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

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11/27/2007

How Popular Is Your Lotus Domino Site?

Category IBM/Lotus
John Roling continues to put out great content in the Intranet Journal with his latest article, How Popular Is Your Lotus Domino Site?  The thing I appreciate most about his work there is that he's gone beyond the "Notes/Domino media" and written positive Notes-related material in mainstream technical journals.  It's something I'd like to see far more people do...

Great job, John...

11/27/2007

Gotta love the spam writers pushing "male enhancement"...

Category Humor
Generally before I delete the spam in my Yahoo and Gmail account, I'll do a quick once-over to make sure nothing ended up there that's a real email.  I noticed that recently there's been a batch of spam dealing with "male enhancement" that appears to come from the same bot/source/whatever.  The funny part is the whole "English-as-a-second-language" feel to them.  Once I ran across the one promising that I could "hide a hockey team behind my huge member", I decided I needed to start saving some of these gems.  :)

Click the Read More to see the list over the last couple of weeks...  Probably best not to do so during work hours.  :)

11/26/2007

Book Review - Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Category Book Review
This is one of those books that I should have been on top of when it first came out last year.  But it took the urging of a blog reader to finally get around to it...  Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.  You can tell things have been moving fast in this field, as I almost felt as if I were looking in retrospect to see how his observations played out.  Still, for someone who hasn't quite figured out the reason behind "mass collaboration", this is a great place to start.

Contents:
Introduction; Subtitles; Wikinomics; The Perfect Storm; The Peer Pioneers; Ideagoras; The Prosumers; The New Alexandrians; Platforms for Participation; The Global Plant Floor; The Wiki Workplace; Collaborative Minds; The Wikinomics Playbook; Acknowledgments; Notes; Index

Tapscott and Williams do a fine job in laying out the case for wikinomics, or how value is delivered by opening up your product to innovation and collaboration by others.  They use a number of examples to drive home this point, such as how Amazon allows the external use of its API so that others can develop products that tie into the Amazon business model.  This "opening up" means that they end up with a huge amount of research and development done by others at no cost to themselves.  And as these add-on products become popular, they drive more traffic and sales to Amazon.  As opposed to the closed, proprietary systems of the past, everyone wins as everyone has a vested interest in seeing the system succeed.

Each chapter in the book deals with a particular element of the collaboration models that are being explored.  For instance, Peer Pioneers dives into the world of open source software and Wikipedia.  This shows how people are motivated to join and participate in an offering when the normal financial incentives to do so are not present.  One of my favorite chapters was Prosumers, which talks about how consumers expect to be able to participate in a product once they own it, to become a "producer" of sorts (hence, the name "prosumers").  This hacking mentality, very familiar to me, shows how companies benefit by playing to that mindset.  You may lose full control over what you *thought* your product would be and do, but you'll gain so much more in the way of a devoted following dedicated to stretching the boundaries of what you thought was possible.

While some of the material towards the end of each chapter tends to devolve into "expert" recommendations and analysis, it doesn't wholly detract from what is largely a very practical book. Even if you're already swimming in the collaboration pool, this will reinforce some ideas and spur some others.  And if you *don't* know what the whole Web 2.0 thing is, Wikinomics will start to open up that world to you.

11/25/2007

Book Review - Head First SQL: Your Brain on SQL -- A Learner's Guide by Lynn Beighley

Category Book Review
I haven't met a Head First/Head Rush title I didn't like, and this one is no exception...  Head First SQL: Your Brain on SQL -- A Learner's Guide by Lynn Beighley.  It's perfect for someone diving into the world of relational databases for the first time, as well as those who don't do it often enough to feel comfortable with things like normalized forms and outer joins.  And along the way, you'll have plenty of fun picking up the skills you lack/need to reinforce.

Contents:
Intro; Data and Tables - A Place for Everything; The SELECT Statement - Gifted Data Retrieval; DELETE and UPDATE - A Change Will Do You Good; Smart Table Design - Why Be Normal?; ALTER - Rewriting the Past; Advanced SELECT - Seeing Your Data With New Eyes; Multi-table Database Design - Outgrowing Your Table; Joins and Multi-table Operations - Can't We All Just Get Along?; Subqueries - Queries Within Queries; Outer Joins, Self Joins, and Unions - New Maneuvers; Constraints, Views, and Transactions - Too Many Cooks Spoil The Database; Security - Protecting Your Assets; The Top Ten Topics (We Didn't Cover); Try It Out For Yourself; All Your New SQL Tools

As with all Head First titles, Head First SQL sets out to engage all your senses during the learning process.  Unusual diagrams, questions, exercises, and off-beat pictures are just some of the ways that the author works to grab your attention and force you down the path of learning (whether it feels like you're going down that path or not).  The mixture of these techniques means that your mind doesn't really have a chance to drift off and start thinking about what you're going to have for dinner.  It's this style that makes the Head First series the first one I'll recommend to people setting out to learn a new skill.

