the straight "facts" surrounding the process start to take on flesh and blood, and you can see how issues arise and how they might be resolved.  It's not an easy path by any means, but the payoff at the end can be substantial.

Reading through the book (and working in Information Technology), I was reminded of a very large software company.  They are even referenced in places within the book for key MWBs that propelled their company to the front of the market and has kept them there for many, many years.   Conversely, it appears of late that they want to have a finger in absolutely everything, from consumer electronics and gaming to every aspect of the computer desktop (and then some).  The loss of a single overriding battle to be won has led to a thousand little battles that don't coordinate well with each other.  Although they can continue to throw money at the problems, you wonder if perhaps it's time for them to read this book and take it to heart.

A solid plan for businesses looking to break the "business fad du jour" cycle.  Not an easy process, but one well worth pursuing.

04/16/2006

Book Review - Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few

Category Book Reviews
One of the system architecture ideas that has waxed and waned over the years is the concept of an Information Dashboard...  a single screen of data that summarizes key data points for quick monitoring by executives.  But just throwing a few graphs on the web page isn't necessarily the right thing to do.  Stephen Few covers the subject of dashboard design in his book Information Dashboard Design : The Effective Visual Communication of Data.

Contents: Clarifying the Vision; Variations in Dashboard Uses and Data; Thirteen Common Mistakes in Dashboard Design; Tapping Into the Power of Visual Perception; Eloquence Through Simplicity; Effective Dashboard Display Media; Designing Dashboards for Usability; Putting it All Together; Appendix; Index

For someone like me (not a whiz when it comes to graphic design) to really like a book of this nature is saying something.  I actually understood everything he was writing, and I didn't think this was some self-serving "listen to me because I'm an expert" volume.  The book is printed on heavy paper stock and full color, so the examples don't lose any impact in the normal translation to black and white.  Lavishly illustrated with examples both good and bad, it's easy to see why some things work and some don't.  Even designs that I thought "looked" professional had significant drawbacks.  For instance, colors should represent the same thing throughout the page.  Don't make a pie chart with a red slice if you want red to represent a danger indicator somewhere else on the screen.  Minimize the non-data pixels so the eyes don't have to work at interpreting data from "fluff" (like graph lines).  And when you're choosing graphing formats, make sure you choose ones which are relevant to the data being displayed.  Don't choose a pie chart when a bar graph makes an easier comparison.  He even goes into color choices and how they cause the mind and eye to group things on the page.  Normally I'd be reading material like this with a "says you!" attitude, but there wasn't a single instance where I thought he was pushing his own preferences instead of something that actually made sense and had some research behind it.  I actually found myself thinking about some of my own application designs based on the material presented, as well as how I need to change a few things along the way.

If you're not a graphically oriented person (like I'm not), this book is a lifesaver for your design and development efforts.  It should remain close at hand as you do your web site design on a daily basis.  And even if you *do* know what you're doing, you will likely become a whole lot better at it after reading Information Dashboard Design.

04/16/2006

Book Review - The Power of Impossible Thinking

Category Book Reviews
It's often the case that our vision of reality is a product of our own mental biases.  If you can change the way you look at something, the reality of it can undergo a dramatic shift.  This whole subject is explored very well in the book The Power of Impossible Thinking: Transform the Business of Your Life and the Life of Your Business by Jerry Wind, Colin Crook, and Robert Gunther.  Very powerful stuff...

Contents:
Part 1 - Recognize The Power And Limits Of Mental Models: Our Models Define Our World; Running The Miracle Mile
Part 2 - Keeping Your Models Relevant: Should You Change Horses?; Paradigm Shifts Are A Two-Way Street; Seeing A New Way Of Seeing; Sift For Sense From Streams Of Complexity; Engage In R&D Of The Mind
Part 3 - Transform Your World: Dismantle The Old Order; Find Common Ground To Bridge Adaptive Disconnects
Part 4 - Act Quickly And Effectively: Develop The Intuition To Act Quickly; The Power To Do The Impossible; Challenging Your Own Thinking - Personal, Business, and Society; What You Think Is What You Do; The Neuroscience Behind Mental Models; Selected Bibliography; Acknowledgments; Index; On The Audio CD

