About Duffbert...

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...

Email Me!

Search This Site!

Custom Search

I'm published!

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

Purchase on Amazon

Co-author of the book IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide
SametimeAdminBookCoverImage.jpg

Purchase on Amazon

MiscLinks

Visitor Count...



View My Stats

09/30/2006

Book Review - Deliver First Class Web Sites by Shirley Kaiser

Category Book Reviews
It seems as if there's an ever-expanding lists of "should-do" items when you're doing web design.  Shirley Kaiser wrote Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists to consolidate all that information into a single spot.  Not a bad addition to the bookshelf...

Contents: Let's Get Started - but How?; What to Find Out - Initial Questions to Answer; Preparing Web Site Content; Managing all the Content; Web Site Usability - Focusing on the User; Color; Information Architecture; Navigation; Best Coding Practice - W3C Standards and Recommendations; Creating Accessible Web Sites; Web Site Optimization; Search Engine Optimization; Design; Testing; Preparing for Launch; Post-launch Follow-up; Ecommerce Checklists; Index

The main thing to remember here is that this *isn't* an exhaustive reference manual on the items listed above.  There have been many separate books written about any one of the items.  But Kaiser does a nice job in distilling the best and common practices into a short format that can help you remember the things that you often forget.  For instance, in Best Coding Practices, she reminds the reader to use proper heading elements, to use ul, ol, and li elements for lists, use <br /> for line breaks, not paragraph breaks, and so on.  Rather than just say "because I said so", these recommendations are based on solid advice from standards groups and alternative forms of web readers (like page readers for sight-impaired people).  You may think that it's no big deal, but the assistive technology works far better when you remember small things like this.

You'll likely find that some chapters are more appealing to you than others.  She covers the entire range of development, from design through post-implementation review.  So if you're a code monkey by nature, you'll probably gravitate towards those topics.  Also, I design with Notes/Domino, so advice on laying out specific pages and determining your folder structure don't necessarily fit nicely in my dynamic web site generation world.  But still, there's a lot of good advice regardless of where you're at and what you use...

This is one of those books that can help you consolidate a lot of what you already know to be right, and structure it such that you practice it properly on a regular basis...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

09/30/2006

Book Review - Learning UML 2.0 by Russ Miles and Kim Hamilton

Category Book Reviews
Based on a recent project at work, I realized I needed a better understanding of UML.  To that end, I decided to review the book Learning UML 2.0 by Russ Miles and Kim Hamilton.  While there's still a lot to learn there, I think I have a much better grasp on what's going on...

Contents: Introduction; Modeling Requirements - Use Cases; Modeling System Workflows - Activity Diagrams; Modeling a System's Logical Structure - Introducing Classes and Class Diagrams; Modeling a System's Logical Structure - Advanced Class Diagrams; Bringing Your Classes to Life - Object Diagrams; Modeling Ordered Interactions - Sequence Diagrams; Focusing on Interaction Links - Communication Diagrams; Focusing on Interaction Timing - Timing Diagrams; Completing the Interaction Picture - Interaction Overview Diagrams; Modeling a Class's Internal Structure - Composite Structures; Managing and Reusing Your System's Parts - Component Diagrams; Organizing Your Model - Packages; Modeling an Object's State - State Machine Diagrams; Modeling Your Deployed System - Deployment Diagrams; Object Constraint Language; Adapting UML - Profiles; A History of UML; Index

Miles and Hamilton use a conversational approach to introduce the reader to UML 2.0, and they build on a model that makes sense.  The Use Case view drives nearly everything, as that's the "what" of what the system is supposed to be able to do.  Then they cover the logical, process, physical, and development views that support the system and show different perspectives of what the system will look like depending on which angle you view it from.  All too often, it seems like UML diagrams are just thrown at the reader one after another, and there's no real explanation as to how it all fits together.  Fortunately, that's not the case here, as the model framework for their tutorial puts everything in the right relationship to each other.  I also appreciated how the diagram tutorials started out with just the basics and built from there.  Again, it's common to see a tutorial diagram with every possible permutation thrown in right at the start.  As such, it's far too easy to zone out right away because of all the baggage.  Here, you get the core elements of the diagram first (which often cover 80 - 90% of what you need to know anyway), and then the extra details are introduced after that.  I was much better able to conceptualize the whole discussion when put in that light...  Very nice job...

I would say that if you have this book coupled with a full UML 2.0 reference manual of some sort, you'd be pretty well set to do most anything you'd need to in the world of UML.  I know I'm better equipped to do those sequence diagrams now, where before I was faking it pretty well...  :)

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

09/30/2006

Book Review - Emerald Germs of Ireland by Patrick McCabe

Category Book Reviews
OK...  this is my first exposure to Patrick McCabe, and it's because I was at the library and just happened to pick this up...  Emerald Germs of Ireland.  It's a rather dark, morbid story, but one that I found strangely fascinating...

Pat McNab is a 45 year old guy who lives (or I should say "lived") with his mother.  She's a domineering sort, and Pat was raised in a somewhat feminine fashion.  But one day he cracks and ends up killing his mother by "blunt force trauma".  To cover up the crime, he buries her out in the backyard.  Of course, the small Irish town he lives in notices her absence, and Pat explains it away as her having left to do some traveling.  That matricide event starts the unraveling of what's left of his sanity, and also starts a series of murders (and garden additions) needed to prevent others from "discovering" his previous crime.  You're never quite sure what's real and what's not in his world, but it's best not to become part of it...

Many books like this would paint everything in a dark, sinister fashion.  McCabe goes more for the comically absurd, and slowly paints a picture of McNab's background with each new encounter.  While the subject matter isn't something you'd find funny, I couldn't help but laugh at some of the scenes that he painted for the reader.  And once the magical mushrooms were introduced, you really didn't have a clue as to where things were going (or what was real vs. imagined).  I'm intrigued enough to put him on my list of authors I need to catch up on...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

09/28/2006

Book Review - Enterprise Architecture As Strategy by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson

Category Book Reviews
All too often, an "enterprise architecture" is designed for a company by IT, and then it gathers dust as everything continues along the same path it always has.  The book Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating A Foundation For Business Execution by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson approaches the whole subject from a different perspective, and it's one that actually integrates IT and business...

Contents: To Execute Your Strategy, First Build Your Foundation; Define Your Operating Model; Implement the Operating Model Via Enterprise Architecture; Navigate the Stages of Enterprise Architecture Maturity; Cash In on the Learning; Build the Foundation One Project at a Time; Use Enterprise Architecture to Guide Outsourcing; Now - Exploit Your Foundation for Profitable Growth; Take Charge! The Leadership Agenda; Notes; Index; About the Authors

In most companies I've observed, the enterprise architecture (if it even exists) is an IT thing that defines what software they'll use and support.  But there's only a loose tie-in to the overall strategy of the company from a business process view.  This book twists that around and first forces you to define what type of business model you want to pursue...  Coordination, Unification, Diversification, or Replication.  Each of these models have distinct advantages based on what type of company you are, and it has a huge bearing on how the IT department should be set up to support the business.  Once the business model is defined, then it's a matter of traversing the maturity continuum of your enterprise architecture...  Business Silo architecture, Standardized Technology architecture, Optimized Core architecture, and Business Modularity architecture.  The further to the right you go, the more mature your organization is in terms of building systems that integrate and support the business, as well as leveraging existing technology to avoid one-off solutions.

There are some excellent techniques here that can, if practiced consistently, allow all your projects to fulfill specific business needs as well as contribute to the overall enterprise architecture.  A few careful decisions on one project can lay the groundwork for upcoming projects to build on, and in fact can allow both the current and future projects to share the cost of certain technology implementations, knowing that both sides will benefit.  It's obviously not an easy thing to do, but it can make the difference between being a good and an outstanding organization.

Definitely a recommended read for IT management responsible for the overall direction of how technology supports the business...

If you liked this review and found it helpful, please click on the Amazon book link in the review and click the Yes (Was This Review Helpful To You?) button at the bottom of my review.  Thanks!

09/26/2006

Book Review - Visual Basic 2005 for Programmers (2nd Edition) by Paul J. Deitel and Harvey M. Deitel

Category Book Reviews
It still somewhat amazes me that Visual Basic has stood the test of time like it has.  It keeps getting updates and facelifts, and continues to "play well" in today's environment.  If you need a comprehensive guide to the language and the programming environment, I think you would be well-served by the book Visual Basic 2005 for Programmers (2nd Edition) by Paul J. Deitel and Harvey M. Deitel.  Not much seems to be missing, and there are a few features that would cause me to highly recommend it to the Visual Basic crowd...

Contents: Introduction to .NET, Visual Basic and Object Technology; Introduction to the Visual Basic Express 2005 IDE; Introduction to Visual Basic Programming; Introduction to Classes and Objects; Control Statements Part 1; Control Statements Part 2; Methods - A Deeper Look; Arrays; Classes and Objects - A Deeper Look; Object-Oriented Programming - Inheritance; Object-Oriented Programming - Polymorphism; Exception Handling; Graphical User Interface Concepts Part 1; Graphical User Interface Concepts Part 2; Multithreading; Strings, Characters and Regular Expressions; Graphics and Multimedia; Files and Streams; Extensible Markup Language (XML); Database, SQL and ADO.NET; ASP.NET 2.0, Web Forms and Web Controls; Web Services; Networking - Streams-Based Sockets and Datagrams; Data Structures; Generics; Collections; Operator Precedence Chart; Number Systems; Using the Visual Studio 2005 Debugger; ASCII Character Set; Unicode; Introduction to XML Part 1; Introduction to XML Part 2; XHTML Special Characters; XHTML Colors; ATM Case Study Code; UML 2 - Additional Diagram Types; Primitive Types; Index

As I said, there's not a lot that's missing here...  :)

The authors forego the hand-holding tutorial approach and target the professional programmer who already knows the basics of how programming works.  As such, the book dives into documenting the different features of the language and provide a large amount of example code that demonstrates the features being discussed.  It's also written in such a way that it can serve as an ongoing reference manual when you're up and running with the language.  It's impossible to know everything about every last feature, so you can go back and check into areas where you're still a little fuzzy...

