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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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12/29/2007

Book Review - Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau

Category Book Review Caroline Burau Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat

This was one of those "staff picks" at the library that catches your eye as you're trying to check out the books you *did* come in for...  Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau.  Since it was relatively short and had a sufficiently quirky premise, I picked it up.  It turned out to be one of the more entertaining reads I had this year.

Contents:
What It's Like; Destiny, or Something; On-the-Job Training; Joe Wilson; Power Phones; Lily; Good Neighbors; Friends in High Places; Anniversary; Jurisdiction; My Marsha; Kristen; Coppers; Hostages; Smucked; On the Night Shift; That Loving Feeling; Just Too Silly; changes; Words; On Burnout; The Parenting Option; On Wannabes; DOA; The Job; Retirement; Wherever You Go; Full  Circle; Acknowledgements

Burau has led a far different life than most of us...  She was somewhat of an outsider growing up, and ended up getting hooked on crack.  This addiction, fed by her boyfriend, culminated with her doing a few days in a Florida jail when she was busted for "loitering", just moments before they were supposed to be picking up some product.  She took a hard look at what she had become, and ended up going back home to start over.  Her nursing career ended in college when she would get queasy over blood.  Her career as a reporter wasn't working out much better.  One day while following a story at the police station, she was encouraged to apply for a job as a 911 operator.  Surprisingly, her drug background didn't discourage the interviewers, and she started a new life on the desk of a small-town emergency response agency.  She's a great writer, so you quickly get sucked into her struggles to learn the lingo, the multiple terminals and switchboards, and the processes that are necessary to make sure the right people are sent out to the right incidents.  She also shares the pain of having someone die on the other end of the line, and the agony of trying to know if you were the cause of it.  She also ends up knowing far more about her neighbors than she wished she knew, and soon everyone she sees has some sort of background story that she can't just pretend didn't happen.

Other than the sheer entertainment factor of the book, it also made me think about those people who are on the other end of the phone line when we dial 911.  We don't have a clue as to the stress and pressure they're under, and how each day exposes them to more ugliness and insanity than most of us experience in a lifetime.  You almost want to dial 911 and just say "thanks for being there", except that they have other more important calls to take.  :)

Well written, funny, and interesting...  Definitely worth a read.

12/29/2007

Someone's not having much SharePoint fun...

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft

From Notes Migration Blog:  Uninspired

A full week of literally babysitting the SharePoint environment, testing it every few hours, rebooting services and servers when they went down, just trying to keep it afloat.  Tens of hours researching errors and problems, to find that we are not alone in our tribulations, but nobody else has answers either. Being told that other organizations had to rebuild their server farm from scratch to resolve these kinds of issues. Starting to do so ourselves just in time, as our initial farm dying a tortured death. Piecing things back together, getting 90% of the functions in place, but beating our heads against the last 10%. Hiring some of the top consultants in town only to have them shrug their shoulders at our problems.

12/29/2007

Book Review - The Darkest Evening Of The Year by Dean Koontz

Category Book Review Dean Koontz The Darkest Evening Of The Year

I normally like the stuff that Dean Koontz puts out.  But his latest, The Darkest Evening Of The Year, seems to be lacking that normal Koontz flair.  It's not necessarily a bad read, but it almost seemed like Koontz was trying to do a tribute to a lost pet of his own...  Perhaps there's some of that there, but I haven't read any of his background on the book, so I don't know if that's the case or not...

The main character, Amy Redwing, lives for her rescue activities for golden retrievers.  She ends up with Nickie, a dog she "purchased" during a family/animal abuse confrontation.  Nickie seems to have special meaning, however.  There are things from Amy's background that make her think this is an animal sent from her past to help her through some upcoming crisis.  Brian McCarthy is her boyfriend, someone who doesn't totally share Amy's commitment to the dogs, but loves them (and her) all the same.  Nickie also affects him in a bizarre way, causing dreams to take on a realistic quality.  The trouble that both of them are moving towards involve two people from their past who have taken things from them that they held dear.  These two mystery people are now lovers, and their plan is to eliminate both Amy and Brian in one climatic event that will erase their pasts and satisfy a bloodlust that they both possess...

So why didn't I find this book up to par?  For one, the dog angle is overwhelming.  The back cover of the book has a picture of Koontz with his retriever, and the dedication makes me think that this dog recently died.  If that's the case, I can understand Koontz writing the book from this angle to pay homage to the pet.  Fine, but it seemed to be a bit overkill.  The normal writing style that Koontz has with turning a phrase seemed to be absent in large part.  I saw brief periods where he was hitting on all cylinders, but most of the book wasn't up to his normal standards.  And the plotline with the two people from the past was really confusing at the first, and it took about half of the book before the two very divergent stories started to intersect in any meaningful way.  I think I would have cared a bit more had I known earlier on *why* people were digging into Amy's past.  As it was, I felt as if I was just waiting for the chapter where I would finally understand why (and care why) these things were happening.

With a different author, I'd probably give this a bit of a higher rating.  But knowing what Koontz is capable of, The Darkest Evening wasn't quite what I was expecting from him...

12/27/2007

Book Review - Plumbing Do-It-Yourself For Dummies by Donald R. Prestly

Category Book Review Donald R. Prestly Plumbing Do-It-Yourself For Dummies

If you've hung around my blog very much, you're well aware of the fact that me and home repair projects don't normally mix.  I don't know what it is, but you put hardware in my hands, and I become a bumbling idiot.  Plumbing Do-It-Yourself For Dummies by Donald R. Prestly is the *perfect* approach to plumbing fix-it jobs for someone like me.  It's short, concise, has plenty of pictures, and explains just enough to make me think that it's possible to pull off the unlikely/impossible...  a plumbing repair that doesn't stretch into a multi-hour marathon of frustration and humiliation.