This is one of those rare "business books" that can be applied effectively to both your business and your personal life.  The authors examine how our mindsets of situations and events cause us to build our own "reality" about them.  The opening example is about how you're walking along a dark street and you hear footsteps behind you.  You know the neighborhood recently had a well-publizied crime happen.  You're sure that you're about to be the next victim.  Fight or Flight...  Then you turn and find it's one of your co-workers.  The reality of the situation never altered, but "your" reality of the situation has completely changed.  These "mental models" are then explored in various realms of business and personal life.  For instance, Howard Schultz viewed Starbucks through a completely different mental filter than those who were running the operation.  Rather than seeing the company as a seller of coffee, he saw the potential for a complete experience surrounding the act of ordering and drinking coffee.  He had to leave the company, start his own operation around that model, and then buy out Starbucks once his vision showed signs of success.  The same business environment was open to both Schultz and the owners, but they saw the "reality" in completely different ways...

This is one of the better books I've read that deals with the subject of neuroscience.  But rather than just giving examples and citing research, the authors show how this research can be applied to your life in ways that can make a dramatic difference.  If you've never explored the "science of the mind", this is a great introduction anchored in practical use.  And this might just be the spark that causes you to change the way you look at things, thereby changing your life in ways that seem completely impossible right now...

04/13/2006

Taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University course...

Category Everything Else
Based on reading the book The Total Money Makeover, my wife and I decided to sign up for a 13 week seminar called Financial Peace University put on by Dave Ramsey (actually, his organization...  not him in person).  This may be the best time commitment we've ever made...

If you head over to his web site, you can find out about the plan.  It basically involves building up an emergency fund, then eliminating debt, and so on through "building serious wealth".  It's all information you've likely heard before in various forms, but his motivation and focus are infectious.  I appreciate the fact it's not "gimmicky", in that you're following some "get rich quick" scheme.  It's hard work, but it's solid advice.

Fortunately for us, we're not a poster child for a turnaround story.  We're actually in relatively good shape, comparatively speaking (although looking at our finances, that's a scary thought).  It's just that I know we could be doing so much better.  And I don't want to retire with a review copy of 101 Ways To Prepare Alpo (And Love It!).  Although we're only starting week 3, we've already made major strides.  And last night was the first time my wife and I have had a money discussion in a LONG time (ever?) that didn't push buttons and fan flames.

And who knows?  Perhaps discipline in this area will lead to better discipline in other areas...  like home maintenance...  :)

04/12/2006

Never know *who* you'll find in a book!

Category Everything Else
While reading IBM Workplace Services Express for Dummies (for a review in next month's LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter), I ran across a screen capture that the author (Stephen Londergan) had of his People Palette.  It's a little fuzzy in this scan, but look who appears?  Our own Alan Lepofsky!

Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - Never know *who* you'll find in a book!

04/11/2006

Formatting column headings in a view/folder? (Question from a reader)

Category IBM/Lotus
Hi, everyone...  I got a question from a blog reader who is trying to do some formatting of column headings in a folder design.  I don't know of an answer to this, but Show and Tell Thursday has proven to me that the group knowledge is greater than any single person's input.  Can anyone offer up any suggestions, hacks, what have you?

I am trying to organize a fairly complicated folder, particularly the column headings.  I have column headings that have up to 3 rows of information and I know how to specify multiple rows for headings in the folder properties, but I am at a loss to figure out how to have the headings break where I want them.  Here is an example:


Marketer
# of
Open
Quotes
Total
$'s
Quotes

Closing
Ratio


To achieve this look, I need a couple of carriage returns before the value of "Marketer" in the column heading, and one before "Closing".  By default, Notes starts everything on the top line, which has terrible visual appeal.  My actual requirement for this folder is far more complex, which is why I am not using a view and why I need to control my headings more tightly.  Is there any way you know of to put these line feeds into the text of the column headings?

