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

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"Trial run" on the next phase of our life...

Category Everything Else
This has been a somewhat strange week...  Ian, as you probably know if you're a regular reader, is working at an internship at DisneyWorld until June.  Cam, our 18 year old, left for Orlando on Monday to spend a week down there visiting his brother.  He hasn't made the last couple of Disney trips with us, and I guess he felt like he was missing out.  So from Monday night until next Tuesday, it's just me and the missus (and the two cats)...

Very strange...

The dishes actually stay in the kitchen (instead of half the kitchen ending up in Cam's room).  The trash doesn't fill up nearly as often.  No thumping down the stairs at all hours of the day or night.

And I know where the remote is at all times now!  :)


Book Review - Hockey: A People's History by Michael McKinley

Category Book Reviews
If you're a hockey fan with an appreciation for the history of the game, *this* is the book you need to read...  Hockey: A People's History by Michael McKinley.  This both entertained and educated me, and brought the history of hockey alive in a way I've never seen it before.

Contents: Prologue; The Temple and the Chalice; Gold After Silver; Blood and Champagne; The Dustbowl Dream; A Cool Medium; Us and Them; The Soul of a Nation; Hope and Betrayal; The Winter of Our Discontent; Reclaiming the Game; Acknowledgements; Index

This is a coffee-table companion book to a CBC series of the same name.  Not living in Canada, I can't say I've seen the series.  But if it's anything like the book, it must be outstanding.  McKinley goes back to the beginning of the game we know as hockey, back to 1875 when the first game was played in Montreal.  Many other variations of the game existed before then, but generally speaking, this is when the game started in its modern form.  Lavishly illustrated, he works his way up through time, from the birth of the Stanley Cup to the lockout season of 2004-2005.  In between, you learn about the great names of the sport who often are just names attached to trophies unless you know the history...  Hobie Baker, Frank Calder, Conn Smythe, and many others.  The stories of teams put together to challenge for the Stanley Cup, back in the day when it was up for grabs to just about anyone.  There's even coverage of the Portland Rosebuds, who challenged the Montreal Canadiens in 1916.  Junior and women's hockey also figure prominently in the story, so whatever your particular interest niche is for the game, you'll find it in here.  

I remember a few years back when my kids attended a hockey camp in Penticton, British Columbia.  The final day included a game played in the city arena that was home to the Penticton Vees.  It's an old-time barn, with plenty of memorabilia from years gone by.  But until I read this book, I didn't realize just how big a deal that team was.  That team went over to Germany in 1955 and beat the Russian team for the World Championships, and was the toast of Canada in the midst of the Cold War tension of the time.  Walking through the arena, you could almost feel the ghosts of history, the thousands of games that had been played there.  It's hard to explain, but hockey in Canada is more than just a sport, it's a national identity and obsession.  

I don't know that I've spent as much time lingering and savoring a book than I did this one.  It's a pleasure to read, and will add immensely to your understanding and respect of the game.


Book Review - The Relationship Edge by Jerry Acuff with Wally Wood

Category Book Reviews
It's often been said that successful selling depends on the relationships you have.  I never really thought much about what that meant until I read The Relationship Edge: The Key to Strategic Influence and Selling Success by Jerry Acuff with Wally Wood.  Building relationships because you truly like and care about others can have some far-reaching ramifications in your personal and professional life.

Contents: Climbing the Relationship Pyramid; What Strong Relationships Require; Twenty Questions; Good Questions Promote Meaningful Dialogue; It's a Small World After All; It's Not What You Know - It's What You Do; Why You Ought to Map Your Relationships; Pyramid Hopping for Fun and Profit; Build Respect, Set Goals; and Maintain Relationships; And What If You're the Boss?; Notes; Index

It was tempting to go into this book with a somewhat cynical attitude.  "If I pretend I have lots in common with this person, I can sell them anything!"  But that's not what we're talking about here.  It's a conscious effort to learn about the person on the other side of the table...  What interests them?  What makes them tick?  It's these type of questions and concerns that make up the core "20 questions" that the authors recommend you focus on.  It's not a matter of walking in with a checklist, asking them each question in rapid-fire order just to record the answers.  Rather, it's a way to move beyond the "will you buy" position to one of understanding, respect, and potentially friendship.  As a seller, you rank somewhere on the relationship pyramid with your customer:  people who don't know me by name, people who know me by name, people who like me, people who are friendly with me, people who respect me, and people who value a relationship with me.  The higher you are on that pyramid, the less selling that goes on because you already have established a foundation of trust with that person.  

They also introduce the concept of "pyramid hopping".  This is a way to leverage your relationship with one person to immediately move higher on someone else's pyramid.  For instance, you may know someone who I'm interested in meeting for some reason.  If you have a good relationship with that person and introduce me, then I immediately move higher up on that new person's relationship pyramid.  So instead of being just one nameless face trying to get attention, you've moved up the pyramid based on the relationship that your friend has with that person.  It's different than networking, which is just a matter of trying to get your name out there.  It's more a case of specifically asking for introduction and contacts based on the relationships you have.  A very powerful concept...

If you're serious about building your professional contacts, this is an excellent book to get you headed in the right direction for the right reasons...


Book Review - The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

Category Book Reviews
This book looked like a good idea when I picked it up...  The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer.  But promise and execution turned out to be two different things.