Contents:
Part 1 - Getting to Know Your Plumbing System: Understanding Plumbing; Fetch Me My Pipe and Fittings!; Getting the 411 on Codes and Requirements; Filling Your Plumbing Toolbox
Part 2 - Faucets and Sinks: Cleaning a Faucet Aerator and Sink Sprayer; Repairing a Leaky Rotary Ball Faucet; Repairing a Leaky Cartridge Filter Faucet; Repairing a Leaky Ceramic Disk Faucet; Repairing a Leaky Compression Faucet; Repairing a Leaky Two-Handle Faucet Spout; Caulking around a Sink Bowl; Replacing a Leaky Sink Basket; Replacing a Sink Trap; Replacing a Double-Bowl Kitchen Sink Drain; Replacing a Bathroom Sink Drain; Adjusting a Pop-Up Drain; Unclogging Sink Drains; Soldering Copper Pipes
Part 3 - Tubs and Showers: Caulking the Tub, Tile, and Fixtures; Replacing a Tub Spout; Replacing a Showerhead; Repairing a Tub and Shower Compression Faucet; Repairing a Cartridge Shower Faucet; Repairing a Disk Shower Faucet; Repairing a Cartridge/Seat-Spring Faucet; Adjusting a Tub Drain; Unclogging Tub and Shower Drains
Part 4 - Toilets: Checking a Toilet for Leaks; Replacing a Fill Valve; Replacing a Flush Valve; Replacing A Flapper; Adjusting the Tank's Water Level; Repairing a Leaky Tank; Repairing a Leaky Bowl; Stopping a Tank from Sweating; Replacing a Toilet Seat; Unclogging a Toilet with a Plunger; Clearing a Clog with a Closet Auger
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten Tips for Plumbing Success; Ten Tips for Dealing with Problematic Pipes; Ten Safety Considerations
Index

The first part of the book starts out with the general layout of a household plumbing system, and why things like drain, waste, and vent systems are necessary.  He also goes into what tools are essential when it comes to plumbing repairs.  That's probably the first really helpful thing for me, as my tool collection is...  "lacking", and going to a store doesn't necessarily tell  you why you'd need something like a spud wrench.  The following sections get into the details of specific repair jobs, complete with photos (not generalized line drawings), a list of tools you'll need, materials you'll have to use, and how long it *should* take.  Knowing me, I'd double that last figure, and then double it again.  And if I beat that time, I'd be feeling real "manly".  :)  I really wish I'd have had this book when we replaced our toilet.  My wife and I would have resumed talking to each other much sooner...

The Part of Tens section is also useful for those little gems that you don't think of when you start a project...  like trying to start and finish your project during store hours so you don't end up stuck overnight with no toilet or water pressure in the house.  Also there's the advice to buy the *right* tools for the job at hand, and add to the collection as you do new projects.  I won't tell you what I've ended up using pipe wrenches for when certain other tools are not available to me.

I'm sure all the home repair experts are probably thinking I'm a major wuss when it comes to fixing stuff.  They'd be right.  But with a book like this, I'm inspired to at least give the repair a try before springing for the cost of a professional.  Although the whole propane blow-torch thing?  I don't think so...

12/26/2007

Book Review - Bones To Ashes by Kathy Reichs

Category Book Review Kathy Reichs Bones To Ashes

I've made no bones (no pun intended) that Kathy Reichs has permanently replaced Cornwell as my writer-of-choice when it comes to forensic anthropology novels.  Her latest, Bones To Ashes, continues to entertain me, although this one seemed to be a bit slow coming out of the blocks.  What I thought was going to be a "time-out" for a character development story picked up at the end and delivered a pretty tight finish.

Temperance Brennan is drawn into a case of skeletal identification that seemingly is a bit too close to home for her.  She had a childhood friend named Evangeline who disappeared one year with no explanation as to what happened.  Tempe's attempts to discover her whereabouts were met with silence and warnings to just let her go.  Thirty years have passed, but Tempe hasn't forgotten her.  Tempe's Montreal cop boyfriend is investigating a number of cold cases where either a young girl went missing and was never found, or they found a skeleton that was never identified.  The timeframes and locations are such that Tempe can't help wondering if perhaps the skeleton on her table is her missing friend.  The odds are one in a million, but they start getting narrower once Tempe and Ryan start digging into the past.  Even though everyone's claiming the past is over and forgotten, some people are a bit too intent on keeping Tempe and Ryan from finding that out for themselves.  And if those people are involved in any way with Evangeline's disappearance, that could mean that she ended her life in a very unpleasant and sordid fashion...

The start of the novel looked like it was going to be a diversion into Brennan's childhood as well as what I call a character development installment.  Those are the books in a series that seem to lack some of the action that the author is known for, but that serve to add some additional background and color to the characters.  It wasn't until Ryan's cold case efforts started intersecting with Brennan's work that the action angle started to pick up.  The bad guys in the plot are truly nasty characters, but there are some interesting twists at the end that force you to re-examine your impressions.  We're still not talking boy scouts, but there's some humanity there after all.

Bones to Ashes isn't the absolute best book in the series, but it's still a solid read.  And any slowness at the start is more than made up for at the end...

12/25/2007

Book Review - Web Of Evil By J. A. Jance

Category Book Review Web Of Evil J. A. Jance

A number of my recreational reads have shown up at the library.  Next up on the list was Web Of Evil by J. A. Jance.  Basically, an enjoyable crime thriller where you're not quite sure if the deceased was truly scum or truly unfortunate.

Ali Reynolds is heading from Sedona to LA to put some finishing touches on her life.  She's due to give a deposition for a wrongful termination suit she brought against the station where she used to work.  She's also going to sign the divorce papers so her ex- can get remarried the next day to the woman he dumped Ali for.  But the papers get put on hold when he doesn't show up for the signing.  Turns out he was murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion...  bound in a car trunk, and the car was left on a set of train tracks in the middle of the night.  This twist makes Ali the sole beneficiary of his will, and leaves his bride-to-be (and unborn child) out in the cold.  It also has law enforcement looking at her as a suspect, as she had motive and was passing through the desert at about the same time the train took out the car.  Ali would be perfectly happy to work out some sort of an arrangement so that everyone benefits, but lawyers seem to keep getting in the way.  Furthermore, questions arise as to whether the child of the fiancee actually belongs to Ali's ex.  As Ali and her entourage dig deeper, nasty characters start coming out of the woodwork, people related to the case start getting killed and kidnapped, and it may turn out that Ali's ex was actually not such a scumbag after all...