For those who are wondering, Head First SQL uses the free MySQL package for all the examples and exercises.  It's not necessary to have some expensive relational database system already installed on your PC.  So even if your SQL learning efforts are self-funded, the total outlay will pretty much be the cost of the book, and that's it.  And given that SQL is a standard query language, much of what you learn will also transfer over to any other relational database system you end up using down the road, like Oracle or DB2.  

Since I've done some SQL in the past, I found most of the value for myself located in the later chapters.  Working with subqueries and more complex joins aren't things I do on a regular basis, so it's easy for me to forget the concepts.  But a quick flip here, and it all starts coming back, much clearer than before.

There's a reason I rarely loan out my Head First titles...  they often don't come back.  This will be added to that lock-and-key section of my bookshelf that requires DNA samples before they leave the premises.  :)

11/24/2007

Book Review - Eccentric Cubicle by Kaden Harris

Category Book Review
Following up on my review of The Best of MAKE, I also got a chance to read Eccentric Cubicle by Kaden Harris.  You can think of this as MAKE magazine in overdrive.  From a pure reading perspective, it's outrageously funny and very well documented.  In terms of actually *building* the items here, you had better have some level of background when it comes to hacking and building things on the fly, making the rules up as you go along.  And in some offices I know of, you'd probably get put on probation for having these items on your desk...

Contents:
Introduction; Active Deskchop; BallistaMail; Maple Mike; DeskBeam Bass; The Gysin Device; iBlow; Liquid Lens Meets DiscoHead; The Haze-o-Matic 3000 Fog Machine; Hammerhead Live; Homebrew Wood Finishes

There's a picture of Harris in the introduction, and he looks like someone you'd see on a show like Mythbusters or Junkyard Wars.  He specializes in making incredible devices using discarded or trashed items he's found and/or scavenged over the years.  I can only imagine what his house and work area must look like.  All these projects, such as the guillotine and crossbow, are intricate and fascinating, and show a very high level of creativity and ingenuity to build without resorting to buying brand-new or made-to-order parts.  The level of workmanship and detail that Harris puts into each one make them unique and special, especially considering that the parts are often from items that are rather mundane, like vacuum cleaners and record players.  It just goes to show that looking at "junk" in different terms can open up a world of possibilities.  Each project also has a little "nano-project" associated with it.  These are things that are much simplier, like making a foot-controlled variable power switch from an old sewing machine pedal.  A great idea if your Dremel tool needs to be slowed down a bit for what you're trying to accomplish.

While everything is profusely illustrated and documented, I definitely wouldn't recommend these projects to someone just starting into the DIY world.  Harris has spent a lifetime collecting and finding a blend of tools that works well for him.  Unless you are similarly equipped, you might find yourself making multiple trips to the store to pick up something you absolutely need to keep going.  Of course, that sort of defeats the purpose and spirit behind the projects you find here.  On top of that, I could imagine that it'd be easy to miss a step or do something "not quite right", and have the whole project fail to work as advertised.  Without the experience of doing these types of projects previously, the troubleshooting could be nightmarish for a newbie.  And that would be too bad, as being able to show off your own bubble machine powered by a CPU fan does have a certain amount of "geek cred" attached to it...

If you're comfortable working with tools and such, this book will be a fun stretch for you.  If you're brand new to the MAKE culture, this is probably a bit beyond your initial capabilities (unless you're just plain stubborn, incredibly talented, or both).  But if you're into these types of contraptions and want an entertaining read by a talented builder *and* writer, by all means go for it.

11/24/2007

Book Review - The Best of MAKE

Category Book Review
I have enjoyed O'Reilly's MAKE magazine a lot, so when you get a full-length book of 75 of the "best" projects, it's worth reading.  In The Best of MAKE by Mark Frauenfelder and Gareth Branwyn, you'll find a wide swath of projects and tips that are not only fun to work on, but that have practical purposes.  And not all of them involve soldering irons and electronics...

Contents:
Tools; Electronics; Microcontrollers; Toys & Games; Robots; Music; Flight & Projectiles; Photography & Video; Cars & Engines; Index

Chapter 1 - Tools - preps you for what you'll need to get started on DIY projects, such as breadboards, needlenose pliers, lots and lots of wire, etc.  Even in this chapter, there are projects you can do, such as planning your own toolbench using Google's SketchUp software, making driver bits to unscrew "tamper-proof" fasteners, and what emergency items you might want to have on a keychain.  I really liked the list of items you should include on a USB thumbdrive that you carry around with you.  I have a "must do" project right there.  The following chapters divide up the projects based on general topic. For instance, Electronics has you making LED "throwies", low-powered LED lamps, adding a rumble-pack to your mouse, and interfacing your digital clock radio to a gaming system gun.  Imagine shooting your alarm clock each morning to turn it off...  :)