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few features here that really make me like this book.  For one, it introduces UML diagrams and real object-oriented concepts.  All too often the Visual Basic programmers I've met are self-taught individuals who can sling code but don't understand the larger industry concepts.  Using UML here helps to bring them up to speed with the rest of the world.  There are also a number of "call-out" tips in the book that are grouped around good programming practices, common programming errors, error prevention, look-and-feel observations, performance, portability, and software engineering.  These gems, by being separated out of the text, are highly noticeable and extremely valuable to help you write better code.  The authors also focus on the Visual Studio Express packages for the IDE.  These Express versions are free, so you don't have to buy this book and then fork over $500 for more software.  You pretty much have a complete, self-contained learning package right here.

I have my hands full with a number of other technology learning goals right now, and Visual Basic isn't on that list.  But if it was, this would be the book I'd want in front of me...

09/25/2006

Book Review - The Relational Database Dictionary by C. J. Date

Category Book Reviews
I don't care how long you've been in IT...  If you get into a conversation with a hard-core data modeler, they will have you lost in language in a matter of 10 minutes or less.  If you want to understand the precise terminology and meanings behind the words, this book might be your best short-term bet...  The Relational Database Dictionary by C. J. Date.

This is similar to an O'Reilly's "Pocket Guide" title, in that it's a small format page design that totals just 113 pages.  Included in those 113 pages are over 600 terms and phrases that relate to the world of relational databases.  Probably the key thing to take into account here is the author...  C. J. Date.  Date is an authority in all things relational, so you know you're going to get expert definitions and opinions.  The flip side is that Date is very much into the theoretical world of relational technology.  Because of that, you get definitions that are very much founded in mathematical terminology and notation.  Also, Date is very opinionated, and he has to qualms about giving you those opinions as to whether something is important or not...

If you're going to be spending time in the relational database world, you'll need to know this information.  It's all packaged up in a concise format that will make it an oft-visited volume.  Just don't read through the book thinking this is a "definitions for dummies" approach to the material.  You *do* have to think here...

09/24/2006

Book Review - Implementing Lean Software Development by Mary and Tom Poppendieck

Category Book Reviews
I don't think I've ever tried to fit software development into the model of lean manufacturing techniques.  But surprisingly, it has a number of parallels, and they are outlined well in the book Implementing Lean Software Development - From Concept to Cash by Mary and Tom Poppendieck.

Contents: History; Principles; Values; Waste; Speed; People; Knowledge; Quality; Partners; Journey; Bibliography; Index

The authors take the Deming-type principles of manufacturing and show how they relate to agile software development, using many of the same concepts and terms that have been handed down to us from the Japanese methodologies that revolutionized manufacturing.  For instance, Shingo's seven wastes of manufacturing get translated into the seven wastes of software development: In-Process Inventory (Partially Done Work), Over-Production (Extra Features), Extra Processing (Relearning), Transportation (Handoffs), Motion (Task Switching), Waiting (Delays), and Defects (Defects).  To take one of them specifically...  Over-production is the making of product that isn't immediately needed.  It builds up, costs money to store and maintain, and may never be used if the requirements change before the product is used.  Likewise, extra features in software, ones not needed to get the customer's job done, should be avoided at all costs.  It's code that needs to be maintained, it can break software that *is* essential, and the requirements for the feature may change dramatically by the time it is actually requested.  Granted, these are guidelines and not hard-and-fast rules, but they make a lot of sense in terms of making the software development process more efficient and productive.

Both authors have a manufacturing background in their software development past, so the content is liberally sprinkled with real-life examples of these guidelines as they have played out in companies.  It's amazing how we accept things in software development that we would never stand for in a well-run manufacturing set-up (such as running your "machines" over 100% capacity for long periods of time...  sound familiar?)

If you're having a hard time getting your organization to give "agile" methodologies a try, you might want to reframe the discussion around "lean" software development.  You could break out of the language misconceptions and discover new insights.  This book can help you make that leap...

09/24/2006

Book Review - SharePoint User's Guide by Infusion Development Corporation

Category Book Reviews
Microsoft's SharePoint software is currently attracting a lot of attention, so I thought it would be interesting to do some reviews of books touching on that subject.  SharePoint User's Guide by Infusion Development Corporation was one of my early choices for review, and it's a book with a somewhat confusing target audience.

Contents: Working with Sites and Workspaces; Basic Web Parts; Extending Site Pages; Securing SharePoint Sites; Integrating with Office 2003; Setting Up Windows SharePoint Services; Index

This book is targeted for SharePoint users looking to do the most common tasks within the package.  As such, I would think that I could theoretically give this to my end users as a guide to the software.  But there's far too many references to other software packages like IIS, SQL Server 2000, etc.  There's also an entire chapter on how to install SharePoint, which is really outside the capabilities (or interests) of that end user base.  OK, so perhaps this is better for a technical user audience.  But in my experience, that audience wants a lot of details on the guts of the software, not just a guide that says "do this, this, and this..."  So if that's the case, what group *does* this book hit?  I really don't know...

The information in the book isn't bad, it's just that it's difficult to determine who best would benefit from the material without an inordinate amount of inappropriate stuff thrown in...

09/24/2006

Anyone want to venture a guess as to the release date of these "improved" tools?

Category Microsoft
Ed Brill mentioned the other day that the "Red Bull" blog had been pretty silent of late.  Well, they came out of their hole long enough to acknowledge the silence, and to post this note:

An IBM blogger mentioned that our blog has been pretty quiet lately. It's true - as the product team (rather than a Marketing or Sales group) we have been heads down working on the 2007 version of our coexistence and migration tools. They're coming along really well now - we're on schedule to ship when Exchange 2007 and Office 2007 ship and we're going to be offering some really great new features, including PowerShell support, which will allow you to do all kinds of scripting. We'll have a single GUI interface for working with all of the tools and of course we'll be supporting the latest and greatest versions of Exchange and Office.

Anyone want to guess when the release will be, and when all the press releases will be issued?  I'm guessing sometime between January 1st and January 20th....

:)

09/23/2006

Book Review - Beginning Ubuntu Linux - From Novice to Professional by Keir Thomas

Category Book Reviews
It seems that Ubuntu Linux has made the leap from "just another distro" to "distro of choice" as opposed to Fedora.  Since I haven't done anything with Ubuntu yet, I decided to get started with a review of the book Beginning Ubuntu Linux: From Novice to Professional by Keir Thomas.  While I'm not sure it caters completely to the professional, I think it does a good job of getting a computer-savvy person up to speed on what they can expect from running a Linux distribution (in this case, Ubuntu).

Contents:
Part 1 - Introducing the World of Linux: Welcome!; A History and Politics Lesson; The Realities of Running Linux
Part 2 - Installing Ubuntu: Preinstallation Steps; Installing Ubuntu; Solving Installation Problems
Part 3 - The No-Nonsense Getting Started Guide: Booting Ubuntu for the First Time; Getting Everything Up and Running; How to Secure Your Computer; Personalizing Ubuntu - Getting Everything Just Right; Ubuntu Replacements for Window Programs; Managing Your Files;
Part 4 - The Shell and Beyond: Introducing the BASH Shell; Understanding Linux Files and Users; Working with Text Files; Taking Control of the System; Cool Shell Tricks
Part 5 - Multimedia: Digital Music; Movies and Multimedia; Image Editing
Part 6 - Office Tasks: Making the Move to OpenOffice.org; OpenOffice.org Overview; In Depth - Writer; In Depth - Calc; In Depth - Impress; In Depth - Base; In Depth - Evolution; Running Microsoft Office Under Ubuntu
Part 7 - Keeping Your System Running: Installing Software; Managing Users; Optimizing Your System; Backing Up Data; Scheduling Tasks; Accessing Computers Remotely
Appendixes - Glossary of Linux Terms; BASH Command Index; Getting Further Help; Other Versions of Ubuntu; Index

Thomas starts off the book by explaining the background of Linux, as well as how to get Ubuntu installed on your computer.  Parts 1 through 4 deal pretty directly with Ubuntu and core pieces of the operating system, and that's the part of the book that will help most computer-savvy users get a feel for what's involved in running Ubuntu.  It's not at the Grandma level, which means that you won't feel like it's a huge waste of time if you already know your way around your Windows system.  Parts 5 and 6 are not so much Ubuntu as they are chapters on core software that replace the often-used Windows programs for most people.  Many of these software packages have whole books written just about them, so don't expect a definitive guide to every feature they offer.  But it will help you to see what's out there in terms of Windows replacements.  Part 7 gets back more into the Ubuntu-specific realm of how to make sure your system is running to its peak performance.

I see this book at being targeted best for either a Linux newbie or someone sampling Linux distros to see which one appeals to them.  If you are a long-time Linux user looking to switch to Ubuntu, I think you'll find too much of this book covering material you already know.  If you want a book that gets into the arcane details of Ubuntu, then this isn't the book you'd want to get.  However, if you're in the proper audience, you'll benefit from this book.  I know I plan on firing up my VMWare software and loading up Ubuntu based on what I read here...

09/23/2006

And today's Get Fuzzy translation for 09/23

Category Everything Else
Here's the one from today...  http://www.comics.com/comics/getfuzzy/archive/getfuzzy-20060923.html

Thanks to Stan and Ben for the last translation and insights...

I actually understood most of this one...  although the "china plate is a bit gormy" doesn't register...

09/23/2006

Book Review - Time Shifting by Stephan Rechtschaffen

Category Book Reviews
While I don't consider myself an "always busy, Type A" personality, there are many times when I wish I could be more "there in the moment" of whatever I was doing.  I heard about the book Time Shifting: Creating More Time to Enjoy Your Life by Stephan Rechtschaffen, and thought it might be of assistance in helping me in that endeavor.  I don't know that I got everything out of the book that the author intended, but I did pick up a few tips that should help...

Contents:
Part 1: Towards Time Freedom; Entrainment and the Rhythm of Life; Mental and Emotional Time; Stress and Anxiety; Expanding the Moment; Timeshifting; Exercises in Timeshifting
Part 2: Self; Relationships; Children; Work; Sports and Play; Health; Aging; Death and Dying; Planning Ahead; Society; The Future
A Final Word; Bibliography; Acknowledgments

Timeshifting isn't a new time management technique to allow you to eke out more minutes in a day.  Instead, it's a mindset that allows you to get in tune with the rhythm of your life and surrounding events.  Rather than trying to do more and more in every moment, you should step back, take a deep breath, and allow yourself to slow down and appreciate the moment for what it is.  It's a shift from a time-based sense of life to a cycle-based lifestyle.  In many cases, you find yourself in a particular situation either 1) replaying the past, or 2) anticipating the future.  As such, there's no "now".  Rechtschaffen asks you to put past and future out of your mind, and concentrate simply on "now" in whatever you're doing.  