Jance is one of those authors that I enjoy reading, but I don't camp out on the library hold lists waiting for the next installment.  As such, I don't approach the characters in her novels as friends I'm getting the chance to revisit.  I simply read for the entertainment and plot, and as such I found it enjoyable.  Just right for a plane trip or an afternoon with nothing on the agenda...

12/24/2007

Book Review - The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Category Book Review The World Without Us Alan Weisman

Just for kicks, let's say that everyone on the planet just disappeared.  No, this isn't a review of I Am Legend.  It's the premise of the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.  Weisman looks at how the planet would start reclaiming its land from the imprint of man.  It's a bit uneven and meandering at times, but it does lead to some interesting conjecture...

Contents:
  • Part 1: A Lingering Scent of Eden; Unbuilding Our Home; The City Without Us; The World Just Before Us; The Lost Menagerie; The African Paradox
  • Part 2: What Falls Apart; What Lasts; Polymers Are Forever; The Petro Patch; The World Without Farms
  • Part 3: The Fate of Ancient and Modern Wonders of the World; The World Without War; Hot Legacy; Our Geologic Record
  • Part 4: Where Do We Go from Here?; Art Beyond Us; The Sea Cradle
  • Coda: Our Earth, Our Souls
  • Acknowledgments; Select Bibliography; Index

Fortunately, this wasn't a "global warming is killing us" diatribe.  If it had been, it's likely I wouldn't have picked it up.  Instead, it's more of a look at how nature's systems would take over and interact with an abandoned infrastructure.  For starters, you're treated to a slow-motion destruction of your humble abode.  Water seeps in around nails and shingles loosen up.  Insects and rodents start taking up residence and add to the decay.  Load-bearing walls weaken and collapse, leaving piles of rubble that slowly crumble and return to the soil of the foundation.  Given a century or so of complete neglect, nature would reclaim much of what we built. Particleboard won't stand up like rock walls of the previous millennium.  I also found the chapters on our "wonders" quite eye-opening.  Structures like the Panama Canal would very quickly be overrun by the surrounding forests.  The Chunnel could be a link allowing species to migrate for some period of time between England and France.  Granted, it's speculation, but interesting nonetheless.

Some of the material didn't seem to flow as well.  There was a fair amount of discussion as to the hows and whys behind the disappearances of large land mammals that seemed to exist before the advent of man.  Giant sloths and other strange creatures didn't fare well when stacked up against humans.  Those chapters seemed to be a strange mix between looking back at what happened and what might happen once we leave.  It probably was put in to help support arguments surrounding how species adapt and survive.  But it seemed to break the flow of the main narrative...  I found myself starting to wander a bit when those chapters got a bit too long.

If you've walked through ghost towns or seen pictures of an abandoned Chernobyl, this book will add much to your understanding of what happens when we're not around to take care of our "stuff".  

12/22/2007

Book Review - Written Communications That Inform and Influence By Harvard Business School Press

Category Blogging
The fact that I blog, review, and otherwise spend a great deal of time writing should point to the value I place on written communication.  Harvard Business School Press has a concise book titled Written Communications That Inform and Influence that does a very nice job in honing in on typical trouble areas when it comes to business communication.  It's definitely well worth the minimal time investment you'd need to go through it.

Contents:
  • Writing Persuasive Proposals: First, Don't Write an Outline; Making Your Proposal Come Out on Top; Building a Bridge over the River Boredom; When to Ignore Your Readers
  • Spotlight On Structure: A Winning Proposition; Writing Well When Time Is Tight; The Best Memo You'll Ever Write
  • Striking the Right Tone and Style: Find the Right Tone for Your Business Writing; Communication as a Change Tool; Rhyme and Reason - What Poetry Has to Say to Business Writers; Ayn Rand on Writing; When One Style Does Not Fit All
  • Surmounting Special Writing Challenges: Don't Push That Send Button!; How to Engineer Compelling Prose - Teaching a Techie to Write; Writing an Executive Summary That Means Business; Five Quick Ways to Trim Your Writing
  • Avoiding Grammatical Goofs and Gaffes: Misused Words and Other Writing Gaffes - A Manager's Primer; How to Write Correctly Without Knowing the Rules; Is Following the Rules Tripping Up Your Message?
  • About the Contributors

Many people in the business world don't like to "officially" write stuff as they aren't necessarily very good at it.  Granted, not everyone will be Hemingway with an office memo, but with a little knowledge and practice it's not that hard to be effective.  While this book is targeted for business writing situations, the ideas and concepts cross over into all types of writing.  For instance, How to Write Correctly Without Knowing the Rules offers up a time-honored (at least by me!) technique for those sentences that don't quite sound right...  just rewrite the sentence!  If you're not sure if "compliment" is the right word, just use "praise" instead.  Why fret over those small things?  The chapter on Trim Your Writing is also quite valuable.  I've been trying to do a better job at that lately, and the ideas offered in the chapter really do help in allowing your ideas to avoid drowning in a sea of words.

Effective writing skills can be a significant way to set yourself apart at work.  If you've never taken the time to try to improve that aspect of your personal portfolio, starting here would be a good way to begin.

12/22/2007

Book Review - This Is How It Happened (not a love story) by Jo Barrett

Category Book Review
Any book that starts out with the lines "I never intended to KILL him kill him.  I mean, actually kill him.  It started as a joke." deserves some serious consideration for continued reading (and probable fun).  This Is How It Happened (not a love story) by Jo Barrett is an entertaining story about one woman's efforts to get back at a guy who conned her for everything she had.  Barrett weaves an amusing tale that keeps the pages turning and the laughs coming.