One of my favorite projects did not even require any real tools.  The author of this particular project showed how you can use "urban camouflage" to make your car or truck appear to be a corporate fleet vehicle.  With some strategically placed numbers, letters, and colored tape, your plain while SUV can become an official motor vehicle that appears to have some level of importance and can cause others to not question its presence.  Not a bad ruse if you're needing to stop somewhere for 10 minutes, and the only option is the official "loading zone".  Of course, I'm sure you'll never use this information to do anything illegal or wrong, either...  :)

If you're at all into off-beat hacks, strange contraptions, and unusual conversation pieces, you'll find plenty to consider in The Best of MAKE.  If you're already adept with electronics and soldering irons, there's not much in there that you won't be able to do.  And if this is your first foray into that world, you can afford to make plenty of mistakes, as most of the projects use cast-off items you can find in your local junk yard or thrift shop.  Either way, you'll have fun and learn a few things in the process.

11/23/2007

Product Review - Ultreo Ultrasound Toothbrush

Category Product Review
As part of the Amazon Vine review program, I received a Ultreo Ultrasound Toothbrush for use and review.  After close to a week of use, I can say I really like it, although I'm not sure I'd want to fork out the $170 for the system...

My previous toothbrush was one of those battery-powered off-the-shelf rotary brushes that you can get for about $15.  That's nice for basic brushing, but all it really does is put some vibration behind your existing bad habits.  With the Ultreo, you can start to break some of those habits.  Dentists recommend that you brush for two minutes.  But it's not very convenient to have to keep glancing at your watch with a mouth full of paste.  The Ultreo goes through a two minute cycle once you turn it on, with a sound indicator that fires every 30 seconds.  So if you divide up your mouth into quadrants, then it's easy to get complete and even coverage over your whole mouth during that time.  It's also easy to get all the way back to the rear areas of your mouth with the long brushing heads.  The neck of the replaceable head is quite a bit longer than ones I normally see, so you don't feel like you are sticking half the toothbrush in your mouth.  In my case, I think I just didn't get much brushing back there.  Couple that with a power supply that should keep it charged for 28 brushings before you *need* to recharge it, and you have a pretty good package.

My only drawback to the unit is the price tag.  At $170, the entry cost into the Ultreo system is rather steep.  Many of the other utrasonic brushing systems come in substantially less than that.  Replacement heads aren't cheap either at $23 for one.  It'd be tempting to go beyond the recommended replacement timeframes at that price.  This isn't to say that your teeth aren't worth the investment, but it's hard to look at that much money when simple toothbrushes are only $3...  :)

11/23/2007

A nice view on Thanksgiving Day...

Category Everything Else
From my sister-in-law's place on Lummi Island, Washington

Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - A nice view on Thanksgiving Day...
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - A nice view on Thanksgiving Day...

11/21/2007

I am *so* gonna pay for this...

Category Humor
Paul "Chippen-elf" Mooney?

11/19/2007

Book Review - Nameless Night by G. M. Ford

Category Book Review
I was sent an advance readers copy of the novel Nameless Night by G. M. Ford.  This was my first exposure to Ford, so I wasn't predisposed to like or dislike his work based on prior novels.  And since this was billed as a "stand-alone" novel not based on any of his prior characters, I wasn't being dipped into the middle of a story-line I was unprepared for.  Overall, Nameless Night was an entertaining read, with plenty of suspense and mystery as the main character searched for his true identity.

Paul Hardy had been living in an assisted-living facility for seven years.  He was found near death back then, and he had no recollection or identification as to who he was or where he came from.  It didn't help that he had facial injuries that distorted any true image of who he might have been.  While out walking with one of his friends at the care center, he's hit by a car and again is near death.  The driver, a software tycoon, pays for extensive reconstructive surgery on Paul's face, which also involves correcting some of the skull damage from the original accident.  This surgery alters Paul's brain, restoring many of his mental faculties, but still doesn't answer the main question...  who was Paul prior to the accident seven years ago?  All he knows is that Paul Hardy isn't his real name, he has vague images of a past life in Florida, and all of a sudden federal agents are *very* interested in finding him.  He's just as interested in avoiding them until he can get some answers, as being detained as a threat to "national security" means you many never surface again.

Overall, Nameless Night was a page turner.  I enjoyed the premise of someone with no identity becoming whoever he wanted to be, since there was no past he had to conform to.  I did think the reason behind his initial accident and the subsequent government efforts to find him was a bit strained.  While anything is possible in a conspiracy novel, I just didn't get the feeling that this particular event would have led to the level of effort to eliminate Hardy and all the related individuals.  Still, that didn't detract from the general urgency in the plot-line to figure out who he was and why someone considered him better off dead.

