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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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05/30/2006

Book Review - Catastrophe Disentanglement by E. M. Bennatan

Category Book Reviews
There are plenty of books that try to help you keep your project on track.  But what happens when you are sitting on a catastrophe and you don't know how to salvage it?  E. M. Bennatan fills a necessary niche with the book Catastrophe Disentanglement : Getting Software Projects Back on Track.

Contents: An Introduction To Catastrophe Disentanglement; When Is A Project A Catastrophe?; Step 1 - Stop; Step 2 - Assign An Evaluator; Step 3 - Evaluate The Project; Step 4 - Evaluate The Team; Step 5 - Define Minimum Goals; Step 6 - Can Minimum Goals Be Achieved?; Step 7 - Rebuild The Team; Step 8 - Risk Analysis; Step 9 - Revise The Plan; Step 10 - Create An Early Warning System; Epilogue - Putting The Final Pieces In Place; References; Glossary; About The Author; Index

If you're in IT for any length of time, you'll be part of a project that is massively over budget or late.  Rather than just continue the death by 1000 cuts or a quick mercy killing, Bennatan presents a ten step process that allows an organization to take a (hopefully) objective look at the project and decide what can possibly be saved from it.  I was impressed that it wasn't a long drawn-out procedure either.  The plan calls for an evaluator (or a small team for huge projects) to come in and quickly assess the environment...  what's been done, the climate of the team, and what could be redefined as a "minimum system".  At the end of this process, the organization should be able to either kill it off with the knowledge that it can't be saved, or continue on with a redefined set of deliverables that are achievable.  It won't be everything that was originally wanted, but it will be more than you'd get by letting it die.  I was also impressed with the "What Can Go Wrong (And What To Do About It)" section in each step.  He doesn't present this as some cut and dried panacea that will flow smoothly every time.  It may not be an easy task, but the book will give you the help you need to make it all work.

Definitely a book that is worthy to be on every IT project manager's bookshelf, as you *will* need it some day...

05/28/2006

Ambien is a great thing...

Category Everything Else
I normally don't have much of a sleeping problem, but occasionally work-related stress can lead me to sleepless nights.  The bigger problem is when I travel on a red-eye flight.  As hard as I try, I can't seem to sleep on planes.  With my upcoming flight to Ireland stretching over 36 hours and 8 time zones, the prospect of even being aware of where I was at once I got there was dim.

So, while at the doctor on Thursday I asked about possible sleeping aids. He wrote me a prescription for Ambien.  I've tried over-the-counter stuff with not much success, so I figured trying something a bit more powerful was called for.  Rather than use it for the first time on the trip, I decided to try two trial runs over the weekend.

Friday night...  I took the Ambien around 8 pm and started reading in bed.  Around 8:30 my eyes were getting heavy, so I turned out the light and slept until 2:30 or so.  A good six hours (pretty normal), so it sounded OK.  Talking to my wife, she said I was snoring like a chain saw.  She literally had to smack me a number of times to get me to turn over...  Me?  Don't remember a thing...  perhaps this *is* pretty good stuff!

Saturday night...  I wanted to know whether the snoring was a constant, so I decided to try one more dose before the trip.  This time, no snoring.  I also got a good six solid hours before I woke up the first time.  The strange thing was how I apparently drifted off.  The phone rang around 11:30 and it woke me up.  But what I realized was that the light was still on, my book was on the floor, I didn't have my earplugs in, and my glasses were still on.  Again, I can't remember any conscious decision that said I was tired...  :)

Bottom line is that I'm moderately optimistic that I will be able to get some level of sleep on the way over (and back).  Couple the Ambien with eye shades, ear plugs, and a back cushion contraption my wife bought me, and I might even be relatively rested when I get there.  I just have to be sure not to *take* the Ambien until I get on the plane.  Otherwise I might still find my self sleeping in the Portland terminal when I should be in New York...  :)

05/28/2006

Book Review - Wicked Cool Perl Scripts by Steve Oualline

Category Book Reviews
If you have a decent background in Perl and you are looking for practical ideas for scripts, Wicked Cool Perl Scripts by Steve Oualline has a number of benefits to offer...

Contents:
General-Purpose Utilities; Website Management; CGI Debugging; CGI Programs; Internet Data Mining; Unix System Administration; Picture Utilities; Games and Learning Tools; Development Tools; Mapping; Regular Expression Grapher; Index

Each of the chapters includes a number of scripts that are ready to be used and/or modified for your own purposes.  The general format is to present the code first, and then tell how to run it, how the module(s) are used in the script, the results you'll see from the script, how it all works, and in some cases how you can hack the script in order to enhance it.  On the associated web site, there's also full documentation on the script.  So if there's one that you really want to incorporate into your arsenal, you can download it.  Makes the book more focused and concise.  There were plenty of items in here that piqued my interest, such as the scripts for checking stock quotes and for checking your web site for broken links.  There is also a cool script that allows you to search your file systems for duplicate files based on size and a generated checksum.  That'd be great for all those sound and video files that look different, but that are duplicates in everything but name.

As with most "recipe"-style books, some people will find a ton of value, and others might not find anything that floats their boat.  It's definitely a case of "your mileage may vary".  Also, a beginning Perl programmer would be over their head here.  You could probably work your way through the code and figure it out, but it would be slow going.  But having some background in Perl will allow you to start getting some ideas about potential "wicked cool" scripts that you could use in your toolbox...

05/28/2006

Book Review - Windows XP Visual Encyclopedia

Category Book Reviews
So are you tired of Uncle Joe and Aunt Mae calling every day asking how to do something in Windows XP?  Give them this book...  Windows XP Visual Encyclopedia by Kate J. Chase and Jim Boyce.

The Visual series is focused on people who don't have the geek background and learn better by visuals.  Styled like an encyclopedia, it's broken up into two parts.  The first part deals with tools.  So if you want to know about accessibility, you can look under "A" to see how to get there.  Having problems finding the Desktop Cleanup Wizard?  It's under "D".  If the book stopped at Part 1, I don't think I'd find it very useful.  Once they point out the tool, there's not much else given once you learn how to launch the tool.  But Part 2 rectifies that.  That part deals with techniques.  You would use that portion if you knew you wanted to do something like formatting a disk.  You'd find that under "F" and "Format".  Uncle Joe wants to tweak his task bar?  Send him to the "T" area under Taskbar: Customize the Taskbar.  For many of the family members you have to "support", this may be all you need to reclaim your spare time.

If you're a techno-geek, you probably won't gain a lot of information from this book.  But if you're a techno-geek who does family computer support (whether you want to or not), you might think about making this a Christmas gift for that "special someone"...  :)

05/27/2006

Book Review - Telecom For Dummies by Stephen P. Olejniczak

Category Book Reviews
So where was this book when I started working for Enron Broadband???  I could have used it...  Telecom For Dummies by Stephen P. Olejniczak.