Madeline Piatro is a marketing whiz who's been working for the same boss for the last 14 years.  She likes what she does, but her personal life leaves much to be desired.  So at a mixer, she ends up finding and falling for a smooth guy who becomes the center of her life.  He comes from a rich family, but his hard-nosed dad wants him to work his way up through the company to learn the ropes.  Piatro falls hard for Carlton Conners, and pretty soon she's the main means of support in their living-together arrangement.  He professes his deep love for her, even going so far as to buy her a ring.  But he doesn't want her to wear it around his family, as he's "not ready" for them to know yet.  That should have been the first warning sign...

Madeline comes up with a killer idea for a new company marketing organic foods for kids.  Her and Conners present the concept to his father and some investors, and they agree to fund it.  But before the meeting ends, she ends up without any ownership of the company, with only a "promise" of future stock.  Well, *that* doesn't work out too well.  The company takes off, Conners ends up as the "genius", and dumps Piatro for another woman.  Left with little money, no job, and no options, she decides that hiring a hitman to mess up Carlton would be a great idea.  But when you don't run in those types of circles, it's a little hard to figure out where to start.  And  her "do-it-yourself" ideas, such as poisoned brownies, aren't exactly textbook examples of how to rid yourself of someone...

Barrett does an excellent job with the characters and the pacing in this novel.  It's told in the first person from Piatro's view, so it's easy to sense the frustration and confusion that she's feeling.  The story alternates chapter by chapter between her current efforts to extract revenge and her relationship with Conners from the very start.  So as you're laughing at her misguided efforts to rid humanity of Carlton, you learn little-by-little what led her to this point.  The end has an interesting twist that takes a couple of sharp turns before everything clears up.  All in all, it's a fun way to kill a few hours on a plane or a lazy afternoon.  When this is released in February, it should do really well...

12/18/2007

Here's hoping I won't be Lotusphere 2008 "patient 0" virus spreader this year...

Category Lotusphere2008
I woke up Sunday morning with a scratchy throat, and by the afternoon it was looking like a full-blown cold/flu situation.  I worked from home on Monday, as I still felt like someone had beat me with a really big stick.

Yes, I do have sick time, but no, there are no free days between now and the end of the year for what I've promised to have done for people.  Take out two weeks in the middle of January for vacation/Lotusphere, and it looks pretty bad until mid-February.  :)

Now we're just down to that raspy, wheezy sound that causes the wife to smack you numerous times during the night telling you to roll over.

With any luck, I will be back to health (or what passes for it) by the end of the week, and therefore will be immune to any other pre-Lotusphere germs.

Otherwise, getting through one session, one BoF, and two cameos for other sessions will be...  "interesting".

12/17/2007

Book Review - Imaginary Friends by Darren Pillsbury

Category Book Review
What if, as an adult, you could see all the imaginary friends of all the children around you (but no one else could?)  And what if these imaginary friends really didn't like you?  That's the premise of Darren Pillsbury's book Imaginary Friends.  Even though this probably could be classified as a young adult novel, it packs more than enough enjoyment for a grown-up reader like myself.  And I found myself seeing this as a really cute family movie that'd be fun to watch...

Jeff Tanner is a toy executive trying to hold his family together after the death of his wife in a car accident.  One of his sons (Brian) has withdrawn into a world where all he does is draw monsters.  The other son (Davey) is a wise-cracking youngster who has a number of imaginary friends known only to himself.  Add in a grandmother who lives with them and a next-door neighbor who provides day care for the two (and who Jeff has a bit of a crush on).  During a Christmas dinner, Davey makes a wish with the turkey wishbone, and all of a sudden Jeff can see a number of strange creatures running around and creating havoc in the house.  Of course, only Davey finds this normal, as they're his imaginary friends.  All the rest of the family is convinced he's going off the deep end.  Even leaving the house doesn't help, as every other imaginary friend in the world is out there to torment him.  And we're talking "torment", as they are out to cause him physical pain...

The driving story behind the premise is that Jeff is putting Brian into a military school in an attempt to draw him out of his self-imposed shell.  No one is convinced this is a good idea, Jeff included, but he doesn't know what else to do.  As Jeff works through his emotions and grieving, he starts to learn what's really important, as well as gaining the respect of all his imaginary friends.

As this likely falls into a young adult category, we're not talking deep philosophical plotlines here.  But even so, Pillsbury paints some incredibly funny and comical scenes.  Davey's dialog is sharp, probably too sharp to be realistic for a kid his age.  It didn't stop me from enjoying it, however.  What I found interesting is that as I read this book, I was seeing it unfold as a motion picture.  Stick Steve Martin in as the dad, a young Macaulay Culkin type as Davey, and it would be a lot of fun to watch.  And the CGI effects with the imaginary friends could be outstanding...

I'm surprised this book is as good as it is, given it's Pillsbury first.  But if he continues to put out books of this caliber, I may have to make some visits to the young adult section of the library...

12/15/2007

Book Review - Roseanna's Reply by F. D. Johnson

Category Book Review

I was contacted by Frank Johnson and asked if I'd like to review his World War 2 historical novel, Roseanna's Reply.  Since it's a genre I normally enjoy, I decided that it might be a good recreational read.  As I believe this is his first novel (at least I didn't find any others on Amazon, but I could be wrong), I wasn't expecting great things.  Add in the 566 pages of the book, and I wondered if I had perhaps made a mistake in accepting the book.  But much to my surprise and amazement, Johnson pulled off an excellent writing job.  And even though books of this length usually have me wishing the writing was a bit tighter, at no time was I tempted to start skimming material to get to the end.  

The book takes place in 1942, when the air war between Germany and England is still very much up for grabs.  The English and American commands are looking for a better fighter that can both perform in a dogfight *and* travel as escort to long-range bombers into Germany.  Without the escort capabilities, the bombers are taking much more damage than they are able to inflict.  North American Aviation, run by Dutch Kendall, is trying to create a new fighter by taking the body of the Mustang and fitting it with the Merlin engine for better performance.  Their enemies aren't only the German spies, but other companies in the US who want their own piece of the fighter market.  