Nameless Night was a good escape from reality, and was worth the time spent reading it.  Based on his work here, I'm likely to go back and check out some of Ford's earlier works.

11/17/2007

The LotusUserGroup.org Blogger awards... vote early and often!

Category IBM/Lotus
The LotusUserGroup.org Blogger Awards recognize the importance of blogging in the Lotus world and celebrates the contribution of bloggers to the Lotus community.

The Lotus community has an astonishing number of folks who dedicate their time, effort, and wit to keep the rest of us informed about Lotus technology, events, news, and everything else that's going on with Lotus (and sometimes technology in general). It's true that all bloggers provide a valuable contribution and an important service to the community, but the LotusUserGroup.org Best Blogger Award will go to the blogger who is voted to have provided exceptional information, education, and community support through his or her blog in an entertaining (or engrossing) format and style.

Nominations will be open from November 19 – December 17, 2007. So, log in at http://www.lotususergroup.org/awards and nominate your favorite blogger!

11/17/2007

Went and saw Beowulf last night in digital 3D... amazing graphics

Category Everything Else
My wife wanted to see Beowulf when it came out, so I took her on a date last night to see it in the digital 3-D version.  While I'm not a huge fan of that time period/genre, I will say that I enjoyed the story more than I thought I would.  In addition, I was blown away by the animation and graphics...  And it had nothing to do with the "naked" Angelina Jolie.  :)

It struck me that this level of detail in computer-generated/motion-capture movies is a leap along the lines of what Pixar did with their releases.  The realism was stunning, and there were only a few moments when the animation seemed to lack the "real life" quality.  Adding in the digital 3-D aspect, it was hard *not* to become immersed in the story and events.  There were also some very humorous scenes, such as when Beowulf strips down to bare skin to battle Grendel.  Every potential frontal nudity shot had a strategically placed arm, leg, beam, or something else.  It actually reminded me of those types of scenes in the Austin Powers movies.  :)

If you're wondering how true they were to the actual story, I couldn't tell you.  As I said, I'm not into that time period, and I haven't read the story (yes, there *are* things I haven't read).  But from the perspective of someone who was just looking for a couple of hours of entertainment, Beowulf was very good.  And if you're a geek when it comes to computer animation in movies, it's a must-see.

11/15/2007

Book Review - Between the Lines: Not-So-Tall Tales From Ray "Scampy" Scapinello's Four Decades in the NHL

Category Book Review
As a hockey fan with an appreciation for the history of the game, I jumped at the chance to read and review Between the Lines: Not-So-Tall Tales From Ray "Scampy" Scapinello's Four Decades in the NHL by Ray Scapinello and Rob Simpson.  From the perspective of a fan, it was fun to read.  But from a critical perspective, it could (and should) have been much, much more...

Contents:
The Essential Scampy; Big Games, Colossal Pressure; Fighters and Brawlers; Young "Gus" Grows; Gaining Experience; A Brotherhood of Pranksters; All in the Family; NHL Evolutions; Privet (Hello) Russia; What's Left Behind and Lies Ahead; Index

Ray Scapinello, aka "Scampy", was a linesman in the National Hockey League (NHL), and has a career of respect and longevity that will never again be matched by an official.  Due to excellent conditioning and more than a little luck, he never missed a game and was on the ice until his late 50's.  During that time, he skated with many of the legends of the game.  And at only 5' 7", he was almost always outmatched in the size and bulk department when breaking up fights.  But again, his commitment to the game and fearless attitude had him diving into scrums with some of the league's most notorious brawlers.  Throughout the book, there are a number of stories related to the games he worked, personalities he met, and other officials he saw come and go during that time.  From a pure hockey appreciation standpoint, the book provides an insight to the life of a "zebra", quite often the most thankless job in sports.

So where did things go wrong with the book?

Primarily, a lack of focus.  I wouldn't expect fellow officials to be left out of stories, but far too often the stories were more about them than Scampy.  It also wasn't unusual for the author to head off on a tangent related to some aspect of the game.  Again, interesting from a hockey standpoint, but not seemingly relevant to Scampy's story.  The stories don't always follow a chronological order in his life, so you jump from his last game to his childhood to the strike season back to his son, etc.  It made the organization of the book seem very disjointed, and detracted from what could have been both an entertaining read *and* a solid book.

I'll pass this along to my son, who is also a linesman and referee at the junior level.  I have no doubt he'll enjoy the book and relate to many of the on-ice incidents.  But I have a feeling that even he will be less than impressed at the overall layout.  Too bad, as Scampy is a part of the game that's often overlooked and should have more attention.  There *are* real people under those striped sweaters...

11/14/2007

One of those "important to me but nobody else" milestones...

Category Book Review
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - One of those

10000 helpful votes on my 1177 reviews on Amazon.  Little did I think that this would happen when I started reviewing back in 2003...