I had one of these moments recently on vacation at DisneyWorld.  It was about 7 pm, and a major thunder and lightning storm was going on.  I pulled up a chair and just watched...  I then noticed a spider between the rails of our balcony, and he was spinning a web.  I simply marveled at the movement and structure of what the spider was building, and how complex it all appears when finished.  Before I knew it, I had spent nearly two hours just enjoying nature, oblivious to time and other activities.  And it will likely be one of the memories of this vacation that doesn't fade...

I liked Part 1 of this book better than Part 2.  Where Part 1 deals with the concepts of timeshifting in general, Part 2 gets into application of the concept in particular areas of your life.  It seemed to get more ethereal and new-age'ish than what I was comfortable with, and I found myself not following quite as closely.  You could say I was spending more time in the past and future than I was in the "now" of reading...  :)

Generally, a useful concept to get more enjoyment out of the ordinary events of life.  The author does a good job of explaining it all, and I can see where I will make some adjustments in what I do and how I do it...

09/23/2006

Just call me "Franken-groin".... :)

Category Everything Else
Last night I decided to change dressings, remove the steri-strips, and basically open up the area to some air.  Once I finally got everything gently removed, I found that I'm now the proud owner of a couple of four inch soon-to-be scars "down there".  Now I could follow in the tradition of Mr. Litton and post pictures of my injury, but I think I'll forego that.  I'd have to fuzz out some "small artifacts" in the picture, and I'd prefer not show off my photo-editing "shortcomings"...  :)

Although things are still tender and I'm moving slowly, I think I'm over the significant pain portion of the recovery.  I don't feel like I'm chasing the pain with my meds quite as much, and I can actually walk for short distances without feeling like my incisions are on fire.  Perhaps in another week or so, I'll actually be back to relative normal.  

All I can say is, when the doctor says it's going to hurt quite a bit (and more than you'd expect), he may just know something that you don't know....

09/23/2006

Book Review - Hacking the Cable Modem by DerEngel

Category Book Reviews
Have you ever wondered what is inside that device called a cable modem?  And if you're a real geek, have you ever wondered what you might be able to do with/to it in order to "modify the performance"?  Then this is your book...  Hacking the Cable Modem - What Cable Companies Don't Want You To Know by DerEngel.  This is very detailed information on everything you'd ever want to know...

Contents: A History of Cable Model Hacking; the Cable Modem Showcase; A Faster Internet; The DOCSIS Standard; What's Inside?; Firmware; Our Limitations; Reverse Engineering; Cable Modem Security; Buffer Overflows; SIGMA Firmware; Hacking Frequencies; Useful Software; Gathering Information; The Blackcat Programmer; Traditional Uncapping; Building a Console Cable; Changing Firmware; Hacking the RCA; Hacking the WebSTAR; The SURFboard Factory mode; Hacking the D-Link Modem; Securing the Future; Frequently Asked Questions; Disassembling; Cross-Compiling; Acronyms; Index

The author has a long history with hacking cable modems to determine how they work.  Over time, he's figured out how to get at the internals of the modem software, how to use debugging menus to tweak performance, and also how to "uncap" certain types of modems.  Uncapping is the act of removing any software settings that limit the speed at which your cable modem sends and receives data.  There's a huge difference between what you actually get, and what the line is capable of.  Often the cable companies offer up more speed for higher prices, but after reading this book you realize it's not a technology limitation but a business/money decision.  He also goes into great detail about how to build devices that you can attach to the modem and use to understand the firmware and programming.  The book is most useful if you're familiar with low-level programming languages and a soldiering iron, but even at a higher level it's interesting to understand what goes on between the cable company and your PC...

This is one of those books that consolidates a lot of information into one place, and will save you an immense amount of time if the subject matter is of interest to you.  It's definitely covering a subject and niche that hasn't gotten much (if any) coverage before...

09/23/2006

Translation request for Get Fuzzy - 09/22/2006

Category Humor
I *knew* I had friends who could help out!  Ben Poole provided an excellent translation of the 09/21 Get Fuzzy strip.  Now let's try the next one:

http://www.comics.com/comics/getfuzzy/archive/getfuzzy-20060922.html

I know if I had mentioned that "some bloke diddled me brolly" here in the States, "stole my umbrella" would not have been the first thought that came to mind...  :)

09/23/2006

Book Review - Celebrating the New World by Robert Muccigrosso

Category Book Reviews
After reading Devil In The White City, a book about the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893, I was drawn to find out a bit more about it.  I got a copy of Celebrating the New World - Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893 by Robert Muccigrosso from the library the other day, and I think this is another book that suffers a bit from what I ended up reading first...

Contents: Setting for a Celebration; The City on the Prairie; A Gathering of Architects; "You Must See This Fair"; A Community of Ideas; For Some, A Harder Struggle; Satisfying Popular Tastes; Legacies of a City of Dreams; A Note on Sources; Index

I'll grant that this book is not meant to be done in a style of Devil in the White City.  That was a storytelling approach, and this is more of a scholarly coverage of the event and what led up to it.  If I had read this one first, I'm not sure I would have gotten the full impact of the gargantuan task that was undertaken with this fair, and how many obstacles had to be overcome to make it all come together.  I did learn a bit more about how hard the women's movement worked to get a voice in the event, and how African-Americans were virtually ignored.  There was also quite a bit of religious ecumenicalism that was a topic during the fair, and I was totally unaware of that angle.  Still, the people in this book are really just names.  In my prior reading, they were people with feelings, depth, and color...  Here, the Ferris Wheel is just a contraption.  There, it was the cornerstone of the fair meant to surpass Paris and the Eiffel Tower.

If you've never been exposed to the Chicago World's Fair, this would be an OK place to start your reading.  But you won't come away with the awe and wonder of what was actually accomplished.  There are other books that do a far better job in putting flesh on the people behind it all...

09/23/2006

I think our English bloggers need to help us out with a translation here...

Category Humor
The comic strip Get Fuzzy started a series on 09/21 where Bucky's English cousin comes for a visit.  The conversation is full of slang, most of which us American readers don't follow...

I think one of the English bloggers needs to provide us a day-by-day translation of the strip, starting here...  :)

http://www.comics.com/comics/getfuzzy/archive/getfuzzy-20060921.html

09/22/2006

Book Review - Cruise Ship Blues - The Underside of the Cruise Industry by Ross A. Klein

Category Book Reviews
As a follow-on to Devils On The Deep Blue Sea, I decided to read this book...  Cruise Ship Blues - The Underside of the Cruise Industry by Ross A. Klein.  While I expected a bit more muckraking than Devils, this was seemingly just one man's personal vendetta against the cruise industry.  This one didn't sit well with me...

Contents: The Inaugural Sail - An Introduction To The Cruise Industry; Onboard the Floating Resort; The Myth of the All-Inclusive Vacation; Beyond the Muster Drill; "Save The Waves" - Sounds Good, But..., Below the Passenger Deck; Everything Would Run Fine... But Passengers Keep Getting In The Way; What Can Be Done?; Mishaps At Sea; Endnotes; Index; About the Author

Klein figures he's qualified to write this because he's taken over 30 cruises spending over 300 days at sea, and he's got degrees in social work.  Fine...  But what follows is a litany of facts and figures to prove his points that the cruise industry is rotten to the core.  For instance, the chapter about the all-inclusive vacation starts out with the premise that a cruise is marketed as a single cost vacation, but that you are nailed with additional charges and opportunities to spend at every turn.  He figures this is the cruise industry's fault because people don't know that they are only looking at a fraction of the cost of the cruise in the sticker price.  As someone who has done a fair amount of cruising himself, I say "so?".  Yes, it'd be nice to get free internet onboard, but you don't.  Live with it.  It'd be nice to get free drinks, but you don't.  Live with it.  If you make the mistake of not understanding this, it's your fault.  And every chapter backs up his points with endless examples of all the failings from about 1990 on...  accidents, crew crimes, etc.  This is not to say that there aren't serious problems.  Staff hired for cruises in many cases are nearly slaves considering how hard they are worked and how little they are paid.  But Klein's way of presenting all this seems more self-serving than helpful.

I thought the book's viewpoint was summed up well in an incident at the end of chapter six.  He recounts an incident on a cruise where the music at the bar was too loud, and a number of passengers repeatedly asked for it to be adjusted or changed.  He spoke to the supervisors, onboard management, wrote the company's CEO, and then contacted the parent company's CEO.  This ended with his travel agent being told that he and his partner are no longer welcome aboard this cruise line.  You could take the position that the company should have been more accommodating, but this sort of escalating behavior for something relatively small usually points to some underlying issues with the complainer, in my opinion...

I learned quite a bit from Devils, and felt that both sides of the issues were fairly presented.  In Cruise Ship Blues, I was subjected to a one man crusade against personal perceived wrongs, and it was hard to separate the content from the delivery.  Bottom line...  there are better books that cover the industry problems, and I'd almost go on a cruise again just to spite this writer...

09/22/2006

Book Review - An Introduction to Planetary Defense

Category Book Reviews
Every so often I'll take on a review of something that I normally wouldn't give a second glance.  When I was contacted for a review of An Introduction to Planetary Defense - A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion by Travis S. Taylor, Bob Boan, R. C. Anding and T. Conley Powell, I'll admit my first reaction was "you've got to be kidding".  But after a short reconsideration, I decided to give it a shot.  Surprisingly, it's a serious treatment of a subject populated all too often by the crackpot fringe...