Contents:
Part 1 - The ABCs of Telecom Service: A Buyer's Scoop on Telecom; Making (And Living with) Telecom Decisions; Getting Around the Telecom Neighborhood
Part 2 - Reviewing Telecom Products and Prices: Understanding Dedicated Service Requirements; Meeting Toll-Free Service, the Red-Headed Stepchild of Telecom; Getting the Non-Accountant's Guide to Your Phone Bill
Part 3 - Ordering and Setting Up Telecom Service: Ordering Regular Phone Lines and New Long-Distance Service; Ordering Dedicated Service; Ordering Toll-Free Service; Activating Your Dedicated Circuit and Toll-Free Numbers
Part 4 - Taking Care of Your Telecom System: Maintaining Your Telecom Services; Troubleshooting Switched Network Issues; Troubleshooting Your Dedicated Circuits
Part 5 - What's Hot (Or Just Geeky) in the Telecom World: Transferring Data, Not Just Voice Content; Riding The Internet Wave - VoIP
Part 6 - The Part Of Ten: Ten Acronyms and What They Really Mean; Ten Troublesome Telecom Traits to Avoid; Ten Places To Go for Hints and Help
Appendix - Making a Loopback Plug; Index

This is one of those Dummies titles that may sound a little strange at first, but quickly starts delivering the goods.  The audience here is anyone who is responsible for maintaining the phone system in an organization.  This could be a new technician just starting to learn the ropes, or a small business owner who needs something more than just one phone line to run their business.  The author starts out with the basics of the technology and terminology, and he quickly demystifies many of the acronyms that are so common in this business.  He then builds on that solid foundation to walk you through the process of determining your telecom needs and how you need to order them.  And of course, when things go wrong (and they *will*), you'll have some great advice on how to troubleshoot things on your end, as well as what you'll need to know in order to help the phone company resolve things expeditiously.

Although I didn't deal directly with the network while at Enron Broadband, I built computer systems that helped people run said network.  Knowing this information would have made my job infinitely easier, and I wish I had been able to have a book like this back then.  I'm sure you can find all this information in other books, but I doubt it would be as clear and concise (as well as being fun to read).  If you have any responsibilities for the phone system at work, this is the place to start reading...

05/27/2006

Microsoft's biggest competitor right now is... Microsoft.

Category Microsoft
John Gruber at the Daring Fireball blog has an insightful post about Microsoft's competition struggle.  Well worth reading, because I think he nails the point very well...

It is, admittedly, a cliché, but Microsoft is clearly a victim of its own staggering success. What they’ve done best, historically, is kill and/or neuter their competitors. That’s why they’re gearing up for a fight against Google; Microsoft, as a company, defines itself by its rivalries. They relegated early PC peers like WordPerfect, Lotus, and Borland to relative obscurity; then, famously, they outright obliterated Netscape.

In the ’90s, to sell copies of Word, they needed to beat WordPerfect, and they did; to sell Excel, they needed to beat Lotus 1-2-3. Now, though, to sell new copies of Microsoft Office, they need to beat older copies of Microsoft Office. Hence the much-maligned ads in which Microsoft casts their own users as dinosaurs simply because they haven’t upgraded to the latest version of Office.

Most of the criticism of these ads revolves around the fact that it’s a bad idea to insult your own customers. But what I found interesting about them is the tacit acknowledgment that Microsoft’s strongest competitor in today’s office software market isn’t OpenOffice, or any other competing suite from another company, but rather the Microsoft of a decade ago.

And concerning their latest "people_ready" campaign...

This ad epitomizes everything that’s wrong with Microsoft: they have nothing new to offer. There’s nothing wrong with branding ads; I like branding ads (e.g. Nike’s “Just Do It” and Apple’s “Think Different” campaigns). But if this “people_ready” ad is supposed to be about their brand, what is the message? The only message I can suss from it is “Buy Microsoft software just because it’s Microsoft software.” They would be better off running an ad that literally reads “No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft” — at least that would be bold.

I’m sure that when Vista and Office 2007 finally ship, Microsoft will run plenty of ads touting tangible features of these products. But this ad reeks to high hell of “We’ve got lots of money in the ad budget but no new products to advertise, so we’ll buy some ads that say nothing at all.”

This ad is almost offensively timid. And “timid” is not a word normally associated with Microsoft — or any thriving company, for that matter.

05/26/2006

Book Review - 334 : A Novel by Thomas M. Disch

Category Book Reviews
I don't remember where I saw it, but I caught a reference to this book, 334 : A Novel by Thomas M. Disch.  It sounded interesting...  A futuristic look at life in this particular government-controlled housing unit.  After finishing it, all I can say is "why?"...

The book is a series of vignettes that follow a group of people who live in this government housing complex.  It's sometime around 2020 to 2025, and the stories jump back and forth over that timeframe.  The best I can do is describe this as "reality novel-reading" (as opposed to reality television), and I don't like either, I guess.  The stories were pointless, the writing attempted to be philosophical and deep (and it was totally wasted on me), and I never really got caught up in any of the characters or in what was going on.  It sort of reminded me of the movie Pulp Fiction in the way that the timeline of events was completely out of sequence with what you were seeing.  The end of the movie is the start of the movie from a different angle...  That sort of strange stuff.  

Perhaps I'm just not "sophisticated" enough for this book, but in my opinion it was a waste of time and paper...  The only thing it had going for it was that it was fairly short...

05/25/2006

Overheard In Portland...

Category Humor
One of my favorite sites on my RSS reader is Overheard In New York.  It's incredible what people say...  But I had my own version of it today on the bus going home...

Teen girl #1 to teen girl #2: I was like, so distressed today.  My cheeseburger was soggy, and I was, like, ewwww.  It made me so sad.

followed shortly by...

Teen girl #1 to teen girl #2:  I want to marry someone tall, dark, and beautiful.  We'll open a private practice and help refugees from Africa and Mexico...  and Japan...  and China...  That would make me feel good.

Guess she needs something to bring her up after the cheeseburger.

05/25/2006

So Skilling and Lay are found guilty...

Category Everything Else
I was in meetings most of the morning, so I didn't get a chance to check out my Google News Alerts, one of which trolls for Enron stories.  I found out the news from Ben Langhinriches via email, then Chris Byrne via email, then my wife via cell phone, and my son Ian via text message...  :)

I don't feel any great sense of justice or relief, as that chapter of my life is over and done with.  I do feel good that (in my opinion) justice was served, and that the "I didn't know" defense fell flat.

I'm just waiting for them to start paying claims on the class action lawsuits for retirement program members and former stockholders.  They are running up a nice chunk of change there ($7+ BILLION!), and I might see enough for *2* super-sized McDonalds dinners...

That is, if I were still *eating* McDonald's, and I'm not, because I'm on Jenny Craig...  

no siree bob!

05/25/2006

Vista will be late again... or not...