11/12/2007

Book Review - Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Category Book Review
Recommended by my niece, I finally got around to reading Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.  This is an extremely dark crime novel that spends far more time in the psychological realm than the criminal world, but it works OK if you're in the right mindset.  

Camille Preaker is a reporter for a second-tier newspaper in Chicago.  Her editor decides to send her back to her home town of Wind Gap to write a story on the murder of two young girls.  The murders have all the signs of a serial killer, as the bodies are both missing all their teeth.  It's his hope that this story will scoop the larger papers and earn the paper some respect.  But there's far more at stake for Preaker than just the story...

Camille grew up in a severely dysfunctional home that left her with emotional and physical scars.  One of her sisters died of a mysterious illness when she was growing up.  She also has a 13 year old sister that is heavily into drugs, sex, and manipulation.  When Preaker arrives in Wind Gap to write the story, plenty of old wounds are opened up, and her whole warped relationship with her mother starts to play out all over.  The town has their ideas as to who killed the girls, but Preaker is coming to some uncomfortable realizations as to who might be responsible for it all.  And if those realizations are accurate, she has to face some difficult questions about her own personality.

While there is a crime that's being investigated here, the main plot-line revolves around Preaker and her emotional issues.  You learn pretty quickly that she is a cutter, hence the name of the book.  It's bizarrely compelling to see how those compulsions play out in her life during periods of stress, which is pretty much all the time.  And since it's written in first-person form from Preaker's perspective, you quickly become immersed in her own private hell.

For a debut novel, Flynn has done a very good job.  If you're looking for a pure crime novel, the heavy psychological slant will probably make you a bit uncomfortable.  But if you're open to a dark blend of crime and warped minds, this will be a book you'll have a hard time putting down.

11/11/2007

Book Review - The Case Study Handbook by William Ellet

Category Book Review
As I tend to spend a fair amount of time writing, I thought it might be worth reading The Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases by William Ellet.  My rationale was that I might gain some insights for business-related writing.  What I found was a book that was hard to follow, and could have used a better layout to prepare the reader for the material...

Contents:
Introduction; Persuasion, Argument, and the Case Method, What Is a Case?
Part 1 - Analysis: How to Analyze a Case; Case Analysis Demonstration; Problems; Decisions; Evaluations
Part 2 - Discussion: How to Discuss a Case
Part 3 - Writing: How to Write a Case-Based Essay; Problem Essays; Decision Essays; Evaluation Essays
Part 4 - Cases For Analysis and Writing: Allentown Materials Corporation - The Electronic Products Division; General Electric - Major Appliance Business Group; General Motors - Packard Electric Division; Malaysia in the 1990s; Whistler Corporation
Acknowledgments; Index; About the Author

I'll be the first to admit that many books have a specific target audience they're going after.  Even so, it's usually possible for a newbie to follow along somewhat.  This book had a very defined target...  students who have to work within the case study model for their classes.  If you've had no exposure to case study writing and style to start with, you're probably going to flounder quite a bit.  The author dives into detail very quickly, with little in the way of examples to get you acclimated.  As such, everything seemed to be more theoretical than practical.  On the positive side, he does confine his discussion to a limited number of case studies that are included in the back of the book.  Had the material spanned a wide number of studies with no inclusion in the book, things would have been even more difficult to track.

If this is your first exposure to the case study process as a student, you'll probably need to go through this book a number of times.  I suggest that you start by reading Part 4 first.  It doesn't even matter if you don't understand styles or goals yet.  At least you'll be in the right mindset to start thinking about case studies.  The second recommendation I'll make is to not look for definitive answers.  There's often not a single "right" answer in the study, and your conclusion will be based on your particular slant or angle.  

Given some previous experience in case study methods, this book might work well for you in terms of refining or enhancing your skills.  If this is your first exposure to the process, be prepared for some hard work here.

11/10/2007

Book Review - Deep Storm by Lincoln Child

Category Book Review
So what exactly resides under the crust of the earth?  That's the premise behind the mystery/sci-fi novel Deep Storm by Lincoln Child.  I'd have been happier if it moved a bit faster in the center of the story, but the overall effect was definitely entertaining.

Peter Crane is called upon to solve a medical mystery...  A number of people are becoming increasingly sick on a project related to a deep sea drilling platform.  But in order to get the details, Crane has to sign an endless number of confidentiality and non-disclosure statements related to what the project actually is.  Even then, there's a wide gap between what he gets to know and what he needs to know.  Once he commits to come on board, he finds out that the actual platform is really nothing more than a facade for a full-fledged research facility located many miles below the surface.  Crane quickly finds out that the strange mix of science and military is blocking all his attempts to diagnose the strange symptoms of the occupants at the facility. With more people showing symptoms, he slowly gets more access to the actual focus of the project, and comes face-to-face with things never before seen or imagined.  And how do you cure people when all the tests you know of come back normal, yet it's obvious that something is amiss?  Couple that with the increasing tension as they get closer to drilling through the Moho, or the final crust of the earth before the molten core.  The military thinks it will provide weaponry more advanced than anything ever seen, but other indicators show it might be the end of life in the entire known universe...