Contents: The Statistics - Probability of an Alien Invasion; Warfare with ET - Humans vs. Aliens Weapons, Tactics, & Strategies for Human Defense; Motive Based Classification of Extra-Terrestrials; The "Need to Know"; First Response, Second Response, Third Response - Did We Get It Right? Did We Win?; The Sixth Column - Somebody Should Be Preparing; Conclusions and Discussions; Bibliography; Index

The authors, all highly educated experts in their fields, decided to apply serious science to the matter of defending earth from an alien invasion.  They start from the perspective of probabilities...  how likely is it that there's life out there, and that they might come looking for us?  The discussion then moves to the type of tactics that could be employed by either side, as well as what type of alien we might end up with (curious? benevolent? hostile?).  They cover whether the government has the responsibility to inform the public of alien contact (the answer isn't what you'd expect), and what is to be expected in a protracted conflict.  Finally, there's the call to action for what we should be doing now to prepare for the possibility of an alien encounter sometime in the future.  While I was ready to watch these writers get all worked up over something that's pretty remote, the opposite happened.  It was a rational look at what could be expected, and how the Hollywood responses don't actually make much sense when you examine them in the light of hard science.

I thought their parallels of an alien invasion to the white man visiting the island tribes was pretty close to reality.  An advanced culture showing up, beyond the imagination of the more primitive culture, and there was no defense in place.  While their call to action is logical in a perfect world, the reality is that there's no way that a group of governments would fund something like this when there are far more pressing issues that need to be dealt with immediately.  Conversely, who knows *what* programs the military backs without us knowing...

I'd recommend this book as an excellent research tool for anyone writing a science fiction book or producing a movie involving invasion.  Some time spent here will lead to a much more realistic portrayal of the problems we'd face if "Independence Day" became a reality...

09/21/2006

Book Review - Beach Road by James Patterson and Peter De Jonge

Category Book Reviews
Another one of the post-surgery recovery reads I had stockpiled was Beach Road by James Patterson and Peter De Jonge.  It seems like every Patterson read is a gamble of late...  some are great, and others are less than wonderful.  This one unfortunately tended towards the latter of the two extremes.

Tom Dunleavy is an ex-NBA star who is now a small town lawyer barely making ends meet in the Hamptons.  His career catapults into the national headlines when he ends up as the attorney for Dante Halleyville, the next Michael Jordan coming out of high school.  Halleyville has been accused of murdering four people in a gangland style killing, most likely the result of an altercation from a pick-up game earlier in the day.  Halleyville is the least likely person to commit the crime, given his stellar background and his potential future.  But all the facts out there point to him being involved.  Dunleavy thinks he was framed, and is trying hard to do something that has meaning for once.  He's also trying to win back the affections of an ex-lover who he dumped after his career-ending injury, and he's able to enlist her legal help in proving that Dante is innocent.  The fact that East Hampton is white and Halleyville is black stirs up a lot of prejudicial feelings in the town, and there are some people who wish Dunleavy would just let things go and not dig too deeply...

When I first started the book, I thought it looked pretty good.  Typical short chapter Patterson pacing, and things were moving.  But the love interest between Dunleavy and his ex isn't well explained, or at least I didn't follow it.  As a result, the whole "working to win her back" didn't flow well.  Then there is a huge mondo twist at the end that made no sense at all, and I still don't understand the motivation for it.  It almost seemed to be a case of "how bizarre can I make the ending?" exercise.  This is a book that I don't necessarily regret reading, but I wouldn't have missed anything if I had bypassed it either...  

09/20/2006

Book Review - L. L. Bean - The Making of an American Icon by Leon Gorman

Category Book Reviews
L. L. Bean is the classic example of the cultural icon company...  One that has been around forever, runs by a different set of rules, and has a fanatically loyal customer base.  Leon Gorman, the last family member to serve as President of the company, recounts the history and struggles in his book L. L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon.  It's an interesting look at how doing a few things correctly can overcome a number of other things done really badly.

Contents:
Part 1 - 1960 - 1967: L. L. Gives Me a Job; Learning the Business; Who Will Succeed L. L.?
Part 2 - 1968 - 1975: A Committee of One; Living the L. L. Story; "To Run A Perfect Company"
Part 3 - 1976 - 1990: Taking L. L. Bean Professional; Fashion Boom and Bust; Back on Track; End of an Era
Part 4 - 1991 - 2000: TQ and Other Ventures; A Loss of Relevance; Time for Transformations; Platform for Growth
Epilogue; Voices; Notes; Bibliography; Index

Leon Gorman was hired by his grandfather, L. L. Bean, back in 1960 right out of the Navy.  Gorman really didn't have specific responsibilities, but Bean wouldn't turn down a family member.  Gorman spent most of his time learning about the company, how it operated, and how business flowed from one end to the other.  At this point in time, L. L. Bean was a small catalog operation with one quirky retail store in Maine.  The target audience was outdoorsmen, and all the apparel and merchandise sold reflected the feelings and opinions of what Bean thought was the best buy in any given category.  This approach started back in 1912 and continued to carry forth at the time Gorman was hired.  But Bean was getting old, had no real plan for succession of the company, nor did he really want to grow it any larger.  But in late 1967, Gorman took over after the deaths of both L. L. and Carl, his son.  The challenge then became one of retaining the L. L. Bean image while growing the company to one that would be known worldwide for quality apparel and active gear.  

Bean's no-nonsense, fair value approach to business worked well at a certain size, but there were no processes in place to support growth.  The types of things we all take for granted now (inventory control, accounting packages, etc.) were nonexistent.  There were also a number of wars going on internally over whether the focus of outdoor activities should be scrapped for a wider appeal (think Abercrombie and Fitch or Norm Thompson).  Since this is told in first person story fashion, Gorman takes the reader through his view of what he was trying to accomplish, and how he had to navigate some pretty tricky waters, such as running a family-owned business whose principals didn't all have the same goals and objectives...

The thing I liked most about this book is that it doesn't attempt to paint Gorman as an all-knowing leader who could do no wrong.  Plenty of mistakes were made, and any one of them could have permanently damaged the company.  But everyone learned the lessons they paid for, and the company kept moving forward, imperfections and all.  This is an excellent read for any business leader who is struggling to balance growth against tradition.  L. L. Bean has been successful in balancing those two often-conflicting values, and there's a lot to glean from these pages...

09/20/2006

Command Central during surgery recovery...

Category Everything Else
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - Command Central during surgery recovery...

If I wasn't actually *forced* into this arrangement, it wouldn't be half bad...

09/19/2006

Book Review - Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs

Category None
Since I'm currently recovering from some surgery, I decided to treat myself to a little Tempe Brennan action with Kathy Reichs latest, Break No Bones.  There's a lot of stuff going on in this novel, and the surgery pain may have prevented me from enjoying it quite as much as I normally would.

Brennan is down in South Carolina teaching an archeological class complete with dig, and she discovers a body that isn't nearly as old as the surrounding area.  She contacts her friend and local coroner Rousseau to report the find.  She's coerced into hanging around to help identify the body, but things get out of control as additional bodies continue to show up, all with a distinctive cause of death that Brennan finds as part of her skeletal forensic work.  And if this isn't enough to keep her a bit unhinged, her estranged husband shows up at the house where she's staying, as does her current flame from Montreal.  The husband's detective work starts to intersect with Brennan's bodies, and someone would like him to lay off the investigation.  There's also quite a bit of confusion as she tries to sort out her feelings for her soon-to-be-ex and for her other partner...

First off, Break No Bones is a good read.  I love the Brennan character, and there's far more character development in this book in terms of where her life is going.  The plot line for the bodies and how they are all tied together seemed to drag a bit, but I'm willing to concede that reading for entertainment while taking pain medication might not allow one to follow things quite as clearly as normal.  I think that if you like the Tempe Brennan series, this is a good and logical addition that points to where things might be going...

09/19/2006

I'm back... but moving VERY slowly!

Category Everything Else
Apparently the surgery went well...  I didn't pass out when getting the IV (though the nurse was a bit nervous), and there's about two hours of my life missing from the time I was wheeled into the operating room until I woke up in recovery.  I thought I was doing quite well pain-wise until last night...

The staff is really big into ranking your pain, and I was at about a 1 - 2 (10 being unbearable) while I was recovering.  Then I think all the remaining painkillers wore off, and now I'd put myself up around a 7 to 8.  This HURTS!

I'm walking around like I'm 80...  hunched-over waddle.  Ice is my best friend.  The oxycontin is barely keeping things at bay.  I realize the day after is supposed to be bad, but I completely underestimated the effect of this surgery on my mobility and pain tolerance.  My wife is earning bonus points left and right for being there for me.  I feel like an invalid...  

I finally moved out to the front room in the recliner, as the bed's getting old.  She's taking a nap, as I don't think either of us got much in the way of sleep last night.  She goes back to work tomorrow, so I think I'll set up "command central" out here in the front room...  Air conditioner remote, TV remote, laptop, table for meds and books, and my access device for work.  Not that I'll be up to top speed for working, but sitting around and contemplating my pain doesn't work well either...

Anyway...  Thanks for all the words of encouragement and prayers.  Now if I can make it through this first week, hopefully things will be OK.  And yes...  I've already completed one book.  :)

09/17/2006

Well... see you all on the flip side...

Category Everything Else
Since I have to be up and moving *really* early tomorrow, I think I'll shut down my pre-surgery blogging now.  Go take a shower, get comfortable in my Disney Boardwalk bath robe, and try and sleep a bit.  With any luck, I won't spend most of the night staring at the ceiling.

Of course, if you see another blog entry around 2 am, you'll know I wasn't successful at that last item...

See y'all on the flip side in a couple of days...

09/17/2006

Book Review - Success Built To Last - Creating A Life That Matters

Category Book Reviews
In all the books I read, I rarely do so with pen in hand, underlining passages.  This book was one of those exceptions...  Success Built To Last: Creating A Life That Matters by Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson.  I'll be re-reading this book a number of times...

Contents:
Introduction; From Great to Lasting - Redefining Success
Part 1 - Meaning - How Successful People Stay Successful: Love It Or Lose - Passions and the Quest for Meaning; Portfolio of Passions - It's Not About Balance; Why Successful People Stay Successful - Integrity to Meaning
Part 2 - ThoughtStyles - Extreme Makeovers Start In Your Head: The Silent Scream - Why It's So Damn Hard to Do What Matters; The Cause Has Charisma - You Don't Have to Be Charismatic to Be Successful; The Tripping Point - Always Make New Mistakes; Wounds to Wisdom - Trusting Your Weaknesses and Using Your Core Incompetencies
Part 3 - ActionStyles - Turning Passion Into Action: Earning Your Luck - Preparing for Serendipity by Using Big Hairy Audacious Goals; Naked Conversations - Harvesting Contention; Creating Alignment - The Environment Always Wins;
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out - A Look at the Research Behind Success Built to Last; Endnotes; Biographical Index; Index

While I normally like books that deal with self-improvement, I'm always a bit disappointed with the 20-20 hindsight involved.  The author picks a person, examines everything they've done through the lens of results, and makes every action appear to be a stroke of genius.  In reality, the decisions were made with no special knowledge or insight.  They just worked out well.  Success Built To Last differs in that there's actual research and statistical methods involved in distilling the traits and behaviors found in people who have been successful over the long run.  These traits are then grouped into the particular thoughts and actions that are commonly found in these "builders"...  people who have built a life of meaning and passion.