04/09/2006

Book Review - Service-Oriented Architecture Compass

Category Book Reviews
The whole subject of SOA, or Service Oriented Architecture, is getting to be ever-more mainstream in IT organizations.  Being able to build systems using a web services architecture presents some very real advantages, but how do you know where to begin?  From an architecture and structure viewpoint, this book does a pretty good job...  Service-Oriented Architecture Compass: Business Value, Planning, and Enterprise Roadmap by Norbert Bieberstein, Sanjay Bose, Marc Fiammante, Keith Jones, and Rawn Shah.

Contents: Introducing SOA; Explaining the Business Value of SOA; Architecture Elements; SOA Project Planning Aspects; Aspects of Analysis and Design; Enterprise Solution Assets; Determining Non-Functional Requirements; Securing the SOA Environment; Managing the SOA Environment; Case Studies in SOA Deployment; Navigating Forward; Glossary; Index

Given the right audience, this has a lot of valuable information.  If you're a developer looking for information on how to code a web service, then you'll likely be highly disappointed.  This book is *not* a coding tutorial, nor does it profess to be.  It really serves as a guide on how an SOA environment can be built and leveraged within an organization.  I would see this as being a great book for an application architect trying to position an organization's overall application strategy.  For a person like that, all the important concepts are to be found here.  There's the "why"...  why be concerned with SOA?  There's the "who"...  Who in your organization plays a part in designing and building these services to be used by the business?  And of course, there's a lot of "what"...  What are the parts that make up an SOA implementation, and what does an organization have to take into account to make it all work together?  It's easy enough to build a web service to look up a name or something, and to think you're now leveraging SOA.  The reality is much deeper and more fundamental than just rolling out a web service here and there...  An additional feature of the book that makes it unique is that it references online developerWorks articles on the IBM web site in order to add more information to the mix.  Oh, and I probably should mention that since it's an IBM Press book, there's a heavy slant towards IBM examples and software.  But overall, the core information is vendor-neutral, and it's material you'll need to understand in order to make an SOA implementation a success.

Don't think you'll sit down, read the book in a couple of hours, and then be all-knowing when it comes to SOA.  The material takes time to read and understand.  But once you make it all the way through, you should be well-grounded in the fundamentals behind it all.

04/08/2006

Book Review - Workforce Crisis

Category None
I don't envy the job of the Human Resource director these days.  Global competition and the aging American workforce makes it really difficult to figure out where your future workers are going to come from.  These questions are examined along with possible solutions in the book Workforce Crisis: How To Beat The Coming Shortage Of Skills And Talent by Ken Dychtwald, Tamara A. Erickson, and Robert Morison.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Management Challenges of Changing Workforce Demographics: The Coming Shortage of Skills and Labor; The Diverse and Demanding New Workforce
Part 2 - The Three Worker Cohorts and How to Engage Them: The Needs and Capabilities of Mature Workers; The End of Retirement; The Needs and Frustrations of Midcareer Workers; The Relaunch of Careers; The Needs and Attitudes of Young Workers; The Retention of Talent
Part 3 - The New Employment Deal and How to Shape It: Flexible Work Arrangements; Flexible Learning Opportunities; Flexible Compensation and Benefits
Part 4 - Management Practices for the New Workforce: Meaningful Work and Engaged Workers; The Manager's Agenda for Change
Readers' Discussion Guide; Notes; Acknowledgements; Index; About the Authors

The authors don't paint a very encouraging picture of the American workforce.  For instance, the baby boomer generation is getting much older, and many are starting to approach retirement.  You'll either lose them to retirement, or they'll want to work less than full time.  There is also a shortage of younger workers who have the necessary education and skills to allow today's company to compete effectively on the world stage.  A company's ability to train workers becomes ever more important.  And if that's not enough, the typical workforce is made up of a diverse range of cultures and nationalities.  No longer is it possible to have a company full of people who share the same background and value system.  If you don't accommodate those differences, you'll self-destruct.

But all is not lost...  If a company is willing to start changing their hiring practices as well as their benefit systems, it will be possible to find and retain quality staff.  Realize that mature workers shouldn't be put out to pasture as being past their prime.  The reality is that they are experienced and still motivated to work.  Workers in the midst of their careers need to be able to manage their personal lives (like kids) with the flexibility of their work environment.  Younger workers don't want to be given cursory training or spend forever before they can contribute.  They're looking for meaningful careers, and they'll go wherever they can find it.  There is plenty of material in this book (well documented, too) on how a company can structure itself to adapt to the realities of today's landscape.  The practices of the last 25 years won't cut it...