Overall, this was a good blend of reality and sci-fi.  Without spoiling the plot, I thought that the premise behind what was below the crust was unique and interesting.  Things got a bit slow in the middle, when you knew there was something going on, but the plot wasn't revealing enough to figure that out (or at least I couldn't).  Still, I looked forward to picking up the book each time to see what exactly was stored down there.  If you're looking for a few hours of adventure, Deep Storm will fit the bill.

11/09/2007

Book Review - We Are Smarter Than Me by Barry Libert and Jon Spector

Category Book Review
Are you getting those "what's this Web 2.0 stuff" questions at work?  Does the boss want to know why s/he should be considering how social networking can help the business?  Barry Libert and Jon Spector can answer some of those questions in the book We Are Smarter Than Me: How to Unleash the Power of Crowds in Your Business.  It's a bit "rah rah" in nature, and it actually failed in its initial goal.  But this small volume should be more than enough to get your management thinking in the right direction...

Contents:
How We Got Here; Look What We Can Do; Go from R&D to R&WE; How May We Help We?; Customer, Sell Thyself; If We Build It, We Will Come; Welcome to the World Bank of We; Make Everyone a C-We-O; Lead from the Rear; Afterword - Join the Crowd; Company Index; Name Index; Subject Index; Acknowledgments

The general idea in We is that no one single person or organization can have all the right answers.  It's only as you invite others into the conversation that you will make dramatic leaps in customer involvement and ownership.  These invitations often show up these days in web sites using tools such as discussion forums, community volunteer help desks, wikis, etc.  The "crowds" know more than you do, and they are often quite willing to be part of your success if you'll let them.  Take Amazon.com for example...  a huge differentiator is their customer review feature (of which this review will be part of as soon as I'm done).  Why do people contribute their time and effort on reviews of items when it only serves to help Amazon sell more?  Because people are passionate about what they like and dislike, and they want their voice to be heard.  This "wisdom of the crowds" enables others to get a more complete view of a product, and that ability drives traffic and sales.  The reviewer feels good, the buyer has a better experience, the manufacturer is happy (provided the review was a good one), and Amazon draws more traffic.  This is but one example of many that are covered in the book, and its worth the small investment of time to go through the 150+ pages.

When I said the book failed in its initial goal, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  The authors actually wanted this book to write itself using wikis and discussion forums for each chapter.  The profits of the sales would then be donated to charities, with the contributors determining the percentage of what went where.  The profit thing worked, but there still needed to be the traditional writer, editor, etc. in order to get everything to actually end up on the shelf.  But even at that, the input of hundreds of participants does come through in the pages, and it's a prime example of the "we" being smarter than the "me".

I also thought the book was a bit on the "this is all great and wonderful, and you need to do it now!" side.  Techies will not find details on how to make this all happen, nor will you get a lot of deep philosophical discussion on the academic value of this approach.  The writing is emotional, and is meant to touch the reader at a level that calls for some type of response.  If you give this to your management (or if you're management yourself), you should come away understanding what "crowdsourcing" is all about, as well as how it has worked in other companies and organizations.  From there, you can take the next steps towards nailing down your own personal action plan...

11/09/2007

Book Review - The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer

Category Book Review
Back to a little recreational reading...  The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer.  It seems like I end up more disappointed than entertained with some of the medical thrillers by authors like Palmer and Cook.  It's become far too easy to pick some part of the medical or insurance industry and beat it up during the plot-line.  I went into this one wondering how and when the crusade would start.  To my surprise, there really wasn't one.  As such, I could just sit back and enjoy...

A private detective is contacted by a group called Organ Guard.  They are concerned with illegal organ donations and transplants, and they would like to find out a little more about a nameless individual who could have been the victim of an unwilling bone marrow donation.  The problem is, he's dead.  At the same time, a doctor struggling through her med school rotations is asked to take some time off to deliver a talk down in Brazil.  While down there, she is abducted, shot, and then found near death in an alley.  The doctors had to take one of her lungs in order to save her life, but the insurance company can find no record of her hospital stay, the police report, or even the doctor who supposedly treated her.  These two individuals, the doctor and the investigator, end up finding each other during their pursuit of the truth.  And the truth appears to be pretty deadly in terms of who lives and who dies...

The plot centers around organ donation and transplants, as well as the ethics of deciding who deserves a new lease on life (and who should give them that privilege).  It's clear early on that there's some society that is running their own organization that ensures that "high value" people are looked after when it comes to getting a new heart or lung.  Things start to happen pretty quickly at the end, and the philosophy is one that should cause you to think a bit.  There's also the matter of who knows your medical history, and what can be done with that information.