Category Microsoft
Make up your mind, Stevie-boy!

First, Forbes quotes him as saying Vista might get moved back "a few weeks".  Then the next day, he's in spin control.  Reuters quotes him as saying they are on track for a January shipment, but that they will listen to feedback from users.

We are, we aren't, we are, we aren't...

05/23/2006

Book Review - Birth Of An Age by James Beauseigneur

Category Book Reviews
Since I was stressed out about some work stuff last night (and didn't end up getting any sleep), I plowed through the second book in the Christ Clone trilogy...  Birth Of An Age by James Beauseigneur.  I can definitely say it's better than the first one, and the story is starting to come together...

This volume picks up with the last chapter of the first book.  Christopher Goodman, the person cloned from the cells found on the Shroud of Turin, has just finished his 40 days of solitude in the wilderness, and he's now ready to go back to the UN and start making changes.  But on their way back to New York, a nuclear war erupts between India and Pakistan (and involves part of China), and many millions die.  But that's just the start of the deaths.  John the Apostle and Rabbi Cohen are prophesying major catastrophes (the ones normally associated with the Book of Revelations), and they start coming true.  We have meteors devastating the planet, locusts, wide-spread madness, and poisoned water.  Goodman sees these two individuals as necessary evil for mankind to advance to a new age of enlightenment, and he increasingly finds himself pitted against them.  Right as he's poised to take over leadership of the UN, an assassin guns him down.  But through miraculous events, he's resurrected and heads to Jerusalem to have a final confrontations with the prophets.  Goodman declares himself the "anti-Christ" at that point, and has an interesting twist on the whole God/Satan conflict...

This book was somewhat shorter than the first one, and a lot of time is spent describing the natural disasters in fine detail.  In fact, you go for long stretches with no mention whatsoever of Decker and Goodman.  I was starting to wonder quite a bit about the theology of this series until the end of this book.  Now things are more clear, and I'm following the general storyline.  While still not the best End Times book/series I've ever read, it's starting to redeem itself...

05/21/2006

Book Review - Java EE and .NET Interoperability

Category Book Reviews
As much as Microsoft might want you to be an all-.NET shop, the reality of the enterprise computing environment is that both .NET and Java will be used in some way, shape, or form.  If you're a developer or architect responsible for integrating platforms, this book could help you out...  Java EE and .NET Interoperability : Integration Strategies, Patterns, and Best Practices by Marina Fisher, Ray Lai, Sonu Sharma, and Laurence Moroney.

Contents:
Part 1 - Java EE .NET Interoperability: Java EE Platform Interoperability Essentials; .NET Platform Interoperability Essentials
Part 2- Synchronous Integration Solutions: Exploring Synchronous Integration; Web Services for Synchronous Integration; .NET Remoting for Synchronous Integration; Resource Tier Synchronous Integration
Part 3 - Asynchronous Integration Solutions: Exploring Asynchronous Integration; Asynchronous Web Services Integration; Messaging; Resource Tier Asynchronous Integration
Part 4 - Addressing Quality of Service Requirements: Addressing Quality of Services; Managing Distributed Transactions; Java EE .NET Security Interoperability; Java EE .NET Reliability, Availability, and Scalability; Managing Java EE .NET Interoperability Applications
Part 5 - Implementation: Migrating .NET Applications to Java
Index

The book is targeted towards developers as well as architects and managers responsible for these types of projects.  The focus and approach tends more towards the practical, "here's one way to do it" methodology.  There's no hesitation to suggest third-party frameworks and applications to help you accomplish something, as well as providing enough code to allow the reader to get a feel for how it all fits together.  It's not a comprehensive approach to every last thing you need to know, but if you're charged with platform integration, this will give you the practical foundation you'll need to start examining the options available to you.

Given the right needs and the right audience, it'll offer value to the reader...

05/21/2006

Book Review - Plague Maker by Tim Downs

Category Book Reviews
I was recently sent a review copy of Plague Maker by Tim Downs.  I've read his earlier Nick Polchak novels and really enjoyed them.  This is a different set of characters than the Polchak series, but it's just as enjoyable...

Nathan Donovan is an FBI agent who is investigating a murder case where one of the clues involve a strange infestation of fleas at the crime scene.  The full impact of what this clue might mean is not understood until Donovan is contacted by an elderly Asian man named Li.  Li claims that this crime scene bears the marks of a Japanese scientist who specialized in bioweapons during World War 2, specifically the use of fleas to spread bubonic plague.  Li has spent 60 years trying to track down this elusive person in order to confront him over the death of his wife.  Now he has to convince Donovan and various legal agencies that the scientist is a real person, and that he is looking to use his plague fleas to unleash an attack on America.  And it's not enough that he be stopped, but Li wants to meet him face to face, the reason of which is *his* secret and mission...

Unlike a number of my recreational reads of late, this book didn't last long.  I quickly got drawn into the story early on, and putting the book down didn't appear to be an option.  The attitude of Li and the dialog between him and Donovan was an absolute pleasure to read, and Li became a very real person instead of just a prop to advance the story.  The ending was also not quite what I expected, which made it all the better...  If you haven't read a Downs novel, this is a good place to start.  Just be sure you also carve out some time to catch up on his two earlier books.  You'll end up liking them just as well...

05/20/2006

Book Review - Google: The Missing Manual (2nd Edition)

Category Book Reviews
Every time I read a book on Google, I find new stuff to get excited about (and get reminded about stuff I need to use more).  This one is no different...  Google: The Missing Manual (2nd Edition) by Sarah Milstein, J. D. Biersdorfer, and Matthew MacDonald.

Contents:
Part 1 - Searching with Google: Google 101; Superior Searching
Part 2 - Google Tools: Googling Further - Images, News, Maps, and More; Googling with Others - Groups and Answers; Shopping with Google; The Google Toolbar; More Cool Google Tools
Part 3 - Google for Webmasters: Becoming a Search Result; Making Money with Google; Google Analytics
Part 4 - Gmail: Gmail
Part 5 - Appendix: The Google Wide Web
Index

The book starts out with the requisite coverage on the search syntax of Google.  For those who have never gone beyond a basic search, this will be an eye-opener.  For people like me who have tried some of the other options, this serves as a good refresher for some techniques I may have forgotten.  The book really becomes valuable to me once it gets into the second part.  That's where I'm reminded about and exposed to the other features of Google that fall outside the normal searching.  For instance, I didn't know that you could do a personalized homepage using Google (much like MyYahoo).  I have that going on now.  Google Desktop?  I'm inclined to try it again after having dropped it during the initial download frenzy.  And using SMS and my cell phone to get Google information like driving directions might become a regular part of my techie toolbox.  While it's true you can dig around on the Google site and find all this stuff ("why buy a book for it?"), I much prefer to have that type of information packaged up for me.  Also, since Google changes daily, there's always the issue of things being gone or substantially revised by the time you read about it.  Still, *knowing* that a feature exists is the first step in learning how it works...