The book can be counter-intuitive at times.  Conventional wisdom says you have to create equal balance among all aspects of your life.  Success Built To Last says you have to find the "right" balance, and "right" doesn't mean "equal".  You need to find something that brings you personal fulfillment and commit to it completely.  That leads to success for you, although it may not mean success to someone else.  And the rewards are not the reason to be working at your passion.  The rewards are a result of following your dreams, and it's the reason that people like Warren Buffett don't stop working now that they have billions in the bank.  They do what they do because it's who they are...

So many of the ideas in this book resonated with me.  I consider myself fortunate that I *do* have a job that I enjoy and would do even if I had a choice.  But while I'm in a better mental state than many, there's still plenty of room for improvement.  Success Built To Last will help me refine my mindset and actions to be even more effective and successful in what I do with my life.  I think this book is destined to become a classic...

09/17/2006

Hi, I'm Notes... - Rip and Replace

Category IBM/Lotus
Title: Rip and Replace (parody of I'm a Mac and I'm a PC advertisement)

Scene:  Notes character is on right putting on a new pair of shoes.  The Exchange character is behind a screen, showing from the shoulders up, obviously undressed.

Notes:  Hi, I'm IBM Lotus Notes/Domino.

Exchange: And I'm Microsoft Exchange.

<Notes character looks over at Exchange behind screen>

Notes:  So, you finished putting on your new shoes yet?

Exchange:  Would you be a bit patient?  When I get new shoes, I have to take off everything I'm wearing, put on my new socks and underwear, put on the new shirt and pants, and then I can put on the new shoes.  

Notes:  Sorry...  It's just when I get a new pair of shoes, I simply put them on, lace them up, and I'm ready to go.  I don't have to rip and replace my entire wardrobe.

Exchange:  Isn't that a bit boring?

Notes:  It makes things much easier for my users.  We spend more time working and less time managing the clothes closet.

Notes: And didn't you have to change your wardrobe last time you bought new shoes?

Exchange: Oh, shut up...

<fade to Notes/Domino logo...>

09/17/2006

Hi, I'm Notes... - New Hardware

Category IBM/Lotus
Title: New Hardware (parody of I'm a Mac and I'm a PC advertisement)

Scene:  Notes character is on right standing in front of a running server.  The Exchange character is busy unpacking a brand new server.

Notes:  Hi, I'm IBM Lotus Notes/Domino.

Exchange: And I'm Microsoft Exchange.

Notes:  So, what do you have there?

Exchange:  It's my new 64 bit server!  I need it for my latest version.  Lots more power to make my software run faster.  You have a new version coming out too...  Where's your new hardware?

Notes:  Oh, I don't need any new hardware.  Notes/Domino is designed to run on the hardware you already have, and we improve the performance of the software.  We make the most of your current investment.

Exchange:  But don't you just love new hardware?  The "new server" smell?  All that raw speed?  Just waiting to be used by you?

Notes:  It's nice, but it's not about me.  It's about the customer, isn't it?

Exchange:  Customer?

<fade to Notes/Domino logo...>

09/16/2006

Hi, I'm Notes... - Patching Holes

Category IBM/Lotus
Title: Patching Holes (parody of I'm a Mac and I'm a PC advertisement)

Scene:  Notes character is on right dressed business casual, neat and trim.  Exchange character is on left with torn, ripped, ragged clothes.  There's a table next to him with sewing supplies, staplers, tape dispenser, and duct tape.  Scene opens with Exchange character using duct tape to cover up a hole or rip in some piece of clothing.

Notes:  Hi, I'm IBM Lotus Notes/Domino.

Exchange: And I'm Microsoft Exchange.

Notes: Uh, so what happened?  Are you OK?

Exchange:  I'm fine.  It's just that whenever I go out these days, I end up getting all these holes  that I end up having to patch up.  All those people poking and prodding me...  They just ruin everything I wear...

Notes:  That's too bad.

<Exchange character starts to hand the duct tape over to the Notes character.>

Exchange:  Here...  You can use my repair tools.  I have plenty of them.  I can share.

Notes:  No thanks, I'm fine.

Exchange:  No, really...  Holes in your clothes look really bad.

Notes:  But I don't need your repairs.  I'm the most secure messaging system on the market today.  I go out and around, talk to people, go about my business, and my clothes look as good as they did when I left.  I'm fine...

Exchange:  Really?

Notes:  Really...

<Exchange character drops the duct tape roll, bends over to grab it, and the seat of his pants rip out.  He stops halfway down.>

Exchange:  Oh.

<Notes character bends over, grabs the tape roll.>

Notes:  Here, let me get that for you...

<Alternative ending line - Notes: I have some chewing gum if you'd like to borrow it...>

<fade to Notes/Domino logo...>

09/16/2006

Hi, I'm Notes... - Building Applications

Category IBM/Lotus
Title: Building Applications (parody of I'm a Mac and I'm a PC advertisement)

Scene:  Notes character is on right with a Notes/Domino Development Redbook and a boxed set of Notes/Domino 6.5.  Exchange character is on left with a large number of software packages (SQL Server, IIS, Visual Basic, .Net, etc., and piles of books for each).

Notes:  Hi, I'm IBM Lotus Notes/Domino.

Exchange: And I'm Microsoft Exchange.

Notes:  Ready to start building some applications?

Exchange:  You bet...  Give me a little time here to get all this software installed, make sure all the servers are talking to each other, configure each package, and then read up on how everything works.  It shouldn't take me more than a few weeks...

Exchange:  And where's all your tools?

Notes:  Oh, this is all I need.  Notes/Domino has Designer built in, the web server's already there, all the HTML, LotusScript, Java technologies are already supported out of the box.  I'll just install the software and be ready to go in a couple of hours.

Exchange:  That's it?

Notes:  Yeah, that's it...  It all just works.  In fact, I'll be demoing an application this afternoon for my customer.  So, um...  I'm just going to get started, OK?

Exchange:  Sure...  go ahead...  <mumbling – I should have all the packages opened by then...>

<fade to Notes/Domino logo...>

09/16/2006

Hi, I'm Notes... - Multi-platform party

Category IBM/Lotus
Title: Multi-Platform Party (parody of I'm a Mac and I'm a PC advertisement)

Scene:  Notes character is on right with a number of partying, “cool” individuals behind him.  Exchange character is on left with one single, slighty-forlorn individual behind him.

Notes:  Hi, I'm IBM Lotus Notes/Domino.

Exchange: And I'm Microsoft Exchange.

Exchange:  Who are all those people with you?

Notes:  Oh, those are all the different operating systems that can use me.  There's Linux, Mac, mainframes, iSeries...  There's lots of room for different styles, and we all work and play together.

Notes:  And who's that with you?

Exchange:  Oh, that's Windows.  I like to keep my parties small and private.  Makes it easier to control the level of fun everyone's having...  Don't want things to get out of my control, you know...

Notes:  Hey, Windows...  come on over.  I work with you too, and you can interact with all these others...  I think you'd enjoy yourself...

<Windows character starts to slide over to the Notes party with a guilty expression...>

Exchange:  Hey!  Where are you going?  Get back over here!  I need you!

<fade to Notes/Domino logo...>

09/16/2006

Book Review - The Husband by Dean Koontz

Category Book Reviews
I still find it interesting to watch Dean Koontz shift from being a supernatural horror novelist to more of a mainstream writer.  His latest, The Husband, has no real supernatural element to it at all.  Doesn't really matter, however...  It's still an enjoyable read.

Mitch Rafferty is a landscaper whose life changes with a single phone call.  While out on a job, he gets a call from someone who has kidnapped his wife and wants two million dollars in little more than two days.  Obviously, he doesn't have that kind of money but the kidnappers chose him for a reason.  His brother *does* have that kind of money, and this is a vendetta against him, not Mitch.  Mitch loves his wife dearly and will go to any lengths to save her, but he's really just a pawn in a much larger game.  When his brother turns out to be someone vastly different than who Mitch believed him to be, he undergoes a transformation from helpless pawn to active player.  The backbone he grows during the two day ordeal allows him to do things he would have never thought possible, and take actions to make sure his wife survives.

The storyline here was good.  I was able to sympathize with Mitch, and understand the desperation he felt.  Once the plot twist with the brother was played (and I didn't see that one coming), the dynamics of the story changed a lot, and I had a hard time putting the book down.  Koontz doesn't do quite as much "see how clever I can write" ramblings as he has in a few of his latest books, so I didn't feel his presence nearly as much.  Overall, it's a good read that I easily could have gone through in a single sitting had I had that much time available to me...

09/14/2006

Sometimes it's best not to know...

Category Everything Else
When presented with a new situation I know nothing about, I tend to gravitate towards reading as my learning tool (like *that* surprises anyone!).  And since I'm facing surgery for the 2 inguinal hernias on Monday, I went out to the web and started digging a bit to see some images of what to expect.

Sometimes it's best not to know...

It's one thing when you're looking at an illustrated drawing of how an inguinal hernia looks.  It's another thing to see photos of men with huge bulges in areas best not talked about.  And seeing some draped off groin splayed open during surgery isn't exactly a calming image, either...  

I think I'll just go back to the text descriptions of the condition and the cartoon drawings, thank you very much...

The positive side of all this is that I was taken off the documentation project at work that was consuming my life for the last three months.  There was no way I could work the type of hours I was putting in, while at the same time trying to recover from surgery.  And much of the work over the next two to four weeks would involved a lot of face-to-face meetings.  If I'm working from home during that time, that wouldn't be too feasible.  It's a strange feeling to be doing *just* Notes development this week...  I'm actually having...  <gasp!>  FUN!

09/13/2006

Funny Ambien reaction while on vacation...