Dutch's daughter, Roseanna Kendall, is a stellar, headstrong pilot who is ferrying aircraft around North America for the war effort.  But what she *really* longs to do is to fly combat missions.  Her life almost comes to an end when she's forced to ditch an aircraft in the snowy wilderness of Canada during a trip.  But she's rescued by a equally competent and mysterious bush pilot named Waldo.  Never having had much use for friends, Roseanna finds herself drawn to Waldo, in part because of his flying skills, and also because he seems to be hiding a background that hints of war time heroism and combat missions.  She's able to convince her father to hire him at North American Aviation in California as a test pilot, and he also takes on the task of turning Roseanna from a stubborn flier into a top-notch combat pilot.  Dutch feels this will benefit her as he grooms Roseanna to take over the company some day.  But she is still harboring hope that somehow she can one day go head-to-head with enemy planes during real aerial engagements.

One day when Waldo and Dutch's son Jeremy are on their way to work, their car is deliberately run off the road in an attempt to kill Jeremy and slow down progress on the new fighters.  Dutch is able to get a military investigator to look into the incident, and it quickly becomes apparent that there truly is an espionage element to the accident.  But since they can't find an internal leak, it's hard to tell if this was a one-time incident or whether the rest of the Kendall family (including Roseanna) remains at risk.  Roseanna is falling for Spencer, the investigator, and the two try and figure out what would be proper vs. what would make them both happy.

Without going into much more plot detail (to avoid giving out too much of the story-line), the story works its way through to the conclusion of the war and retribution for Jeremy's injury.  Only in the last few pages do you find out exactly how the title fits into the story-line, but suffice it to say that it works out very well.

Aviation buffs will really get into this book.  There is a ton of technical detail about planes and aviation, and I would assume that someone into World War 2 fighters would be unable to put the book down.  What most impressed me about this book was the dialogue.  Realistic interaction between characters is not an easy chore, and I find that first-time novelists usually don't do well with it.  Roseanna's Reply is a major exception to the rule.  The character development is solid, and *all* the characters carry their weight and contribute to the story.  Yes, you could have done this book in 300 pages or so, but I certainly didn't see a need to trim it down.  The plot and action flowed, the pacing was right,  and I looked forward each night to picking it back up to see where things would go.

When this book makes it to Amazon or the local bookstore, it would be one that I'd definitely recommend.  It's not something you'll finish in a day or two, but the time you spend with Roseanna and cast will be well-spent and enjoyable.

12/12/2007

I'm getting old... Things are changing...

Category Everything Else
You know (hope!) that someday the nestlings will leave and strike out on their own.  We had a sneak preview of that when Ian went off to Orlando and DisneyWorld for internships.  Now it's Cam's turn.  He's decided to move in with a number of his friends in a large house not too far away from where he works.  It's something he's been talking about for the last six months or so, and now he's decided that the time is right.

I thought he was going to move this weekend, but Sue helped him take his belongings over to the new place today.  I don't know if he's entirely cleaned out, but it's probably close.  He's excited, and I'm happy for him.  I'm not nearly as stressed out about this one as I was with Ian going cross-country.  Something about only being about five miles away and not being diabetic, I guess.  Cam can live on peanut butter and Top Ramen if he has to.  :)  I've also made it very clear to him that if it doesn't work out, he's welcome to move back home.  We're not planning on changing the locks...  yet.

With Ian vacationing until the 17th, Sue and I are nearly "empty nesters".  

Strange stuff...

12/09/2007

Post to claim Technorati for http://www.duffbert.com

Category Everything Else
Technorati Profile

12/09/2007

Welcome to the new home of Duffbert's Random Musings... www.duffbert.com

Category Everything Else
I took some time to clean up a number of configuration issues, domain name issues, etc.  The net result is that the old twduff.com site is going to route to here now, and the main URL I'll be claiming is duffbert.com.  This is also running on a new host and server, so let me know if you see anything somewhat strange.

So please update your RSS links as well as your bookmarks to this new site...  Thanks!

12/09/2007

Someone want to apply for this job and tell us who the client is?

Category IBM/Lotus
Brought to my attention by Ed:

Lotus Notes Developers needed for large client asap!

 Job Overview
Company:        
Robert Half Technology
Location:        US-NJ-Plainsboro
Salary:        40.00 - 42.00 USD /hour
Position Type:        Full Time, Employee
Job Category:        Information Technology

One of our top clients is looking for THREE LOTUS NOTES APPLICATION DEVELOPERS for a Lotus Notes R4.6 development project. You will be responsible for development, testing, implementation and documentation of predefined technical solutions to address defined business requirements. Must be detail oriented and very conscientious when performing repetitive tasks. You must be able to work independently with limited instructions on routine work.

All applicants applying for U.S. job openings must be authorized to work in the United States. All applicants applying for Canadian job openings must be authorized to work in Canada.

Qualifications :
•4+ years of Lotus Notes Development experience working with V4, V5 or V6 •Lotus Notes R4 Design and R6 Design If you are qualified and interested in this position, please email your resume and information to ron.bertoni@rht.com for immediate consideration.

Three full-time Notes developers for a Notes R4.6 project???  I wonder if this is some company that has "converted off of Notes" but still has some monster application that is mission-critical.  Why else would a company continue to run a version of the software that is no longer supported?  And if this is indicative of their environment, what OS are they running?  Win2K?  WinME?  

While part of me says "run far, far away", the curious side wonders just who this is...

12/08/2007

Book Review - Offshoring Secrets: Building and Running a Successful India Operation by Utkarsh Rai

Category Book Review
Utkarsh Rai, the author of Offshoring Secrets: Building and Running a Successful India Operation, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing this title.  Being that I'm in the Information Technology field (which experiences its fair share of offshoring), I thought it would be a good look to see what's really involved in that process.  Rai uses his first-hand knowledge of the subject to share the perils and pitfalls that one must account for when trying to start up an operation in India.