I felt the story could have moved a bit more in the middle, as things seemed to slow down somewhat during the doctor's struggle to connect the dots.  But overall, it was difficult to put the book down and do other stuff.  It was just the type of escape I was looking for in a recreational read...

11/06/2007

Will this be the year that an ongoing Lotusphere wrong is finally rectified?

Category Lotusphere2008
Will we finally see Ed Brill on stage during the opening or closing session????

:)

11/03/2007

Book Review - Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner

Category Book Review
So what type of mental framework or mindset will most likely be needed to compete and succeed in the 21st century?  That's the question that Howard Gardner explores in Five Minds for the Future.  You may or may not agree that these particular five mindsets are truly the most important ones, but knowing that changes *are* necessary puts you on the right path...

Contents:
Minds Viewed Globally; The Disciplined Mind, The Synthesizing Mind; The Creating Mind; The Respectful Mind; The Ethical Mind, Conclusion - Towards the Cultivation of the Five Minds; Notes; Index; About the Author

The choices that Gardner makes are rational and defendable:

Disciplined - able to systematically approach problems in your area of expertise, as well as gathering and mastering the broad knowledge areas of your profession.  And of course...  practice, practice, practice!
Synthesizing - able to gather up separate or seemingly unrelated parts of a problem and mesh them into a cohesive explanation.
Creating - these are the people who are able to look at the details of a situation or profession and create incremental and significant changes to benefit their organization or the profession as a whole.
Respectful - able to bypass the common stereotypes of people or groups, and challenge one's own belief system.  It's a striving to find the common ground with others.
Ethical - how one interacts with society, the planet, and everything in between.  It's being able to look at doing what is "responsible" even though it may not be convenient or even required.

As Gardner is a Harvard professor, you can reasonably expect academics to figure into much of what's discussed.  Fortunately, he's able to bridge the gap from pure academia to real-world application of the concepts.  And he's not afraid to tackle stickier issues, such as how respect and ethics are to be applied in a world where killing over differences is an all-too-common occurrence.  I found myself challenged on some issues on more than one occasion as I read through the pages.

Whether you would choose to label these skills in the same way that Gardner does so isn't necessarily relevant.  It's also not a "yet another program" to follow in order to achieve some level of success in business.  Five Minds is a thoughtful look at where we're going as a society and race, and what it will take to survive and thrive in the years ahead.

11/03/2007

Book Review - iPhone: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

Category Book Review
When I first saw the release of iPhone: The Missing Manual by David Pogue, I wanted to review it.  Never mind that I didn't yet *have* an iPhone...  I just like the style of the Missing Manual series.  But when my wife surprised me with my very own 8GB iPhone, getting a copy of this book became a priority.  And while it's possible to get quite a bit from just the user interface, there *are* things you'll want to know that aren't covered in the "Finger Tips" documentation.  Pogue's book absolutely shines when it comes to taking your experience level up a notch...

Contents:
Part 1 - The iPhone as Phone: The Guided Tour; Phone Calls; Fancy Phone Tricks
Part 2 - The iPhone as iPod: Music and Video; Photos and Camera
Part 3 - The iPhone Online: Getting Online; The Web; Email; Maps and Apps
Part 4 - Beyond iPhone: iTunes for iPhoners; Syncing the iPhone; Add-Ons - Accessories and Web Apps; Settings
Part 5 - Appendixes: Setup and Signup; Troubleshooting and Maintenance
Index

It's a real testimony to the designers of the iPhone that you can pack this much functionality into a device and get away without including a sizable manual.  I probably had 60% to 70% of the functions figured out in the first couple of hours with no help.  But iPhone: The Missing Manual is perfect for understanding those areas not used as often, as well as gaining some deeper understanding of *why* some things work as they do.  For instance, I was a little confused as to why Flash files wouldn't play.  But David explains the reasoning behind that (whether you agree with Apple or not is a different story).  I also didn't know how much YouTube had done to accommodate iPhone users.  And the explanation of how the keyboard works, as well as shortcuts you might not stumble onto yourself, is worth the price of the book alone.  

I also appreciated his coverage throughout the book on battery life.  That was the first thing I noticed about the iPhone when I started using it.  Where I could go a week or so before recharging a normal cell phone, I was now looking at recharging the iPhone every couple of days.  Pogue does a very good job in pointing out what features are power hogs, which ones are "battery-friendly", and what you can do to conserve your battery time if you're not going to be able to recharge right away.  I now know why my fascination with using the web browser was causing nightly recharges...  :)

Yes, you could download the PDF iPhone manual from Apple and learn most of what's covered here.  In fact, it's probably a good idea to do so regardless of whether you buy this book or not.  But if you want a non-Apple-biased view of how things work (or don't), iPhone: The Missing Manual will give it to you straight.  