Category Everything Else
I forgot to mention this in previous vacation blog postings...

We left for DisneyWorld Saturday, September 2nd at 11:55 pm.  Being that we were taking a red-eye from Portland to Dallas (and then to Orlando from there), I thought I'd use an Ambien to help me sleep on the plane.  Normally, I head straight to bed when I take one, read for 30 minutes or so, and then turn out the light and go to sleep.  Nothing dramatic...  just an "I'm tired now" feeling...

So, we were to board at 11:25 pm, and I figured that taking an Ambien at 11:10 would give me more than enough time to board, get seated, and drift off after take-off...  At least that was the plan...

Here's what I remember...  :)

Around 11:20, I'm standing in the waiting area, eyes closed, swaying back and forth.  Sue said I appeared drunk (and no alcohol was involved here...  honest).  I'm told that she asked me where we were sitting (10A and 10B) and I said we were in 10A and 18B.  I'm told I was having a difficult time figuring out the seat belt concept (I sorta remember that one).  I'm told I was having a horrible time with the inflatable neck pillow and my hat (don't ask... I don't even know how it got inflated).  But I do remember waking up about an hour outside from Dallas...  :)

Ian's observation that "Ambien makes you goofy" is starting to look more plausible now...  :)

09/13/2006

Overheard in Portland: Ezactly...

Category Humor
Blond 20-something hipster chick on cell phone to agency...

"And the confirmation code is?  Z?  Z?  Z as in xylophone?"

09/12/2006

Overheard In Portland: Selective aging...

Category Humor
50-ish female bus driver chatting with 60-ish male passenger...

Him: So, I heard you were embarking on an affair with a 30 year old...
Her: You heard about that, huh?
Him: Yeah...  How's it working out?
Her:  Fine...  He's really nice...  I prefer my antiques to be furniture and books...

09/11/2006

Well... Looks like I'll be going under the knife in the near future...

Category Everything Else
All the years of weight training, being overweight, etc., have taken their toll, and apparently my lower abdominal wall is rebelling.  The condition has been there for awhile, but the DisneyWorld trip sort of aggravated things with all the additional walking.  I've gone from "that's probably not good" to "OK, this is getting uncomfortable".  Today's doctor appointment confirmed that it's definitely a hernia condition, and I need to call the surgeon tomorrow to set up an appointment.  It'll be interesting to see what he says as far as how the repair will be done.  My doctor's parting words were somewhat ominous...

"Remember that this type of surgery will probably take you longer to recover than you'd think..."

This will be a new experience for me...  With the exception of a cyst removal from my wrist 20+ years ago, I've had no surgery, no broken bones, no hospital stays...  nothing.  My needle phobia will make the whole IV thing an adventure...  And drifting off to la-la land knowing you're about to be sliced gives me something to think about.  I've always wondered how I would handle recovery and rehab from a medical procedure.  Guess I'll get to find out now.

45 and falling apart.  :)

09/11/2006

Book Review - Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich

Category Book Reviews
Yes, I'm a Janet Evanovich/Stephanie Plum fan.  I look forward to each new installment in this series.  The latest is Twelve Sharp, and I finally made it to the top of the hold list at the local library.  And as always, it was well worth the wait.  My only complaint is that I finish them too quickly...

Stephanie, Lula, Morelli, and Ranger are back at it again...  running down bail jumpers and criminals in "the Burg".  Ranger goes "off-line" down to Miami to take care of some bad business, as he puts it.  But while he's gone, his "wife" shows up and is ready to kill Stephanie to find Ranger.  Since Ranger has never mentioned a wife, Stephanie's a bit concerned, especially when she's staring down the barrel of a gun.  While the wife is staking out the bond office following Plum everywhere, she meets an untimely demise at the hands of "Ranger".  Ranger returns to find everyone looking for him as the prime suspect of both the murder and the kidnapping of his daughter (another fact that Stephanie didn't know about).  He has to remain hidden until he can flush out the imposter, find his daughter, and also prevent Plum from getting killed by psycho-Ranger.  And of course, all this protection involves close contact between Ranger, Morelli, and Plum (whose hormones are in overdrive)...

Evanovich has an incredible knack for painting vivid scenes that are improbably funny.  Lula, "Sally", and Grandma appear in major doses, and I'd love to see these characters make it to the big screen.  It'd be a hoot.  The main element in this story is Ranger's mortal-ness.  He's finally in a situation he can't solve, he has to keep himself under control in situations where he really just wants to kill someone, and he really does bleed.  The final scene is more intense than usual, and had the doctor called me back a few minutes earlier I would have told him to wait until I finished.  :)

A great installment in the Plum series, and I can't wait for #13...

09/10/2006

So I guess it's back to reality now...

Category Everything Else
No more vacations scheduled...  No more ways to dodge those nasty documentation projects at work...  In theory, I'll be done at the end of the month...

Right...

sigh...

09/10/2006

I'm not a big fan of sports "analysts"...

Category Everything Else
... in that far too many of them end up stating the obvious or they explain the play as if they know exactly what was supposed to happen.

Then you have the ones that need to hype a situation to incredible levels...  Like today...

This is week 1 of the 16 game National Football League schedule.  The Seattle Seahawks were playing the Detroit Lions.  Seattle made a play that preserved the win.  In the game highlights, one of the announcers described it as a play that "may have saved Seattle's season"...

THIS IS WEEK 1!!!!!!

And I thought discussing the playoff picture after week 3 couldn't be topped...

09/10/2006

Book Review - Java I/O (2nd Edition) by Elliotte Rusty Harold

Category Book Reviews
Getting data into and out of files in your Java program can be painstaking when you consider all the variations...  network resources as files, compressed files, text vs. binary data in the file, etc.  Java has significant power in this area, but there's a lot to know and understand.  Elliotte Rusty Harold has made the task of learning it all a little easier with the book Java I/O (2nd edition).  

Contents:
Part 1 - Basic I/O: Introducing I/O; Output Streams; Input Streams
Part 2 - Data Sources: File Streams; Network Streams
Part 3 - Filter Streams: Filter Streams; Print Streams; Data Streams; Streams in Memory; Compressing Streams; JAR Archives; Cryptographic Streams; Object Serialization
Part 4 - New I/O: Buffers; Channels; Nonblocking I/O
Part 5 - The File System: Working with Files; File Dialogs and Choosers
Part 6 - Text: Character Sets and Unicode; Readers and Writers; Formatted I/O with java.text
Part 7 - Devices: The Java Communications API; USB; The J2ME Generic Connection Framework; Bluetooth
Part 8 - Appendix: Appendix; Index

The first edition of this book was written back in 1999, and that's an eternity in computer years.  Not only has the java.nio classes come into play since then, but you now have devices that were either bleeding edge or concept-only in 1999, like Bluetooth gadgets.  Harold has improved the basic material to bring it up to date with the current state of Java development, and added the additional information for I/O classes through Java 6.  I appreciated the large amount of coding samples that he uses to illustrate his points, as it makes it easy to adapt your learning to your own particular situation.  The examples are also very focused, so you don't end up trying to filter out extraneous code to find the applicable concept you need.

There's another way to use this book that makes it even more valuable than just a reference manual.  If you've been coding for awhile, it's possible that you've developed some ingrained approaches to file I/O that are outdated.  By simply scanning the information here, you could easily find new ways to build your applications using newer methods.  Or, you might find there are language features you didn't know existed, like the ability to write your files in a compressed format without having to go through a separate utility.  Two or three personal revelations like that, and the book has quickly earned its place on the shelf.

While you may not use this book for every Java application you build, you'll definitely want it whenever you're working with I/O logic...

09/10/2006

Book Review - Unicode Explained by Jukka K. Korpela

Category Book Reviews
If you're like me, you probably think of Unicode as "expanded ASCII" and that's about it.  But there is infinitely more to the subject than I thought, and Unicode Explained by Jukka K. Korpela is an exhaustive reference to all that is Unicode.  And in this increasingly global computing environment, you will need to know this information...

Contents:
Part 1 - Working with Characters: Characters as Data; Writing Characters; Character Sets and Encoding
Part 2 - A Systematic Look at Unicode: The Structure of Unicode; Properties of Characters; Unicode Encodings
Part 3 - Advanced Unicode Topics: Characters and Languages; Character Usage; The Character Level and Above; Characters in Internet Protocols; Characters in Programming
Appendix - Tables for Writing Characters; Index

In concept, Unicode is real simple.  An expanded character set using 16 bit encoding, and you can accommodate far more languages and symbols than straight ASCII.  But the implementation is far more complex than that.  Korpela starts with the basics of characters...  what they are, what they mean, and the nuances involved.  From there, you learn about how applications have to interpret the different encoding standards and handle things like case, sort orders, line breaks, etc.  When I saw the size of the book (600+ pages), I wondered if the material was just a lot of reference tables that could be found online.  Gladly, it's not...  This is an exploration of everything that is Unicode, and you'd have to wade through a lot of web pages to even begin to glean the level and value of information that you'll find here.

If you have anything to do with programming or designing global software, this book purchase is a no-brainer.  And even if you're not doing anything in that area right now, this is one of those reference titles that is worth having on your bookshelf and available for the first time you *do* need it.  It won't take long to pay for itself...

09/10/2006

Book Review - Teach Yourself AJAX in 10 Minutes by Phil Ballard

Category Book Reviews
In a perfect world, you could pick up any new technology in 10 minute chunks.  But the world isn't perfect, and some technologies don't even come close to this 10 minute standard.  This could be a case in point...  Teach Yourself AJAX in 10 Minutes by Phil Ballard.