Contents:
A Brief History; Choosing the Right Leader; Setting up the Operation; Recruitment Challenges; Culture & Policies; People Management; Execution is Everything; Conclusion; Terms and Terminology; List of Vendors; Policies to Address; Solutions to Case Studies; About the Author

The offshoring that is discussed in this book is more in line with your company wanting to actually establish a presence in India.  It's not so much for the company that is outsourcing part of their process with an offshore firm.  But in either case, you'll be exposed to the reality of the situation when it comes to reducing costs by offshoring.  Since so many companies are moving or establishing operations in India, the pressure to pay higher wages to recruit the top talent is very real.  Therefore, it's not *as cheap* to hire an Indian workforce as it may have been a few years back.  Yes, it's still cheaper than American wages, but the gap is getting smaller.  On top of trying to hire good talent in a hot job market, you also have to account for cultural, legal, and time zone differences.  The time gap means that one side or the other is going to have to be available at some inconvenient hours for meetings.  Tax and regulations are also quite different, so  you'll need to make sure you have local resources to guide you through that process.  And of course, treating a foreign workforce as though they were brought up with American culture and values is a sure way to alienate everyone quickly.  By the time all these things are taken into account, the hype about massive savings with offshoring operations becomes less rosy, and you realize that it'll take time, money, and a lot of effort to realize those benefits.

It doesn't take a lot of time to read through this short volume, and you'll take away a realistic look at what makes up the success and failure of an offshore operation.  The net result is that you'll be able to estimate the true costs and value of taking that route.

12/08/2007

Book Review - The Eat-Clean Diet by Tosca Reno

Category Book Review

There are diet fads, and then there's just plain sound nutritional advice.. Tosca Reno's The Eat-Clean Diet: Fast Fat-Loss that lasts Forever! falls squarely in the second camp.  There's not much here that would be new to anyone who has read a number of nutrition books in the past.  But if you're looking to modify your diet to be more healthy and lose excess poundage, then this would be a good way to go about it.

Contents:
My Invitation to You; Clean Eating - A Funny Things Happened; Reno-vate Your Metabolism; Hydration - Water Everywhere; Breakfast - A Really Important Meal; Turn Your Back on Haute Cuisine; Taking It With You; Eat-Clean Kids; Ordering Out; Cheating - A Learning Experience; Supplements and Superfoods; Eat-Clean Menus; Eat-Clean Recipes; Clean Eating Q&A; Credits; Index

The book starts out, as most diet books do, with the story of how Reno went from a 200+ pound mess to a cover model who looks far younger than her actual age.  She did this by following an "Eat Clean" philosophy.  These principles, such as eating 5 to 6 smaller meals each day and avoiding overly processed foods, coupled with exercise led her to a body transformation that most of us would only dream about.  Throughout the book, she shares the rationale behind her food advice, as well as offering up assistance when it comes to making wise choices to follow this same type of program.  The combination of encouragement and wise choices makes for a solid eating plan that *will* be effective when it comes to losing weight.

I appreciated the fact that there wasn't an on-going sales pitch to buy a certain brand of vitamins or supplements that she just happens to sell.  I've seen far too much of that, almost to the point that the book becomes a 200 page infomercial.  She also has a style that works well to her target audience.  She holds out hope to those who are struggling like she was.  It does take awhile to figure out what she means by "eating clean", as there's no "here's the program, now I'll expand on everything" intro.  I also see that many people might find her program hard, as the element of choice is where plenty of defeat happens (at least it is for me).  You really do need to make wise choices within the framework for this all to come together at the end.

But having said that, it's still a solid read to help someone overcome the typical American diet.

12/08/2007

Book Review - Lasting Contribution by Tad Waddington

Category Book Review
Lasting Contribution: How to Think, Plan, and Act to Accomplish Meaningful Work by Tad Waddington is one of those books that you could read quickly for the overall message, but that you would need to reread more contemplatively to get the full effect.  Or, I could see it being a perfect book for a study group interested in philosophy and self-development.  

Contents:
Getting Started - Thinking Causally; Dealing With Complexity - Efficient Cause; Your Resources - Material Cause; The Design of Action - Formal Cause; Embody Your Goal - Final Cause; Empirical Problems; Theoretical Problems; Why?; Contribution; Glossary; Lasting Contribution Koans; References; Index

Waddington's educational background in Chinese religions shows through here, as there's a wide mix of ideas and concepts from both eastern and western styles of thought.  The "causes" he uses as a framework comes from Aristotle, and deals with the four reasons as to why something happens as it does.  The material cause is the "of what", as in what is this thing made of.  The efficient cause is the "how", as in how is something formed or made.  The formal cause is the "what is", as in what is the essence of the thing being examined.  And finally, the last cause is the "why", as in why does something exist, and what was it made to accomplish.  Unless you've had exposure to this type of analysis, it's going to take awhile to understand the concepts, get them straight in your mind, and see how they apply to your life and plans for making a difference in the world. Waddington goes over each of these concepts in separate chapters, and his writing style is conversational in nature.  You could see yourself being "taught" this information from a leader, as the leader makes a statement, seemingly contradicts it or points out how it might be in conflict with another earlier concept, and then guides you through to the reconciliation of the material.  His book goes much deeper than the typical "follow these ten steps to success" approach that commonly appear in the self-improvement area of  your local bookstore.  When  you get done, you'll have a deep mental and internal meaning as to what you're doing and why you're doing it.

My recommendation would be to go through the book quickly on a first read (it's only 122 pages) so you can understand where he's going.  Then go back and reread the information more slowly, thinking and internalizing the concepts and materials.  With that approach, I think the book will contribute much to your attempts to make a difference in the lives of those around you.

12/03/2007

Book Review - Executive Intelligence by Justin Menkes

Category Book Review
There are countless theories as to what exactly makes for success at the executive level, as well as how you can predict the chances of hiring someone who will do well there.  Justin Menkes takes a slightly different approach than most other books I've read on the subject.  Executive Intelligence: What All Great Leaders Have makes a strong case for IQ-style testing, specifically focused on situations that executives face every day.