Workforce Crisis should be on the reading list of anyone responsible for managing an organization's staff.  If you're not already dealing with these new realities, you soon will be...

04/08/2006

Book Review - Apocalypse Dawn by Mel Odom

Category Book Reviews
I have enjoyed the Left Behind series to a large degree, and I learned that there are some variations in that series that focus on end times in a different situational context.  In Apocalypse Dawn by Mel Odom, you follow the end time tribulation events through the experiences of a military family...

First Sergeant "Goose" Gander is a Ranger on the front lines of Turkey when a Syrian invasion is launched.  At the same time, the Rapture occurs and a significant number of soldiers suddenly disappear from the conflict.  While he's trying to struggle with this unknown situation that's happened on a worldwide scale, he's also worried about his family back in the States.  His wife, a youth counselor, is being charged with kidnapping.  She was trying to rescue an abused child from a rooftop when he fell.  The Rapture occurred in mid-fall, and the only thing that hit the ground were a set of clothes.  The family of the child is convinced that she's hiding him somewhere, regardless of similar happenings.  Goose's younger child is also missing as part of the Rapture, and the family is struggling to make sense of it all.  The Gander family isn't ignorant of God, but they just never really made the commitment as Christians...

This is the first of three (that I know of) books in the series, so don't expect any resolutions at the end.  In fact, if you aren't planning on reading the other two right away, don't bother with this one.  If you stop here, the feeling would be very unsatisfactory as there's no "ending".  I'm hoping as I continue with the other two, that the story doesn't drag out unnecessarily.  I enjoyed the battle scenes and the struggle of faith in the midst of war, but the story could have been a bit tighter.  Regardless, it's an enjoyable read if you liked Left Behind...

04/07/2006

Interested in a blog series on Eclipse for the Domino Developer?

Category IBM/Lotus
One of the memes floating in the Domino blogsphere lately is the idea that Domino developers haven't yet embraced or understood the importance of learning about Eclipse and Java.  After listening to the latest Taking Notes podcast, I wondered if there was anything I could do to help bridge that gap and allow people to be a bit more prepared for Hannover and composite applications.

My thought is to do a series of short blog postings titled something like "Eclipse for the Domino Developer".  I'm *far* from an expert in Eclipse, but there's no better way to learn something than to try teaching or explaining it to others.  I can take it from a Domino developer perspective, relate it to what we know in Designer, and sort of take the readers along in my Eclipse journey.

Would any readers of my blog be interested in that type of material?

04/07/2006

When your profession is your passion, not your job...

Category Everything Else
Bruce Elgort posted a short LCTY entry yesterday, and he touched on how few people read blogs and/or know what RSS is in the tech audience.  It also dovetailed with a conversation we had on the way to the event.  We both assume that since we run in circles where blogging and RSS is nearly required, *everyone* must view it that way.  Not the case, but why?  Julian posted a *great* comment (in that it sums up my feelings exactly) about this situation:

I think the key to understanding the low number of people who read blogs or know anything about RSS is to understand how few people actually think of their jobs as anything more than... a job.

For most people, they're in the technology business because that's what they're getting paid to do. Ideally they have some knack for understanding technology too, but that's not a given (based on people I've met). But in any case, they're not going to spend their free time reading about technology any more than a fry cook at McDonalds is going to go home and read forums and blogs about deep frying potatos (I have no idea whether or not there are forums and blogs on such a subject, but the Internet continues to amaze me).

Anyway, point is that most Notes people aren't going to read Notes blogs because they don't find Notes (or any technology) especially interesting in the first place. Why on earth would they torture themselves by reading about the Notes community in their spare time? When they'd rather be watching DVDs or going to bars or something?

That's my take, anyway. I know plenty of computer professionals who don't even go home to check their personal e-mail at night. Their attitude is: I've been sitting in front of a computer all day, I'm not going to go home and do it some more.

Sorry for copying your comment in its entirety, Julian, but I really liked it.