This is a book that will remain close to my home computer, and one that I'll browse through on a regular basis to get those "I missed that feature!" moments...

05/20/2006

Book Review - In His Image by James Beauseigneur

Category Book Reviews
A friend recommended The Christ Clone Trilogy to me as a recreational read, so I figured I'd start out at book 1...  In His Image by James Beauseigneur.  I'll give books 2 and 3 a try, but I'm hoping they are better than the first one.

A newspaper reporter, Decker Hawthorne, figures out a way to get himself on a team that is investigating whether the Shroud of Turin is authentic.  A few years after the team comes up with their conclusion (it's not), one of the scientists finds living DNA on the Shroud and is able to clone those cells into a living human, Christopher...  essentially the clone of Christ if the shroud was real.  Through a disaster causing worldwide deaths (supposed to be the Rapture), the United Nations takes on a much more important role in the world, and Decker ends up as the main staffer to the guy who becomes the Secretary General of the UN.  Decker also ends up becoming the guardian of Christopher when his "parents" die off in the disaster.  Christopher knows the story of his origin, and shows some remarkable powers.  He's also seen by a group of "New Age" leaders as the person to lead the world to a new era of peace and prosperity.  Add in Israeli/Arab conflicts, apocalyptic wars, and one world rule, and you sort of see where this is going.  At the end of the book, Christopher takes off for a 40 day fast and comes back convinced of his mission and calling in the world, whatever that might be...

While I want to like this book, I can't wholeheartedly recommend it (yet).  There are a large number of plot holes where important events and facts (in my opinion) are just bypassed, and the story jumps forward a number of years or months.  It also suffers a great deal when you draw the inevitable comparisons to the Left Behind series, even though this one came first.  I understand that books two and three are supposed to be much better, so I'm clinging on to some level of hope that my time spent reading this will be rewarded.  This is definitely not a book that stands on its own without the support of future books, so I'll reserve full judgement until then.  But at this point in time, I'd have to rate this book average at best...  

05/20/2006

Book Review - The Shangri-La Diet by Seth Roberts, Ph.D.

Category Book Reviews
A fellow blogger posted some of her thoughts on a new diet that's currently popular, and the concept sounded unique (although somewhat counter-intuitive).  So I decided to pick up the book and see if I could figure out what's going on...  The Shangri-La Diet by Seth Roberts, Ph. D.  I'll definitely be giving this a try, starting today...

Contents: Introduction; Why a Calorie Is Not a Calorie; The Case of the Missing Appetite; A New Theory of Weight Control; How to Do the Shangri-La Diet; Common Questions; Extra Credit - Six More Ways to Lose Weight; Changing the Rest of the World; Appendix - The Science Behind the Theory Behind the Diet; Acknowledgments; Notes; Index

Roberts started seriously investigating this issue when he went on a trip to Paris.  He was looking forward to all the wonderful food he would find there, but soon discovered that his appetite was nearly nonexistent.  Based on previous research he and others did, he determined that the body's "set point", or equilibrium weight that it wants to maintain, controls your hunger levels.  Furthermore, foods that are unique, unfamiliar, or weakly flavored do not cause the body to quickly recognize that calories are on the way.  Therefore, the sense of being "full" arrives more quickly, and the signs of "hunger" don't appear as often or at the same intensity.  The net result is that you obsess less about food and eat less because the signals are not there any more.  Rather than come up with a convoluted program of what to eat and when to eat it, the rules are very simple.  Using sugar water and/or extra-light olive oil, you drink these liquids in caloric quantities of 100 to 400 calories a day, at least an hour away from meals.  The result is that they act like an appetite suppresser, and the effects take you through the day.  And that's pretty much it.  You vary the quantities of those substances in order to adjust your set point movements.  The body then naturally gravitates to the amount of food it needs to get there.

Now, I'm not the type of person to go advocating every new fad diet that's out there.  Currently, I'm on the Jenny Craig program and have lost nearly 50 pounds (with 40 or so left to go).  My big problem is hunger, however.  I'd eat more if it were there (and I sometimes do).  Since the Shangri-La diet isn't changing the food I eat, it can serve as an add-on to help regulate the hunger signals.  And being the emotional cost of getting started is nearly nonexistent, I'd be crazy not to give it a try.  I'm sure all the weight loss "authorities" will deride the diet as being a gimmick with no foundation in reality.  But the reality is that many people have tried it, and it works (and is sustainable).  Therefore, why *not* see if it works?

A well-written book with easy-to-understand explanations.  Very little to lose by giving it a try, and potentially a huge gain in store...

05/18/2006

You know you're in tricky territory when...

Category Everything Else
... your wife starts out a conversation with "For some reason, I was thinking about <your old girlfriend's name goes here> today...".

I don't care if you *have* been married for nearly 24 years...

I kept hearing the following refrain cycling through my head...

"Beware, maties...  Ahead there be dragons..."

05/18/2006

Lotus fires back at Microsoft's Notes rhetoric

Category IBM/Lotus
From NetworkWorld: Lotus fires back at Microsoft's Notes rhetoric

Ya gotta love it when the media gets the story right...  Thank you, John Fontana...

Lotus has no intent to back off its stated commitment to provide backward compatibility for all Notes applications regardless of reports to the contrary this week from longtime rival Microsoft.

“If others are misinformed, that’s fine, but the reality is the statements I am making are the ones I am holding my team accountable to and are the ones my customers are holding me accountable to,” said Lotus General Manager Mike Rhodin, after last week’s annual Notes user conference in Germany.

“I stand behind the statements I made in January and I made them again in front of press and analysts here in Germany. I have been pretty consistent,” Rhodin said.

And finally someone debunking the Ozzie mystique...

Earlier this week, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chief software architect, took the latest shot while speaking last week at the company’s first SharePoint Conference. He said Lotus would not support all Notes applications going forward and hadn’t focused on productivity software since Notes creator Ray Ozzie, now with Microsoft, left the company in 1997.

Rhodin attributed Gates’ comments concerning Ozzie to marketing hype.

“The innovation work that is going on here around such things as social networking and activity-centric computing, none of that came from Ray. He has been gone for a decade.”

Well worth heading over there to read the whole article and offer positive feedback to Mr. Fontana and company...

05/17/2006

Thank you, everyone... You are part of my successes...

Category Everything Else
I got my annual review at work this week, and it was nice.  There was an interesting trend in many of the sections, which I thought I'd share and thank you all for...

A number of references were made to my blogging activities, book reviewing, writing gigs, and my Lotusphere speaking.  There was even a reference to my upcoming trip to Ireland to speak at their user group meeting.  All these "non-work" activities have led to an extensive world-wide network of expert IBM Notes/Domino professionals that I can (and do!) call on for help and input when needed, both for work and personal projects.