Contents:
Part 1 - A Refresher on Web Technologies: Anatomy of a Website; Writing Web Pages in HTML; Sending Requests Using HTTP; Client-Side Coding Using JavaScript; Server-Side Programming in PHP; A Brief Introduction to XML
Part 2 - Introducing Ajax: Anatomy of an Ajax Application; The XMLHTTPRequest Object; Talking with the Server; Using the Returned Data; Our First Ajax Application
Part 3 - More Complex Ajax Technologies: Returning Data as Text; AHAH - Asynchronous HTML and HTTP; Returning Data as XML; Web Services and the REST Protocol; Web Services Using SOAP; A JavaScript Library for Ajax; Ajax "Gotchas"
Part 4 - Commercial and Open Source Ajax Resources: the prototype.js Toolkit; Using Rico; Using XOAD
Index

I don't think that this is a bad book...  It's just that it tries to cover a whole lot of material in a short format, and as such ends up with a muddled target audience.  Ajax is a combination of technologies, so you just can't cover a single subject and be done with it.  The first part of the book attempts to be a refresher for HTML, JavaScript, and numerous other subjects that can be large books unto themselves.  But if you need this refresher, it's likely that you're not at a point where you could effectively use Ajax anyway.  Part 2 is solid information, albeit constrained by the 10 minute format.  Parts 3 and 4 build on the Part 2 information, so if you didn't get grounded there, you could be in trouble.  I imagine that the target audience (web developers without a significant programming background) would end up confused in the coding sections, and the designers with coding experience would be looking for more in-depth information...

I found the book most helpful if I viewed each chapter on its own merits based on my interest level.  For instance, the "gotchas" chapter is good if you're trying to avoid common issues that Ajax applications encounter.  But I'm not sure if there's enough "single chapter" material here to make it an attractive recommendation to someone who already is dabbling in Ajax and has other reference material.  And I definitely wouldn't recommend it as a first exposure to Ajax for a newbie...

09/10/2006

Book Review - Taking Advice by Dan Ciampa

Category Book Reviews
No one has all the answers when it comes to running a business, so it pays to have "experts" surrounding you to give you insight.  There are plenty of books that cover the hows of giving advice, but there are far fewer (any?) titles that deal with how best to *take* that advice.  Dan Ciampa covers an oft-neglected area in his book Taking Advice: How Leaders Get Good Counsel And Use It Wisely.

Contents: The Help Paradox; How Good Leaders Fail as Advice Takers; A New Framework for Advice Taking; Types of Advice - Strategic, Operational, Political, and Personal; Kinds of Advisors - Expert, Experienced, Sounding-Board, and Partner; The Art of Balance; Attitudes and Behavior of Great Advice Takers; Listening - the Master Skill - and Other Key Success Factors; Afterword - For Further Thought; Notes; Further Reading; Index; About the Author

It's not unusual to see leaders taking advice from a close friend or circle of insiders.  What is more unusual is to see a leader pick a group of advisors that have specific roles and purposes in the advice-giving position.  Ciampa breaks out the types of advice and the types of advisors that a leader will need, and then uses examples to show how these roles come into play.  For instance, someone may be looking at moving into a new position at a company, and it's one they've wanted for a long time.  The spouse might be uneasy about the change, and the person's current boss wonders if the new position is a wise choice.  It's all too easy to tune out advice you don't want to hear, or to assign the wrong level of importance to the advice you *are* hearing.  Recognizing the current boss has a vested interest to keep you is important, but they also see a side of you that includes things you overlook.  Dismissing the spouse's concerns as "emotional" means overlooking insights from someone that sees you as a person rather than a position in a company.  Using Ciampa's material in Taking Advice puts you on the right path towards building a solid advice team with specific roles, and will definitely help you learn how to effectively use that advice to be successful (even if it may not be what you want to hear)...

A worthy addition to the bookshelf of management at all levels...
 

09/09/2006

Book Review - Lean Enterprise Systems - Using IT for Continuous Improvement by Steve Bell

Category Book Reviews
If you're involved in a manufacturing organization's IT department, this particular book will provide you with a lot of information about manufacturing theory and practice, as well as how IT plays a part in it all...  Lean Enterprise Systems: Using IT for Continuous Improvement by Steve Bell.

Part 1 - Building Blocks of the Lean Enterprise: Lean and IT - the Human Factor; Realizing the Value of Lean; Three Stages of Lean Evolution; Fundamentals of Production and Inventory Management; Lean Planning and Execution
Part 2 - Building Blocks of Information Systems: Charting the Enterprise Software Universe; Integrating the Value Streams; Managing Knowledge for Competitive Advantage
Part 3 - Managing Change with IT: The Event-Driven Lean Enterprise; Linking Strategy with Action - Performance Management; Lean IT - Applying Continuous Improvement to Information Systems; Postscript - Zen and the Art of Lean
Acknowledgements; Acronyms; Endnotes; Index

This is one of those books that is extremely dense with information, but is admittedly beyond my experience level.  Bell goes into great depth on how manufacturing production cycles function (or don't function) both in theory and reality.  A prior background or some level of knowledge of how the Japanese manufacturing techniques work is helpful, as you'll see terms like kanban and kaizen used frequently.  The goal is to use IT systems to help drive the process towards a "lean" approach, or one that is light on inventory and strong in "just-in-time" scheduling.  While not an easy read by any stretch, the material is such that it could be considered a "should be on the bookshelf" item for any IT professional who considers themselves a subject expert in manufacturing.  

09/09/2006

The DisneyWorld vacation photos are up...

Category Everything Else
... although I'm sure they'll mean more to me than they will to you...  :)

Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - The DisneyWorld vacation photos are up...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/99544917@N00/sets/72157594276744672/

09/09/2006

Book Review - The Last Assassin by Barry Eisler

Category Book Reviews
The John Rain character is high on my list of enjoyable novel material, and Barry Eisler's latest installment, The Last Assassin, didn't disappointment me.  I enjoy the mix of professional killer struggling to get out the life...

Rain finds out his last fling with Midori (the daughter of a person he killed) produced a son that he didn't know about.  Midori can't forgive Rain for killing her father, and doesn't want him to be part of her life (or the life of the child).  Rain wants a chance to see his son just once, but doing so could end up getting all of them killed.  Midori is being watched by Rain's enemies with hopes of finding his latest whereabouts, and there's no doubt that she'll be used as bait if needed.  Rain's confusion over his feelings towards Midori is causing him to make some mistakes, and now he needs to call in favors and friends to clean up the mess he created.  Even that isn't as cut and dried as it should be, as one of his friends is his current lover who works for Mossad, and she doesn't want to loose Rain to a past flame...

This book doesn't have quite the same action level as the first couple of Rain novels, so it may not be received with the same enthusiasm as prior works.  Also, it helps to have read all the other novels prior to this one, as the characters and interaction are more colorful when you know the past history and storylines.  But for the Rain fan (and I consider myself in that crowd), this is another fine read by a very talented writer...

09/09/2006

Book Review - Black Order by James Rollins

Category Book Reviews
Back to a little recreational reading for my DisneyWorld vacation.  I took along Black Order by James Rollins, and it was just what I was expecting for an escape into a world of espionage...

A young doctor accompanying an Everest expedition is asked to look into a strange mass death scene in a Tibetan monastery.  But while trying to determine the cause of death, her and the rescue party become the target of an assassin who apparently doesn't want the news about the monastery to escape.  The only person they're able to find alive is the director of SIGMA, and he's quickly falling to the unknown illness.  While all this is going on, other members of SIGMA are looking into an auction of manuscripts and papers that tie back to Nazi Germany and a possible quantum device that can cause cellular "de-"evolution if used as a weapon.  It is also rumored to have been used to create enhanced humans in a lesser dose, and now these human creations are willing to make sure the technology stays under their control.  These two plotlines come together in a race to discover the truth behind the research and device.

This novel had a lot of twists and turns, and it was quite enjoyable from the standpoint of "secret research" and underground societies.  There was a bit of philosophy thrown in for good measure, and it's a story that makes you think about how quantum physics might affect human development.  The pacing wasn't as tight towards the end as it was in the rest of the book, and I think the ending could have been tightened up a bit.  Still, I was glad I chose this book for my vacation reading, and I'll be checking out the rest of Rollins' work now...

09/07/2006

What a great way to spend the evening...

Category Everything Else
After visiting parts and sweating all day, we made it back to our room at the Disney Boardwalk.  There, I was able to sit on our balcony for nearly two hours watching an incredible lightening storm followed by the fireworks from Epcot.  Even got to observe a spider spinning a web, just for good measure...

This has been so relaxing...

09/05/2006

Just checking in... Having fun and relaxing...

Category Everything Else
And in news that will be received with much amazement and disbelief...

I've only read one book since I left Portland three days ago.  :)

09/02/2006

Time for the *fun* vacation...

Category Everything Else
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - Time for the *fun* vacation...

This time tomorrow, I'll be back in my "happy place"...  The Boardwalk at DisneyWorld...  

Can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to this vacation.  That is, when I had time to even *think* about vacations...

There's a much better chance you'll see blog entries from this vacation, but again I guarantee nothing.  :)

09/02/2006

Book Review - Quartz Job Scheduling Framework by Chuck Cavaness

Category Book Reviews
One of the things I appreciate about working with Notes/Domino is the ability to schedule agents to run on certain events or on a schedule.  But I always wondered how I might accomplish the same thing if I had stand-alone Java applications?  This appears to be the answer...  Quartz Job Scheduling Framework - Building Open Source Enterprise Applications by Chuck Cavaness.

Contents: Scheduling In The Enterprise; Getting Started With Quartz; Hello, Quartz; Scheduling Jobs; Cron Triggers And More; JobStores and Persistence; Implementing Quartz Listeners; Using Quartz Plug-Ins; Using Quartz Remotely; Using Quartz With J2EE; Clustering Quartz; Quartz Cookbook; Quartz And Web Applications; Using Quartz With Workflow; Quartz Configuration Reference; Index

Quartz is an open source Java-based scheduling package and API that allows you to build programs that control other programs and events.  For instance, let's say you have a Java program that reads a directory, parses any XML files in that directory into some format, and then writes the results to another directory.  You could have someone do that manually every couple of hours, but that's a waste of time.  Quartz allows you to write the program such that it will run automatically on schedule, freeing you from manual intervention.  It uses both event triggers and cron-style scheduling commands that allow you to get very creative in your requirements.  The best thing is, it's an open source project that has wide support in the industry and an established foundation of experience to draw upon.  Cavaness does an excellent job in leading the reader through the concepts of job scheduling, through basic Quartz jobs, and finally into a full understanding of what Quartz can accomplish.  

This is the type of gem that makes book reviewing important to me.  I had no concept of this particular type of program, and now I have an entire new set of ideas to draw from.  While I don't have a particular need for this immediately, I'll be keeping this book around because I can see it filling a definite need without too much effort.  A very nice read...