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go spend some more quality time with my new toy and book...

11/03/2007

Back on stage at Lotusphere 2008! Admins are from Mars, Developers are from Venus...

Category Lotusphere2008
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - Back on stage at Lotusphere 2008!  Admins are from Mars, Developers are from Venus...

This will be a lot of fun...  Warren and I will be presenting a session titled Admins are from Mars, Developers are from Venus.  It's a session on how to communicate and understand those "other guys" who help keep the Notes environment going in your organization.

And an early hint...  bring your camera.  Warren and I will definitely be "opposites".  :)

11/01/2007

Book Review - The Soul of the Corporation by Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly

Category Book Review
The Soul of the Corporation: How to manage the identity of your company by Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly is one of those books that seems like it will be dealing with a lot of ethereal concepts and not much in the way of hard facts.  Surprisingly, the book was far more reality-based than I expected, and business leaders would do well to consider their business in terms of its identity.

Contents:
Leadership Challenges in the Age of Identity; The I*Dimension; The Bright Side of the I*Dimension; The Dark Side of the I*Dimension; Casualties of the I*Dimension; To Blend or Not to Blend - Identity Integration in Mergers and Acquisitions; When Should the Cord Be Cut? Managing Identity in Spin-Offs; Identity in Strategic Alliances and Joint Ventures; Managing the I*Dimension at Organizational and Brand Levels; Masters of the I*Dimension; Diagnosing Your Firm's Identity; Leading in the Age of Identity; Epilogue; Index

For better or worse, your business has an identity in the eyes of the employees and the public.  It's quite possible that those two identities are complete mismatches when it comes to reality.  Bouchikhi and Kimberly examine how an organization's identity comes into play in the global marketplace, as well as how that can be a strength or weakness.  For instance, Phillip Morris had an identity tied to tobacco sales and products.  Not a good thing with today's view of smoking.  The Board felt that a name change to Altria could help remove that association in the mind of the public.  But in reality, they still continued to market heavily in tobacco.  As a result, their identity change failed.  On the flip side, the change of BSN to Danone marked the shift from manufacturing to food production.  This identity shift was highly successful, as it marked the end of an old mindset (and product focus) to what the company had become.  Obviously, there's a lot more to identity than just the name of a company, but the authors do a very good job in exploring all the facets of corporate identity.  They use a wide number of examples, so very little of the book came across as "theory" rather than fact-based practice.  In addition, the examples are global in nature, so the concepts span cultures and geography (which is good given the global and cross-culture nature of so many businesses these days).

It's tempting to look at a book like this (or any other book that focuses on a narrow element of business) and declare this the missing link in the success or failure of an organization.  The authors acknowledge that other factors can be in play, but argue that the identity factor is more important than many think.  In hindsight, it's easy to pick out the winners and losers in the identity battle, while it is far harder to tell how those decisions will play out over time when they are made.  Still, taking the time to consider identity issues can't help but increase the chances that your organizational moves will be successful.  You may still make some bone-headed mistakes, but at least you'll be able to recognize them...  :)

Definitely a worthwhile read for anyone in the executive suite of a company...

10/31/2007

Book Review - The Collectors by David Baldacci

Category Book Review
While on our recent cruise, I had to pick up some additional reading material.  I actually finished The Collectors by David Baldacci almost a month ago, but I've been a bit too busy to get around to posting the review.  Bottom line, it was a good conspiracy story with some major con job action going on.

A self-styled group called the Camel Club is out to expose lies and conspiracies in the government.  They get sucked into a major one when the Speaker of the House is murdered by a sniper.  This is followed by the death of the head of the Library of Congress.  Seemingly unrelated deaths, and in fact the second one doesn't even appear to be a murder.  But one member of the club, a librarian at the LoC, isn't quite sure of that.  With a little digging, threads (and threats) are revealed that point to a major security leak of national secrets.  An outsider, a female con artist of incredible talent, joins up with the group in order to pay back a casino owner for an earlier loss in her life, as well as to lend her talents to a greater good.  Although she's not quite sure why she cares about them, and isn't just taking the money and leaving the country...

I've read Baldacci stuff in the past and enjoyed it.  But for whatever reason, he's not on my "oh, he's got a new one out!" list of authors.  I saw this one in paperback at a bookstore on the cruise, and it looked like it had the right tone for mind candy escapism.  I probably would have enjoyed the story a bit more had I already known the characters.  I got the feeling that more development had been done in earlier Camel Club stories, so I wasn't as "in tune" with them as I could have been.  But to kill off a few hours on a plane over the Pacific, it was perfect.  And the ending is such that there's plenty of room to continue the storyline with the con artist and the casino boss who wants her to die a slow and painful death...

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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