I'm extremely fortunate that my passion is my profession, and "work" isn't something I dread or avoid.  It's also rewarding knowing that work feeds my personal interests, and my personal interests feed back into my work successes.

So again it becomes clearly obvious...  My success "at work" is not wholly my own, but a result of those who have helped me, harrassed me, challenged me, and encouraged me.  If anyone'd suggested that blogging would have been this beneficial so many years ago, I'd have dismissed them as being overly optimistic.  In my wildest dreams, I would never have figured it to be this important...  

So to everyone who's been part of the "Duffbert network", thank you.  I'm able to do what I do because of you, and please know that I value you all more than I can say...

05/17/2006

Repeat after me... The default setting for JavaScript code in an event...

Category IBM/Lotus
... points to CLIENT, not WEB BROWSER.  And unless you remember to change the setting to COMMON JAVASCRIPT, no amount of changes to the CLIENT JAVASCRIPT will change the web browser behavior...

... no matter *how* many times you change the code, save the changes, and refresh the web page...

<sigh>

05/16/2006

This means more to me than a Slashdot callout...

Category Blogging
One of the mailing lists I belong to is for computer book publishers and authors.  Many of the well-known names in that genre hang out there, and it's interesting to interact with them in that setting.  Anyway, there was a recent thread titled "Blogs and the future of publishing", in which a number of people chimed in with their thoughts.  Kathy Sierra of Head First and Creating Passionate Users fame chimed in with the following:

If I'd known the effect a blog could have, I'd have done it much, much earlier. My blog is currently #103 on Technorati, and my goal has been to reach the Top 100, so it's close.  But even when my ranking was 500, I was already getting calls from publishers, and getting consulting gigs and paid presentations and keynotes as a result.

It's a lot of work, but it's the single best thing I've ever done in my career. In the next three months I'm being paid to go to New Zealand, London, Spain, Brussels, and Finland--all of which are themselves valuable marketing opportunities. And I am doing nothing more than offering free content. NONE of this happened before the blog -- most of these people had never heard of me until the blog, so it's extended my reach way past just the Head First readers.

All very true, and there are numerous stories (probably less dramatic, but an impact all the same) of bloggers who feel the same way.  

Ah, but here is the part that made my day...  At the end of the post, she put the following:

[And thanks to Dori and Thomas Duff and Dave Taylor whose helped provide the initial motivation.]

Whoa!  You never know who you may be influencing when you throw your words out there...

Thanks, Kathy...  You really did make my day!

05/14/2006

Book Review - Why Not? by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres

Category Book Reviews
Often, coming up with a new idea is nothing more than looking at existing ideas in a new light.  Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres does a very good job in offering a number of techniques that can help you do the same...

Contents:
Preface - Why "Why Not"?: The Way Things Never Were; Good Ideas and How to Generate Them
Problems in Search of Solutions: What Would Croesus Do?; Why Don't You Feel My Pain?
Solutions in Search of Problems: Where Else Would It Work?; Would Flipping It Work?
Problem Solving with a Purpose: Principled Problem Solving; The Case for Honest Tea; Reinventing Regulation; Implementing Why-Not
Appendix; Endnotes; Further Reading; Acknowledgments; Expanded Table of Contents; About The Authors

This is one of those books that makes you emotionally want to say "Well, duh!  That's obvious!"  But rationally, you know that very few ever ask the question "why not?"  As such, we attempt to solve the same old problems with the same old solutions (that didn't work the first time, either).  The techniques that Nalebuff and Ayres explore aren't fundamentally hard to grasp, but they will take you down paths that are not normally explored.  For instance, "What Would Croesus Do?" views a problem from the perspective of an "unrestrained consumer".  Cost to solve is no object, so throw all the money you want at it.  Once you have a solution (or solutions), start to distill down the essence of the solution to get 99% of the benefit for 1% of the cost.  The example used is getting unwanted late night phone calls that wake you up.  An unrestrained consumer would hire someone to screen all their calls.  But what if the phone company allowed you to have your phone answered without a ring between specified times, and it would only ring through if the caller knew or used a code?  The calls are screened for far less than the cost of a servant...  Or perhaps we take "Where Else Would It Work?" and look for additional problems that might be solved by an elegant solution.  An example here is the phone keypad.  Everyone knows how to use it.  But how many of us struggle to set digital alarm clocks using forward/backward buttons?  Perhaps you use the keypad to allow the time to be keyed in directly..

This is one of those books that you don't have to restrict to "just" your job or your personal life.  Once you get into the mindset of asking "why not?", you will start to see problems in a creative light.  You'll start to understand that we're not lacking answers, we're just lacking people who ask the right question...  A very good read, and one that could potentially change your life...

05/12/2006

Maybe Ballmer's the best thing to happen to IBM and Lotus...

Category IBM/Lotus
I caught this quote from an eWeek article today:  Ballmer Sees Google, Open Source as Strongest Competitors

"The greatest competitive threat we face is our own ability to either embrace or compete with alternative business models," Ballmer said.

When asked by moderator Roger McNamee, the co-founder of Elevation Partners, to choose between IBM or open source as the threat he most worries about, Ballmer quipped that IBM is then no longer in the game.

It's nice to see that every company has their own version of Steve Mills.  Gates says that IBM keeps him up at night, and Monkey Boy engages mouth and inserts foot.  Apparently all the Lotus Notes/Domino opportunities coming out the wahzoo, all those low hanging pieces of fruit, have fallen to the mighty Redmonians...  Those of us who continue in our Radicati-induced conspiracy theories can just hang it up as we've been declared dead and buried...  completely irrelevant...  out of the game.

If I were the chairman of a company that had some executive that repeatedly made these types of bizarre and ill-considered statements in public, I think I'd seriously consider a change in leadership...  Of course, that won't happen, as the chairman is probably as out-of-touch and frantic for success as the exec making the statements...

05/11/2006

Another blog comment spam band-aid attempt...

Category Blogging
Since I don't have enough time right now to code some solution that addresses the root problem, I have another band-aid attempt for the symptom.  In the "Kill Orphaned Spam Comments" agent, there's a loop that I modified to do double-duty.  Right now it just removes comments that aren't tied to any particular story.  Now it also checks for a common string that's being used in all the entries.  Here's the code change:

        Do While Not(doc Is Nothing)
                If doc.GetItemValue("Form")(0) = "StoryResponse" Then
                        If doc.HasItem("$REF") = False Then
                                Set deldoc = doc
                        End If
                End If
                'Kill off some blog spam...
                If Instr(1, doc.Body(0), "TheStringGoesHere", 5) > 0 Then
                        Set deldoc = doc
                End If
                Call s.UpdateProcessedDoc(doc)
                Set doc = col.GetNextDocument(doc)
                If Not(deldoc Is Nothing) Then Call deldoc.Remove(True)
        Loop

I think if you're getting hit with this, you can figure out the .com address string that shows up in all the entries.  I'm not going to highlight it here because I don't want any search hits on it.  If you want to know the string I used in place of "TheStringGoesHere", just email me...