I've often wondered what I would do if I didn't work with computers.  And the answer is...  I don't know.  This is what I'm wired to do.  This is where I get my kicks.  I read and review tech books because I LIKE TO!  I write about technology because I LIKE TO!  I don't drag myself to work each day, dreading yet another eight hours of programming.  I like what I do!  The thought of shutting down my work computer and not touching a keyboard until the next morning is something that doesn't even click with me.  Why wouldn't you work to improve your skills or learn new stuff on your own time?  I realize that there are times in life when you can't free up the bandwidth to do as much as you'd like...  young kids, other commitments, etc.  But to say you don't have time to read a tech book or study something because you have to watch American Idol, Survivor, and the new episode of Lost doesn't cut it.

The only place I disagree with Julian is where he says "I know plenty of computer professionals".  I think I would have just said programmers.  I reserve "professional" for us "losers" who "don't have a life".  :)

04/06/2006

The high point of Lotusphere Comes To You in Portland for me today...

Category IBM/Lotus
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - The high point of Lotusphere Comes To You in Portland for me today...

YES!

04/06/2006

Visitor milestone this morning...

Category Blogging
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - Visitor milestone this morning...

I was hoping to sleep in a bit this morning, because I'm heading over to the Lotusphere Comes To You Event this morning.  Alas, my mind decided that 3 am was an OK time to start churning, as 5.5 hours of sleep is enough for anyone, right?  sigh...  gonna be a long afternoon today...

Anyway, I was checking my email, blog, what have you, and I noticed the hit count...  300000 visitors served since this blog's inception over three years ago.  Took me 22 months to hit the first 100000, 9 months to hit the next 100000, and slightly less than 7 to make 300000.

Not an A-lister, to be sure...  But not stuck in the Z-list any more, either...

04/04/2006

The April 2006 version of the LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips Newsletter is out...

Category LotusUserGroup.org
You can find it at the LotusUserGroup.org newsletter site...

04/02/2006

Book Review - The Career Programmer (2nd Edition) by Christopher Duncan

Category Book Reviews
There's the normal, "correct" advice about how to make it in the world of Information Technology, and then there's Christopher Duncan's take on it all.  His take is much more realistic, and infinitely more fun to read.  He covers his advice on survival in IT in the book The Career Programmer: Guerilla Tactics For An Imperfect World (2nd Edition).

Content:
Part 1 - Software Development In An Imperfect World: Welcome To The Corporate World; Business Is War, Meet The Enemy; Good Coding Skills Are Not Enough
Part 2 - Guerilla Tactics For Front-Line Programmers: Preventing Arbitrary Deadlines; Getting Your Requirements Etched In Stone; Effective Design Under Fire; Practical Estimating Techniques; Fighting For Quality Assurance; Keeping The Project Under Control; Managing Your Management; Corporate Self-Defense
Part 3 - Building A Better Career: Controlling Your Destiny; Get A Job (Sha Na Na Na...); Career 2.0; Flying Solo; Job Security
Index

Duncan doesn't fit your normal corporate mold in a number of ways.  For one, the shaved head, earring, and leather jacket may be a bit intimidating.  Second, he's extremely irreverent when it comes to describing life in corporate America.  Sadly, my 20+ years in IT only confirm much of his observations.  You will almost always be asked to do twice as much in half the time that's required.  To prevent yourself from going crazy in the process, you need to read and apply his advice.  For those on the front-line of code-slinging, Part 2 of this book is most valuable.  Rough estimates become "promises", so don't be suckered into off-the-cuff statements.  Take the time to learn how your tools work (like your IDEs), and then make sure you get the most out of them.  This can save you hours over the course of your project, and it might be the difference between meeting the deadline or just being dead.  That's just a small sample of the practical stuff you'll find here.  Part 3 also helps you take a step back and look at your career, where it's going, and what you need to do to properly manage your direction.  Better to end up somewhere by design than by accident.  And of course, the Chihuahua will be there every step of the way (you'll need to read the book to get that one...)

A solid read with a lot of wit and humor gained from the wars.  If you've been floundering along and not enjoying the ride very much, take a step back and read The Career Programmer to figure out what you can do differently...

04/02/2006

So what brought people to my blog in March?