Contents:
Section 1 - What Is Executive Intelligence - An Overview: Making the Invisible Visible; Executive Intelligence in Real Life; Executive Intelligence Explains Business Smarts; Critical Thinking - the Foundation of Executive Intelligence; Critical Thinking Applied to Business; Discovering Executive Intelligence; The Broad Reach of Executive Intelligence; The Competitive Advantage - Why Certain People Make the Difference; It Takes One to Know One; Beyond Ideas - How Great Results Happen
Section 2 - Why Is Executive Intelligence So Rare?: The Executive Intelligence Gap; No Time to Think - The Myth About Speed; Action Without Thought - The Reality of Executive Behavior; Blame It on the Brain; Connectionism; Common Errors of Business Judgment
Section 3 - Intelligence Is The Key: Beyond Academic Intelligence; How Intelligence Measures Are Created; The Changing Notions of Intelligence; IQ Tests and Managerial Work; Creating an Appropriate Executive IQ Test; Taking a Wrong Turn; The Charisma Trap; A Cult of Personality; Style and Personality - The Ongoing Distraction; The Cycle of Indirect Measures - A Revolving Door; The Evolution of the Job Interview; A Step in the Right Direction; The Limits of Past Behavioral Interviews (PBIs); The Mystery of Past Behavioral Interviews; What Do PBIs Actually Measure?; The Difference Between Knowledge and Intelligence; How Does One Measure Intelligence?; Test Format - A Crucial Ingredient
Section 4 - How Do You Measure Executive Intelligence?: Distinguishing Excellence; Executive Intelligence - Validation Behind the Theory; Teaching and Developing Executive Intelligence
Valuing Executive Intelligence; Appendix; Notes; Index

Menkes starts out by attempting to distill down the core essence of the types of decisions executives face each day.  He comes up with three categories of decisions:  tasks, people, and oneself.  The effective executive is one that understands how each of these areas affects the others, and knows how to integrate his/her decisions so that all three are covered.  He then goes on to explain how and why these skills are so often missing in management.  Many of the problems end up being based on management myths which are accepted with little debate.  For instance, making fast decisions is prized as a desirable trait.  But being fast for its own sake is not a virtue.  Sometimes it's necessary to step back, focus on gathering more information to round out the situation, and *then* make the decision based on all the facts, not the quick overview that often comes with "fast decision making".  

So if "thinking" denotes a successful skill of an executive, how can you determine whether the person you're interviewing has it?  The common technique in interviewing is to let the interviewee display desired skills based on past performance and behaviors.  Again, that's a commonly accepted method in today's business world.  But being able to spin your skills in a favorable light does not prove the skill of critical thinking.  Menkes shows that statistically, a person's intelligence level is positively correlated to how well they will do in the job.  The question then becomes how to test for "intelligence" in a way that is relevant to the job skills (tasks, people, and oneself) of the executive.  He proposes a style of interviewing that places the interviewee in a particular scenario, asking the person how they would resolve the problem.  Follow-up questions can delve deeper into the rationale behind the choices that were made.  The goal isn't necessarily to get the "right" answer, but to find out if the person has the skills to critically examine a situation, bringing intelligence to bear on the solution.  

To me, this book makes a lot of sense.  It's far too common for someone to treat every problem as a nail since they've had great success in using their hammer to run another company.  It's not that the hammer is bad, but the person wielding it needs to understand that it's not the answer to everything.  If you're in an HR department responsible for hiring executive talent, reading Executive Intelligence is worth your time and effort.  At the very least, it'll make you a bit more thoughtful when you ask the typical "tell me about a time when you..." question.

12/02/2007

Blue Wave Technology Limited acquires BE Systems Limited

Category None
Great news for Paul and Warren...  Congrats!

December 3rd 2007
 
Press release
 
 

Barcelona Spain – December 3rd 2007  

Top Irish Lotus Notes solution provider extends its reach into the UK  
 

To meet the demand for top quality IBM Lotus Notes consultancy throughout Ireland, UK and Europe, Blue Wave Technology Limited has acquired BE Systems Limited, specialists in providing top quality IBM Lotus technology services and support throughout the UK.

The acquisition strengthens their combined e-business expertise across both the IBM and Microsoft platforms, delivering complete end-to-end solutions to SMB, government and enterprise customers via a single supplier.

Blue Wave Technology, established in 2000, is the market leader in Ireland providing

e-business productivity solutions to help government departments and enterprise businesses streamline the way in which they manage their financial, manufacturing and human resource requirements more efficiently and cost effectively.  

This acquisition is a landmark step for the expanding Blue Wave Technology company, which has enjoyed year on year growth since its inception in 2000, and enhances its reputation as a leader in solutions in its field.

BE systems Limited has quickly become a leading UK brand which has secured a significant foothold in providing IBM Lotus consultancy services to the top enterprise companies.

It has been in operation for 3 years, and has lead the way in the UK with advanced Domino applications and mobile technology development.  

This acquisition is a move welcomed by all parties, that will enable both companies to improve and extend the services supplied to their customers. The deal provides a major opportunity for Blue Wave to extend further into the UK market, whilst increasing the technical resources available throughout both the UK and Ireland.  

To maximise brand awareness, BE Systems will continue to trade under their existing name within the UK. The combined international organisation however will now act as a major force in the European IBM Lotus Business partner space.

The combined company will now include staff from both companies who are featured speakers at many IBM conferences worldwide. These include Lotusphere, Collaboration University, the View Admin / Developer conferences and many more. Their strong technical knowledge has resulted in a very strong community standing, enabling the European company to be uniquely involved in the IBM Lotus product development. In addition, staff from both companies are behind the organisation of both the popular Irish Lotus User Group and UK Lotus User Group conferences. These events involve customers from throughout Europe and speakers from across the globe.
 

About Bluewave

Blue Wave Technology provide advanced IBM technology training, services in development and infrastructure on Lotus products, Blackberry, Websphere, SQL Server and are involved in high skill integration / rollout projects.