Update:  A couple just came in without any URLs.  It may be a mistake, but it's still using the common set of two word starting phrases for the posts.  I've stretched out the agent to cover those strings too.  Again, email me for the actual code...

05/11/2006

Sharing in the ProjectLounge

Category IBM/Lotus
From The Engineer Online:  Sharing in the ProjectLounge

Software newly launched in the UK could help engineers organise projects across different companies, countries and times zones.

ProjectLounge is a hosted online collaboration service powered by IBM’s Lotus Notes. Although it can be used for any project type, it has already proven valuable for international engineering projects. One success has been a motor manufacturing company that does its design in the US and the factoring in China.

ProjectLounge hosts all the files pertaining to a project and allows them to be accessed via a URL. Anything that can be electronically stored can be put on the site so people can have access to it.

Cool!

05/10/2006

Let's see if this stops the blog comment spamming...

Category Blogging
Bruce sent me a link to something he had done to his blog to prevent blog spam, but I didn't quite understand what the changes were (and admittedly I didn't try very hard, either).  Then Captain Oblivious shared his solution, and *that* one I understood right off.  

So, I've added the SaveOptions field to the web-based comment form and made sure that real comments work (they do).  Now I just have to wait to see if I get any comment spam.  

Given the last couple of days, I shouldn't have to wait very long...

05/09/2006

Book Review - PGP and GPG by Michael W. Lucas

Category Book Reviews
It's nice to see someone write a usable reference guide to PGP/GPG that's not 10+ years old, referring to versions of the software that don't exist any more.  Even better in that it's an enjoyable read...  PGP & GPG: Email for the Practical Paranoid by Michael W. Lucas.

Contents: Cryptography Kindergarten; Understanding OpenPGP; Installing PGP; Installing GnuPG; The Web of Trust; PGP Key Management; Managing GnuPG Keys; OpenPGP and Email; PGP and Email; GnuPG and Email; Other OpenPGP Considerations; Introduction to PGP Command Line; GnuPG Command Line Summary; Index

When I last had any interest in PGP, you could download the PGP package from just about anywhere and everything was run from the command line.  Now PGP is the commercial version of the package, and the OpenPGP implementations are the ones you get and use for free.  Lucas does a very nice job in explaining the differences between the commercial and open source implementations, as well as how the commercial implementation's GUI makes much of the command line hassle a thing of the past.  On top of covering the GnuPGP version of the open source option, he also covers Windows Privacy Tray, or WinPT, which provides an add-on GUI to GnuPG.  The email chapters show how PGP can interface to Microsoft Outlook Express, Microsoft Outlook, and Mozilla Thunderbird.  Being a Lotus Notes/Domino user, I would have liked to know about any potential integration packages there, but I'll overlook that slight.  :)

Another positive feature about the book is that he doesn't stop at the nuts and bolts of the software.  By going into the basics of cryptography and the "Web of Trust" for identity verification, Lucas helps the reader understand the mindset of privacy and the responsibilities one has once they join into that community.  Granted, PGP/GPG is nowhere close to being a package that Aunt Mabel will install and understand.  I think that by choosing to use this type of encryption, you already have a fair understanding of which end is up.  But armed with the proper knowledge and mindset (which you'll get here), you'll be able to make a much stronger contribution to the common good.

If you use PGP or have wanted to venture down that road, or if you're dealing with information that might not be viewed favorably by certain authorities (regardless of what you may morally believe), you should get a copy of this book.  It'll save you time in trying to piece it all together on your own, and it's light-years ahead of the other (aged) books on the subject.

05/09/2006

Pesky blog comment spam...

Category Blogging
Looks like a number of the Blogsphere bloggers are getting comment spammed very heavily over the last couple of days...  I just started writing down some of the IP addresses to see if they are coming from a semi-limited set.  I know a few repeated, but I don't have all the ones I got earlier in the day (already deleted them).  So far, I've put comment blocks on the following IP addresses:
222.240.168.140 193.69.116.14 61.189.240.196
80.249.70.140 200.243.218.32 218.12.76.111
216.12.200.106 157.88.76.212 211.162.62.161
220.21.38.3


I'll keep an eye on this over the next day or so and see if we start hitting blocks.  If not, I'll just let it go.  I realize that if the spammers are using zombie bots, the chances of shutting it down by this method are slim and none.  However, if we narrow it down to 20 or 30 IP addresses, perhaps I can stem this temporary flood until the guy gets tired and moves on.

05/08/2006

So is 45 officially middle-aged?

Category Everything Else
If so, I'm there today...

Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - So is 45 officially middle-aged?

05/07/2006

Book Review - Simply Better by Patrick Barwise and Sean Meehan

Category Book Reviews
The cool, conventional wisdom says that to succeed in business these days means you have to innovate and think "outside the box".  Patrick Barwise and Sean Meehan beg to differ in the book Simply Better: Winning and Keeping Customers by Delivering What Matters Most.  Often it's just executing the basics better than everyone else...

Contents: Differentiation That Matters; How Customers Really See Your Brand; Identifying Generic Category Benefits; Challenges of Innovating to Drive the Market; Caution - Inside-the-Box Advertising Doesn't Work; Customer-Focused Mind-Set; How to Be Simply Better; Notes; Index; About the Authors

Many of today's business books offer programs and plans on how to deliver unique innovation, making your product unique from all others.  But most consumers are looking for a blend of things when they buy a product, and your "unique selling proposition" may be something that doesn't even matter to them.  The example of a fax machine being marketed as having the "smallest footprint" is one where the company thought it was great, and the consumer doesn't care.  The alternative is to understand the generic category benefits that your product delivers, and then strive to deliver them better and more memorably than anyone else.  Consistent, high-quality product and delivery matched with brand recognition means that when available, consumers will associate quality with your product and will take the path of least resistance when it comes to repeat purchases in that category.  There are plenty of examples of this scattered throughout the book...  Crest vs. Colgate, Proctor & Gamble, and Target vs. Wal-Mart, just to name a few.  Simply Better presents the perfect counterpoint to creating chaos and disruption, thinking that you know better what the consumer wants and needs...

If you're failing at the basics, then innovation won't offer any panacea or escape.  Simply Better will help you to figure out how to solidify your core market and deliver value by being better than everyone else at the things that do matter...

05/07/2006

Book Review - The Ezekiel Option by Joel C. Rosenberg

Category Book Reviews
One of the blog readers recommended the book The Ezekiel Option by Joel C. Rosenberg after my review of the Apocalypse series.  This one was *far* better than I had hoped for, and in some ways was even better than the Left Behind series.  This reads like something right out of CNN...