Category Blogging
As usual, a number of rather odd things...
  • my husband keeps instant messaging his girlfriend what do i do - Sounds like it's time for a keystroke logger and some "impersonation"...  :)
  • hairy duff 2 - The Sequel...
  • where do you give a shot of glucogon - We've had to do this a few times when Ian's been in the middle of a diabetic seizure.  Usually we go for the thigh, because it's one nasty looking needle...
  • screwing computers using my wireless network - so much for sharing...  :)
  • redbull functions - or lack thereof...
  • duff password - OK...  that's a little disconcerting...
  • how bad is red bull? - Assuming we're talking software, it's bad.
  • weight loss amputee - guess that's one way to reduce your overall weight.
  • caffiene lipoma - If caffiene causes them, I should be covered with bumps.
  • You know you're short when - I just know, OK?
  • duff wireless network - combined with the "duff password" search string, I'm getting a bit paranoid.
  • april's thong - This is *not* the "thong of the month" club.
  • why do banks charge an insufficient funds fee when they know you don't have enough money - You have a point...
  • duff downer - I didn't think I was *that* much of a drag...
  • cowboy boots thong - That's a new one in the thong category.
  • how to cheat on husband - Hey, I'm not helping you out there.
  • mcduff short summary - Anything having to do with "duff" is going to be short by definition.
  • what is a high-brow movie? - If I don't understand it, I figure it's high brow.
  • new boobs or vacation - There's a choice...
  • sex schoolgirls - By definition, that would be "female".
  • muppet called thomas duff - Yup, me and Kermit are tight...

And to close it out for this month...
  • Ozzie needs - to take a remedial class in blogging, because he can't seem to get the hang of how it all works.

04/01/2006

Gartner: Microsoft Delay Could Affect Licensing Rights

Category Microsoft
From InformationWeek:  Gartner: Microsoft Delay Could Affect Licensing Rights

 Microsoft Software Assurance volume license customers need to check contract expiration dates as they wait for 2007 Microsoft Office System, warned analyst firm Gartner Inc. Friday.

The one-month lag could mean bad news for companies that didn't purchase Microsoft's Software Assurance maintenance for Office products in three-year Select Agreements or Enterprise Agreements, Gartner said.

Customers who purchased SA on Office under a three-year Open Value Agreement, Select Agreement or Enterprise Agreements will not get the rights to Office 2007 if the agreement expires in August 2006 or earlier, Gartner said.

Gartner recommendations:

--Volume licensing customers who renewed SA in September 2003: Lobby Microsoft to make an exception and award you the upgrade to Office 2007.

--Volume licensing customers who plan on purchasing Office licenses without SA: Consider delaying purchases until Office 2007 is available and use downgrade rights if you intended to acquire Office 2003.

I don't think I'd necessarily like to be a Microsoft sales rep right now...

04/01/2006

Waging the Microsoft/IBM ad wars on level ground...

Category IBM/Lotus
I don't know what happened or what got into the water at the IBM advertising group, but I hope it continues.  From the Seattle PI:

IBM challenges Microsoft with huge ad buy

IBM Corp., the world's largest provider of computer services, will spend more than $300 million on an advertising campaign to win customers and help revive its image with investors.

Chief Executive Officer Sam Palmisano is spending half his $632 million annual ad budget on print and TV spots that feature an asterisk and the question, "What Makes You Special?"

The ads, championed by strategy chief Bruce Harreld, set up a showdown between IBM and Microsoft Corp. as the companies seek to bolster sales and stock prices. International Business Machines is the No. 2 software maker behind Microsoft, which this month announced a $500 million effort to win corporate customers by exploiting questions about IBM's services strategy.

"People are confused, and that's why we are going into that campaign," Harreld, who also took control of marketing in January, said in an interview at IBM's Armonk, N.Y., headquarters. "We're really trying to get at this problem."

The ads, debuting in April, break with IBM tradition by including a theme song, "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" by 1960s British rock group The Kinks, and by painting the logo across a Manhattan helipad.

04/01/2006

Big News!

Category IBM/Lotus
I'm *not* working for IBM...  :)

Though it seems like many of my virtual colleagues have made that jump.  Congrats to them all!

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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