09/02/2006

Book Review - Can Two Rights Make a Wrong? by Sara J. Moulton Reger

Category Book Reviews
Mergers are not just a matter of putting two companies together and adding up the profits.  The cultural aspects of the two organizations have to be merged successfully, or the blending can be doomed to failure.  IBM's merger with PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting is a prime example of the importance of culture, and the techniques used to combine the companies is explored in the book Can Two Rights Make a Wrong? - Insights from IBM's Tangible Culture Approach by Sara J. Moulton Reger.

Contents:
Section 1 - The Basics: Introduction - An Overview of Tangible Culture; We Can't Do This the Traditional Way - IBM's Acquisition of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting; Traditional Approaches to Culture Transformation - How Others Have Dealt with the Challenge; How to Get to the Right Place the Right Way - Outcome Narratives; The Good Thing That Can Cause Big Trouble - Right vs. Right; The Unseen Hand That Propels Organizational Action - Business Practices; Putting It All Together - The Business Practices Alignment Method
Section 2 - The Application: Mergers and Acquisitions - Managing the Common Sources of Culture Clash; Alliances - Finding Ways to Leverage Your Collective Capabilities; Major Restructuring - Gaining Sustained Value from Your Organization; Major Transformation - Addressing Your Plan's Hidden Barrier; Key Decisions and Everyday Business - Extending Tangible Culture Into the Operational Parts of Your Business
Section 3 - The Projects: The Co-operators - Using Business Practices to Clarify Expectations; Sales Pipeline - Using Right vs. Right to Differentiate Issues
Epilogue; About the Contributors; Index

IBM and PwC took a specific approach to merging PwC Consulting into the IBM fold.  There were different styles of management and philosophy, one being hierarchical and one being more client-centered.  In many cases, neither organization or structure was "wrong" in their approach.  It's just that a decision had to be made as to what the desired behavior of the merged entity should be.  The Tangible Culture method uses tools and exercises to explore the current state of both cultures, the desired state of the merged culture, and how close the current culture conforms to the end state.  This type of approach minimizes the danger of "right vs. right", where two good practices are allowed to coexist or dominate each other without thought as to how they contribute to where you want to be.  Using this type of structure to address culture issues in the organization can do wonders to make sure that more mergers and restructurings actually accomplish something.  

The book does seem to be a bit repetitive at times, as the application section uses the same charts and format over and over to show how the system can be applied.  On one hand, that's good in that it reinforces the message.  On the other hand, it all seems to blur together after awhile.  It's not a fault of the system, but more a flaw in the presentation and layout of the book.  But even with that observation, this is still a book that is worth reading in order to increase the chances that your mergers are not destructive...

09/02/2006

Book Review - Project Management with the IBM Rational Unified Process by R. Dennis Gibbs

Category Book Reviews
Talk about reading a book that feels like you're reliving your current work assignment...  Project Management with the IBM Rational Unified Process - Lessons from the Trenches by R. Dennis Gibbs.

Contents: Introduction to Outsourcing; Overview of the Rational Unified Process; Getting Started - Request for Proposals (RFPs), Proposals, and Contracts; Best Practices for Staffing the Outsourcing Organization's Project Management Office (PMO); Best Practices for Staffing the Contractor's Software Project Team; Establishing the Software Development Environment; Inception - Kicking Off the Project; Identifying and Managing Risks; Navigating the Requirements Management Process; Construction Iterations - Staying on Target; Testing; Transitioning a System into Service; System Operations and Maintenance Issues; Using Consultants Effectively; The Project Postmortem; Common Mistakes Utilizing RUP; Implementing a Two-Stage Procurement Process; Glossary; Bibliography; Index

I'm in the midst of a specification documentation project, and the organization I work for uses the Rational Unified Process (RUP) standard.  The author rightfully states that RUP is adaptable, in that you don't have to adopt absolutely every artifact that RUP contains.  You tailor it to fit the organization and the process load you want to undertake.  This book is far from a comprehensive guide to everything RUP.  Instead, it's more focused on solid project management techniques and processes, and it so happens that RUP is the underlying documentation flow that's used.  The other twist you'll see here is that there's an emphasis that you've brought in contractors or you've outsourced your development activity, and Gibbs focuses on how a RUP approach can help overcome many of the difficulties inherent in not controlling every aspect of software development.

There's a couple of things I don't quite agree with, however...  The author talks about RUP being used in an agile methodology, and states that RUP *can* be agile if you use only what you need.  Technically that is probably true, but in reality RUP is a document-heavy methodology that bears little resemblance to agile techniques as they are commonly thought of.  Also, chapter 6, Establishing the Software Development Environment, talks about the build/borrow/buy choice for development software.  He refers to the "borrow" solution as shareware, when in reality it's open source software.  They are two different things, and it makes me wonder how much the guy really knows about software as opposed to project management.

If you're in the right scenario of managing outsourced projects using a RUP methodology, this book will offer significant insight.  I don't know that I'd recommend it for an introduction to RUP, as you'll probably walk away with a few more questions than answers...

09/02/2006

Book Review - Devils On The Deep Blue Sea by Kristoffer A. Garin

Category Book Reviews
Being a vacationer who has been on numerous cruises, this book recommendation looked like a certain fit...  Devils On The Deep Blue Sea by Kristoffer A. Garin.  He does a very good job in revealing how the cruise industry works, and the forces that have shaped it along the way.

The story starts in the late 1950's, when the cruise industry was really nothing more than a way to transport passengers from one location to another.  The rich often had a lavish experience, while the "steerage" passengers were cramped and confined to the lower decks with restrictions on where they could go and what they could do.  But in both cases, it was still a case of traveling from point A to point B.  The airline industry quickly made cruise ships obsolete for rapid travel, and the shipping lines were becoming a footnote in history.  But a few people thought that cruising could become a destination in itself, a way to vacation, see other lands, and then return to where you started.  But the appeal had to be broad, and the luxuries of first class had to extend to all the passengers.  Thru visionaries, financial risks, and mergers, what we have today is a $13 billion dollar industry that is truly global in numerous aspects.  But behind the glitter and glamour, there are some less appealing items of interest...

Garin talks about how the cruise industry is largely staffed by impoverished workers from third-world nations who sign on for low base wages and whatever tips come from passengers.  To many of us, these base wages wouldn't even support poverty, but they are considerable in the countries where the workers come from.  The hours and rules aboard ship are harsh, with 12 to 16 hour days with little time off the norm.  The industry also pays little in the way of taxes due to their ship registration being out of country to take advantage of international treaties preventing retaliatory fees.  The laws and rights of the United States are not always in play either, as the ship is actually foreign territory.  And if that's not enough, many of the tourist destinations are unable to get additional fees from the industry to support their infrastructure, as the industry will threaten to pull out of the port and destroy their tourism.  It can be capitalism at its worst...

Personally, this book was better than I expected.  I thought it was going to be a muck-raking, "boycott cruises" diatribe, and one that I wouldn't necessarily agree with.  But the balance between the story of the cruise lines and the less-savory parts of the industry was just about right.  And even the "expose" part wasn't hypercritical.  I came away understanding  the abuses, but (in many cases) understanding both sides of the issues.  And really, it's not much different than what most other industries would do in the same circumstances...

Yes, I'm still going to go on cruises, and I'll still enjoy them.  But I'll be even more considerate of the staff that makes it all work, and more in awe of what it takes to pull off the experience, week after week after week...


09/02/2006

Book Review - The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson

Category Book Reviews
This is an interesting book that I would have much preferred as two separate reading experiences...  The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson.

Larson's book takes a look at an event in American history that was the birthplace of many things we take for granted today...  Chicago's Worlds Fair, aka "The White City", that took place in the 1890's.  The "devil" in the title is the true story of H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who murdered an unknown number of women during that time in rather gruesome and cold fashion.  The narrative bounces back and forth between the people who took on the impossible task of topping the Paris Worlds Fair, and Holmes' shady past as a smooth womanizer with no morals or fear of killing.  Holmes ends up in Chicago and builds a hotel/castle close to the fair.  The building is custom-made to allow him to kill people with little or no chance of being discovered.  With the influx of young women coming to Chicago for jobs, he has no problems befriending (and marrying) these women, getting whatever property of value they have, and then making them disappear.  It's amazing that even when confronted with accusations about the deaths, he's able to deflect the attention elsewhere and become a sympathetic figure.  The closure of the fair brings his time in Chicago to an end, and the authorities start to tie together the clues to tie him to the murders.  Although he was tried and hanged for a number of the deaths, it's uncertain as to how many people actually died at his hands.

This is a book that I am torn when it comes to rating and reviewing.  On one hand, both stories are compelling.  Holmes and his warped actions could be a story unto itself, and it would be a book that would be hard to put down.  The story of what Chicago accomplished with the fair is mind-boggling.  They had 25 months to do something that took Paris years, the obstacles in terms of weather, land, money, and a hundred other things should have doomed the event, and yet it was acknowledged to be even greater than its predecessor.  That event was the birth of such things as the Ferris Wheel, Shredded Wheat, Juicy Fruit gum, and the turning point in the battle of AC vs DC power in America.  Again, an entire book just on the Chicago story would have been an incredible read.  And I think that's my problem...  The main characters in each story don't really intersect, and I felt as if I was reading two parallel books that just happened to occur at the same place and time.  As such, I was left wanting more of both stories and didn't feel quite satisfied with either the way they were told here...

To be clear, this is a good read.  I'm likely to pick up another book that focuses exclusively on the fair, as I think it's a significant event that I never quite understood.  But I still feel as if Larson could have written two books here, and the story would have been better told on both sides...

08/31/2006

Still here... sorry for the outages...

Category Everything Else
Chris Miller and I have been trying to resolve some strange server issues, a symptom of which looks like my blog is getting spidered really hard.  If you see some of the missing accoutrements on the sides, it's because we're trying to narrow down potential problems.  The password boxes some of you have gotten is when Chris has locked out my blog to see if that resolves server response times.

Anyway...  hang in there, and we'll get it fixed soon...  I'm sure...

Want to support this blog or just say thanks?

When you shop Amazon, start your shopping experience here.

When you do that, all your purchases during that session earn me an affiliate commission via the Amazon Affiliate program. You don't have to buy the book I linked you to (although I wouldn't complain!). Simply use that as your starting point.

Thanks!

Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

Ads of Relevance...

Monthly Archives