Erin McCoy and Jon Bennett are White House advisors who were pivotal in securing a Middle East peace agreement when massive oil reserves were discovered beneath Israel and Palestine.  Now both sides are prospering, the Middle East is relatively quiet, and all seems to be going well.  Of course, all that is about to change.  Iran is building nuclear weapons, and a coup in Russia (prompted by the United States shooting down a civilian airliner headed for the White House) puts the government in the hands of a leader who is highly critical of Israel and the Jewish race.  The new leader uses the United Nations processes to launch sanctions against Israel for their nuclear weapons, and puts down a deadline for compliance.  The failure to comply means that Russia will invade much like the United States did against Iraq.  Nearly every nation surrounding Israel has joined the coalition, and even the United States is forced into a position of neutrality.  As the timeline counts down, Israel considers the "Sampson Option", which is the use of all their nuclear weapons to take everyone else down with them.  But based on the prophecies in the book of Ezekiel, Bennett and a few influential voices are advocating for the "Ezekiel Option", which is waiting for the supernatural intervention of God to protect them.  Bennett has even more at stake here, because he and McCoy (his fiancee) were in Russia during the coup.  Both were injured, he was released, but she's being held hostage in an unknown location.  He wants to rescue her before the impending destruction of Moscow...

This book takes the view that the prophecies in Ezekiel are a precursor to the Rapture, and most of the books that have been written of late about the End Times seem to skip over this event.  The storyline that Rosenberg presents is pretty plausible, and he does a good job of weaving in the historical background that would make all this work out.  It's even more attention-grabbing when you consider the current events in Iran, and how Russia is not keen on backing sanctions against them.  The only thing I thought might have been a bit over-the-top is how McCoy escapes from her captors after being shot in the stomach and drugged for many days while being held in a Russian prison/hospital.  But even with that, it was still a book that didn't last very long once I got started...  

I thought it worked better than Left Behind in that it was much tighter without nearly as much filler.  Granted, it might be like comparing apples (a single book) to oranges (an entire series), but sometimes I felt like I was marking time with some Left Behind volumes.  The Ezekiel Option started strong and didn't let up...

05/07/2006

Book Review - The Unofficial Guide to Windows XP by Michael S. Toot and Derek Torres

Category Book Reviews
Being that I work at a company that uses Windows XP on the desktop, it's to my benefit to understand what it can and can't do (regardless of my personal feelings towards Microsoft).  Michael S. Toot and Derek Torres have a well-balanced book that cuts right to the "how to" aspects of Windows XP...  The Unofficial Guide to Windows XP.

Contents:
Part 1 - Installation, Configuration, and Customization: Preparing for Installation; Installing Windows XP; Managing the Windows Desktop
Part 2 - Manage the XP Environment: Managing Users; Managing Files and Folders; Managing Security; Mastering Multimedia with Windows XP
Part 3 - Networking with Windows XP: Networking and the Internet; Working with Network Services; Integrating with Active Directory
Part 4 - Manage the Hardware Environment: Working with Windows Internals; Working with Hard Drives; Managing Portable Computers; Troubleshooting Windows XP
Index

I think what I liked best about this book is it doesn't attempt to cover every single aspect of Windows with the zeal of a Microsoft evangelist.  The authors cover the most often used and touched parts of XP and give you enough information to understand how to work with it and modify it to work the way *you* need to work.  Also, if there's something better out there, they'll tell you.  For instance, it's not often you'll find a book on Windows where the writers tell you they really dislike Outlook and have switched to Thunderbird for various reasons.  I knew then I was getting information based on experience and not party line spin.  There's also a large number of tips and hints that you probably don't know but that have bugged you for some time.  Like learning that Windows XP and the power management features does not control the wireless connection, and it will drain your battery much faster than you'd think.  Didn't know that...  Actually, I found myself doing the "didn't know that" routine a lot in this book.  

I'll be carting this book off to work on Monday in order to prevent a few help desk calls in the future.  It might also help me help my users avoid a few, too...

05/06/2006

Book Review - Flickr Hacks by Paul Bausch and Jim Bumgardner

Category Book Reviews
Flickr is one of those web sites that has gone in directions I don't think anyone ever imagined it would go.  What started out as simple photo-sharing is now a full-featured site with a programming API.  Many of these are covered and explored in the book Flickr Hacks - Tips & Tools for Sharing Photos Online by Paul Bausch & Jim Bumgardner.

Contents: Sharing Photos; Tagging Photos; Viewing Photos; Community; Maintenance; API Basics; Custom Applications; Index

At the core, Flickr is a site to share pictures online with friends, family, or anyone else you open your pictures to.  And pretty much, that's all I've used it for.  I don't take a lot of pictures, but the ones I have taken that relate to shared experiences (like Lotusphere) have made it up there.  In fact, someone sponsored me for a professional Flickr account (thank you!), but it's about ready to expire.  I wasn't planning on renewing it at that level, but I may have to reconsider after reading this book.  The book is about the size of a normal Hacks title, but there's only 50 hacks in here.  As you can imagine, each one goes into much more detail than normal.  And there *is* some fun stuff in here.  If you have a little background in PHP or Perl, you can really get crazy, too.  For instance, I didn't know you could email photos to your Flickr account.  Hack #6 shows how that works, and it explains how Flickr can often serve as a real-time look into breaking events such as the London train bombing.  People were using their cell phones to take pictures and then mailing them in to the Flickr account.  Or for fun stuff, you can use the Flickr API to build routines to create "ransom note" messages (a different picture for each letter, "glued" together into sentences) in hack #47.  Hack #48 shows you how to take one of your photos and create a "slider puzzle" out of it.  And in between those two ranges you'll find a number of things that will cause you, like they did me, to say "Flickr can do that?"...

If you use Flickr and actively load photos out there, this will be a "must read" book to enhance and expand your Flickr experience.  Even if you're just a casual user like me, you'll have your eyes opened to some new possibilities.  Now where was that Flickr renewal email?

05/05/2006

Book Review - Defeating the Hacker by Robert Schifreen

Category Book Reviews
Have you ever wished for a security book that covers nearly all the potential security risks one can face with computers, but without going into mind-numbing detail on it all?  Robert Schifreen does a pretty good job of that in his book Defeating the Hacker : A nontechnical guide to computer security.