About BE Systems

Founded in 2005, BE Systems has quickly grown to become a highly regarded IBM Lotus services company in the UK. Through a series of strategic partnerships, the business has seen rapid growth in all areas of the business. The companies' strong technical grounding has allowed them to work with major blue chip companies throughout the UK. These achievements have been recognised through public case studies with IBM, and the receipt of the IBM platinum achievement award.  

Quotes

“The Blue Wave acquisition of BE Systems will greatly strengthen the overall consultancy team, ensuring that our clients continue to have access to the leading Domino consultants in the market place.  I'm delighted at the prospect of our two teams working together, allowing us to offer an even more rounded service to our clients now with the enhanced team at their disposal.”

says Harry Dunne - Managing Director

“I'm very excited to be able to make this announcement', says Warren Elsmore, Senior Architect of BE Systems. "In a rapidly growing market, we feel it is essential to continue to be able to provide the very best level of service to all our customers. We have already worked closely with Blue Wave to deliver key customer projects, but the announcement of this acquisition will take this one stage further. We are now able to provide a full range of IBM Lotus services to our customers from a 40 strong in-house team.”

Says Warren Elsmore – Senior Architect

12/02/2007

Do Microsoft Business Partners even read their press releases?

Category Microsoft
This gem from Unify pushing the whole Domino-To-Microsoft conversion software...

Efficiently Migrating Lotus Notes Applications to Modern Platforms

ABSTRACT:

As businesses move into the era of highly scalable architectures, SOA, rich customer-facing applications, and mobile workforces, they are discovering that previously satisfactory workgroup and workflow systems no longer provide needed capabilities.

Lotus Notes, in particular, is quickly becoming viewed as a legacy platform that is difficult to shed as part of a move to modern, scalable, and non-proprietary architectures.

This white paper examines:

    * Options for rapidly migrating off of Lotus Notes to Microsoft's .NET platform
    * How organizations can better manage the transition
    * A solution for migration off the complex Lotus Notes applications to Microsoft's enterprise infrastructure

First off, Lotus Notes does "highly scalable architectures, SOA, rich customer-facing applications, and mobile workforces" just fine, thank you.

But what really gets me is how moving to a "modern, scalable, non-proprietary" involves *anything* to do with Microsoft!  And comparing a "complex" Lotus Notes application to Microsoft's "enterprise infrastructure" is laughable.  Have you seen how many moving parts you need to build an equivalent platform in Microsoft?  Look up "complex" in the dictionary, and you'll find Microsoft's logo...

Blatant sales hype and lies don't get much better than this one...  :)

12/02/2007

Book Review - Steroid Nation by Shaun Assael

Category Book Review
It's impossible to be a fan of sports these days and not be aware of the role that steroids play in the lives of athletes.  If you listen to the athletes themselves, only a few rogue players get sucked up in the juice.  But any rational human knows that the truth is something completely different.  In the book Steroid Nation: Juiced Home Run Totals, Anti-aging Miracles, and a Hercules in Every High School: The Secret History of America's True Drug Addiction, Shaun Assael looks at steroid use in America from 1981 to today.  You can't help but draw the conclusion that there is a vast conspiracy of silence that allows this to go on in professional and amateur sports.

Contents:
Band of Believers - 1981 - 1992: The Guru of Venice; "Zee Codes, Zey Are Missing", Mules, Threesomes, and Mom; The Running Man; Inside Job; Blow Out; The Biggest Believers
Tapping the Vein - 1992 - 2000: Mormon Money; The Perfect Pitch; Solace and Sex; 'Cause I'm TNT, I'm Dynamite!; The King Is Dead
Long Live The King - 2000 - Present: The Right Stuff; A Bully Pulpit; The Scientist Strikes Back; The Two Arnolds; State of the Union; This Is War; A Vicious Cycle; Growing Pains
Acknowledgments; Bibliography; Source Notes; Index

Assael goes back to the days of the Underground Steroid Handbook and Dan Duchaine.  Duchaine became known as "The Guru" due to his extensive knowledge and experimentation with performance enhancing drugs.  Working out of the Gold's Gym in Venice, he quickly became the go-to guy when bodybuilders wanted to get bigger and athletes needed to get stronger.  While these drug sales were far from legal, the government wasn't as motivated to prosecute as they are in today's environment.  But that doesn't mean that all the players were staying out of jail.  Duchaine did a couple of jail stints, and his life started to slide downhill at a rapid pace as he became addicted to some of his chemical concoctions.  His destructive behavior also affected his relationships with women, as ones that stayed around more than a week or two usually ended up physically wrecked in the long run.

Duchaine isn't the only story in Steroid Nation, however.  There are other dealers who have become front-page names, like Victor Conte from BALCO.  Dealers abound both locally and internationally as the technology becomes more available and the profit potential skyrockets.  The government agents, such as Don Catlin and Terry Madden, are forever fighting a battle where the criminals are usually a step or two ahead of law enforcement and the science of detection.  And then there are the athletes and celebrities...  Lyle Alzado, Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Sylvester Stallone, and many others.  The gap between the public image and the actual behavior is incredibly vast.  Nearly all deny there are any chemical shenanigans going on, even after positive tests.  And even the assertions of being clean due to no positive test results rings hollow, as the chemicals used and masking agents employed change far faster than the testing labs can be updated.  And if a new substance is out there that can't be detected (think "Clear" and "Cream" from BALCO), then it may just be a matter of luck that the testing labs will ever find out.  

Assael writes a good story with extensive documentation.  Steroid Nation is a bit slow in the beginning, as the direction of the story seems to be a bit muddled.  But once I got about 50 pages in, I was completely hooked.  I know that steroids are a real problem in sports.  But after reading this book, I'm of the opinion that far more people are using than testing results would indicate.  And while the heads of sporting leagues (and even the fans) want to believe that there's not a problem, they also don't want to go back to the days when their stars looked normal, not "larger than life".

Steroid Nation will open your eyes to the true nature and extent of the problem, as well as the hypocrisy of those who would want you to believe that they are eradicating steroids and winning the war.

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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