Contents: Introduction; A Hacker is Made; Preparation and Planning; International Laws and Standards; Passwords and Beyond; Your Information Security Policy; Security Awareness Training; Patch Management; Windows Workstation Security; Basic Server Security; Understanding Firewalls; Protecting Your Website; Wireless Networking; Penetration Testing; Security Through Obscurity; Windows Vista; Email; The Curse of Spam; Viruses; Spyware, Adware and Rogue Dialers; Piracy; File Sharing and 'P2P'; Backups and Archives; Preventing Internet Misuse; Document Security; Data Theft; Encryption; Employees' Own Computers; How Hackers Use Search Engines; Denial of Service Attacks; Provisioning and Identity Management; Data Interception; Out of the Office; Social Engineering; E-Commerce Fraud; Intrusion Detection Systems; Outsourcing; Securing your Premises; Forensics; Planning for the Worst; Hardware Theft; Let's Be Careful Out There; Index

As you can see from the table of contents, Schifreen covers quite a bit of ground.  Each chapter is relatively short (7 to 10 pages) and covers the subject from a conceptual and practical view.  It's more along the lines of "here's a problem, here's how it affects you, and here's what you need to do to address it in your organization."  Schifreen was an active hacker who has turned "white hat", so it's not like all this is just theoretical material that he's not actually experienced.  He's done a lot (most?) of this stuff at one time or another, so he knows of what he speaks.  It's also somewhat unique in that it views things from a distinctly English viewpoint.  Since he lives in Great Britain, his writing and choice of words are a little unusual to an American.  For instance, taking something to the dump is referred to as the "tip".  Prices are stated in pounds, and many of the examples are located in various places in Europe.  This particular slant will probably be welcomed by those who are tired of authors who assume that the United States is where all IT takes place.

The only real issue I have with the book is the stated target audience.  It is indeed a nontechnical guide to IT security, and much of the emphasis is on protecting your organization.  I'm not sure how much value an organization would get out of this unless you're a small shop who really hasn't thought much about your computer(s).  For a large organization, there's not enough here to allow you to implement solutions completely (from a technical perspective), and you probably already have techno-geeks that do that.  For the small shop, this would open your eyes to potential problems, but again there might not be enough to allow the non-techy user to properly implement AND maintain their security.  Still, if the reader is someone who really hasn't thought much about computer security beyond the occasional virus scan, this book will open their eyes.

Good book, and surprisingly readable given the amount of material covered.  Just don't go into it thinking that this single book will make your company hack-proof and turn you into a security expert...

05/03/2006

The May issue of the LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter is now out...

Category LotusUserGroup.org
If you didn't get a copy in your inbox (and *why* haven't you signed up???), you can find it on their site here.

Many thanks to my co-writer Jess Stratton for teaming up with me each month, and to Libby Ingrassia for making me sound semi-coherent...

05/02/2006

Book Review - Chasing Ghosts : A Soldier's Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington by Paul Rieckhoff

Category Book Reviews
Like many Americans, I've been less-than-pleased with how the Iraqi war has played out.  The reasons for going into action were likely fabricated, and now we find ourselves trapped in a morass with no easy way out.  After reading Chasing Ghosts : A Soldier's Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington by Paul Rieckhoff, I'm more convinced than ever that our political leadership has completely failed both Iraq *and* America.

Rieckhoff was a National Guardsman who signed up knowing that he'd likely see action in the Middle East.  He was committed to the cause and was ready to help the Iraqi people realize their freedom under a democracy.  What happened was far different.  He and 38 other ill-trained soldiers were put in charge of protecting a hot zone that included a hospital where they had set up base.  Grossly understaffed with faulty equipment, they ended up doing the best they could with what they had, risking their lives on a daily basis.  The leadership in command there seemed to be completely out of touch with the reality of the war in the streets, and the politicians at home were presenting a view of the Iraqi situation that was diametrically opposite of what the troops were facing.  After having their tours extended numerous times with little warning, he finally made it home after nearly a year of service in the heart of Baghdad.  His view and outlook on life upon his return had totally changed, and he decided that he had to be a voice to speak out for the servicemen and women who were on the front lines of a war that was only getting worse.  He offered his services to both presidential candidates during the 2004 election, but no one wanted to confront those issues head on.  His ongoing mission is to raise the public awareness of the *real* Iraqi conflict, and to help support those who have returned from those horrid conditions with little fanfare and nearly no aid.

It's likely that you'll view this book through your own preconceptions and political beliefs, and make some general assumptions about the validity of his position.  Conservatives (where I would fall in the spectrum) might label him a traitor and liar, while liberals might hold him up as the complete reality of Iraq.  The truth, as in all areas of life, falls somewhere between those two extremes.  As for me, I find it nearly impossible to dismiss his account as fabricated or exaggerated.  There are too many other voices, too many other high-ranking officials, who have come out and made the same claims as Rieckhoff.  Not having served in the military, I can't bring any insight to bear on his story.  But it rings true to this reader.  We find ourselves in another Vietnam, fighting an enemy that looks like those we're trying to protect, being run by politicians and leaders who seemingly don't want to win.  And at this stage, there are no easy answers to allow ourselves to exit the war...

If you're already against the war in Iraq, this book will only solidify your opposition.  But if you're on the fence or a staunch supporter, I would challenge you to read this book from someone who's been there and done that.  Your view of the "superior force of the US military" will not emerge unscathed...

05/01/2006

Book Review - Apocalypse Burning by Mel Odom

Category Book Reviews
So I finally got to the third novel in the Apocalypse series titled Apocalypse Burning.  This is a related series to Left Behind, only told from a military perspective of the Rapture and tribulation period.  Now when I started this series, I was thinking it was probably a trilogy.  The last one was published in 2004 and the first three were pretty close together.  But having finished this installment, I must say I'd probably not recommend it, as I don't know if/where they go from here...

Goose Gander is still over in Turkey.  He's more convinced that the mass disappearance was really the Rapture spoken of in Scripture, and he's coming to grips with how that affects his faith.  He's also at odds with his commanding officer based on some secretive maneuverings which is causing Gander to go into missions and conflicts without all the information he needs.  He's also teaming up with a OneWorld reporter who has a lead on a major story that might be the cause of people getting killed.  Goose's wife Megan is finally put on trial for dereliction of duty surrounding her two failed attempts at stopping two different teen suicides.  The case has no foundation, but the Army is following through with it to prevent a civil suit from targeting them.  Megan believes that the Rapture has occurred, and this puts her at odds with nearly all the leadership on the base.  Their son Joey is still doing the runaway thing, and has fallen in with a really nasty crowd that could land him in jail for murder.  And finally, Delroy is back in the town he grew up in, and he's found his father's church in complete disrepair.  Reluctantly, he rediscovers his faith and pretty soon the church is back on track and he's the default pastor.  He's also made contact with his estranged wife, and who knows where that might lead?

So what's wrong with all this?  The writing is fine, and it's an enjoyable read from a Christian end-times perspective.  But we've now gone three books deep into the series and we've covered *maybe* a month of calendar time.  Way, way too slow.  And while there's been minor spot resolutions of personal crisis points of each character, there's no real sense of where things are leading with any of them.  Finally, the lack of a fourth installment after two years makes me wonder if there are any plans to continue it.  Odom's still writing books, but none of them (that I know of) are continuations of this series.

The story would be fine if it went somewhere...  But it hasn't progressed much over three books, and there's no promise that it will continue at all.  Major "plot-us interrupt-us" going on here, and I've got better ways to spend my reading time...

05/01/2006

Give up the blog, Ray... Apparently you're not cut out for it...

Category Microsoft
And this makes 0 - 3...

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