The story revolves around a presidential aid, Wes Holloway, whose life is forever altered in an assassination attempt.  A colleague, Ron Boyle, is killed in the shooting, and Holloway blames himself for putting him in the limousine with the president in the first place.  Holloway ends up disfigured from a bullet wound to the face, but he recovers and continues working for the president after he loses his re-election bid.  During an overseas trip with the president, Holloway stumbles across someone who looks to be Boyle.  When he starts to question whether Boyle's death actually occurred, a number of unknown parties start to get very interested in Holloway and his possible connection to whether Boyle is still out there somewhere.  The assassin, a real lunatic who's been locked up in a psychiatric ward for years, is able to escape and appears to be working his way back to Holloway and the president.  But is there a connection to Boyle at the same time?  And is it possible to tell who can be trusted and who can't be in the president's inner circle of advisors, both then and now?

The cover of the book and the jacket make this sound like a Dan Brown conspiracy novel, complete with hidden clues and secret Masonic members throughout history.  But at least for me, that whole part of the story never really tied into the action.  Yes, there is a conspiracy thread going on, but it seemed to be far more pedestrian and "normal" than what the cover led me to expect.  I also kept waiting to find out *why* I should care if Boyle was dead or not, and that was a long time coming.  If I wasn't so compulsive about finishing a book once I started it, I might have returned this one to the library unfinished.  Not that it's necessarily a bad read, but at 510 pages there was too much promise and too little delivery to drive a book of this length.

I've read other titles by Meltzer, and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another one.  But this one sure didn't meet my expectations...


Book Review - The Blogging Church by Brian Bailey with Terry Storch

Category Book Reviews
This book is an excellent example of blogging for a specific reason...  The Blogging Church: Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs by Brian Bailey with Terry Storch.  I had never really considered blogging in the context of the local church, but now I can't imagine why a church wouldn't add this to their ministry outreach...

Contents: The Story of Blogging; Why Blog?; Five Questions with Mark Driscoll; Share News; Cast Vision; Five Questions with Perry Noble; Reach Out; Connect Your Staff; Five Questions with Craig Groeschel; Learn from Others; Spread the Word; Five Questions with Church Marketing Sucks; Get Started; Build a Better Blog; Five Questions with Tony Morgan; Build a Really Bad Blog; Feed Your Head - RSS; Five Questions with Greg Surratt; Podcasting; Warning Labels; Five Questions with Mark Batterson; Built to Last; The One Thing; Notes Acknowledgments; The Authors; Index

Most blogging books tend to deal with the general concepts of blogging as well as the mechanics of how to set one up.  This is one of the few books that looks at blogging in a specific context, the church, and examines how it can help tell the story of who you are and what you stand for.  For those who are already part of your local congregation, the blog can serve as a way to maintain a conversation outside of the normal Sunday worship experience.  But more importantly, the blog can allow those outside your reach to approach you on their terms.  The blog is a way to put a personal voice and face behind the building and institution, as well as a way to break down the mis- and preconceptions that many have about churches in general.  And considering this can be done at little to no cost, there's no reason to seriously consider it as your next ministry outreach.

An additional value of this book is the wealth of practical advice you'll find here.  Since this is written by a pair of authors who have "been there, done that", you gain their experience and insight to help you avoid the potholes and landmines.  There are also a number of interviews with other church bloggers, again reinforcing the practical nature of the book.  The authors have had numerous interactions with A-list bloggers such as Robert Scoble and Kathy Sierra, so if you think these guys aren't plugged in to the leading edge of the blogging world in general, think again.  

This is an extremely well-written book, with far-reaching implications to your ministry.  For anyone who is serious about using every available means to extend your outreach, this is a must-read book.


Book Review - You Can Hear Me Now by Nicholas P. Sullivan

Category Book Reviews
To the typical American (and other developed nation citizens), the cell phone has become part of the normal fabric of life.  Communication with anyone at any time from anywhere is just expected.  But in countries like Bangladesh, only a very small number of people have access to any type of telephone communication.  The book You Can Hear Me Now: How Microloans and Cell Phones are Connecting the World's Poor to the Global Economy by Nicholas P. Sullivan does an excellent job of showing how something as simple as the cell phone can break the cycle of poverty and aid for millions of people.

Part 1 - The GrameenPhone Story: Connectivity Is Productivity; Dish-Wallahs of Delhi (and Other Early Models); Cell Phone as Cow - A New Paradigm in Search of Investors; On The Money Trail in Scandinavia; Building a Company; Building a Network
Part 2 - Transformation Through Technology: Wildfile at the Bottom of the Pyramid; Cell Phone as Wallet; Wealth Creation and Rural Income Opportunities; Beyond Phones - In Search of a New "Cow"; Eyeing the Dhaka Stock Exchange
Epilogue; Notes; Resources; Index

The book is split into two parts.  The first part covers the story of GrameenPhone's launch in Bangladesh, and the second part is more of a look at the forces behind using technology at the "bottom of the pyramid" (the vast number of people who globally live at poverty level) to connect them to the world's trade economy.  Iqbal Quadir was a Bangladeshi who studied and worked in the US and was doing quite well.  But he was also concerned about the massive levels of poverty in his home country.  Once day he was standing on the street and had an epiphany about communication equaling productivity.  His people worked hard, but they had no way to reliably communicate with others except by face to face meetings.  All that wasted time meant there was untapped potential just waiting to be utilized.  He started talking with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank (originator of microloan programs) to see how communication technology could be rolled out to the entire country, making a phone available to anyone near a village.  Without government aids and grants, Quadir put together a consortium of foreign investors and Grameen Bank to build GrameenPhone, a life-altering company.  Using a fiber-optic line already laid next to the country's rail line, they were able to place cell towers in areas to cover all the rural areas of Bangladesh.  Then using microloans from Grameen Bank, "phone ladies" could buy a cell phone for the village, offer the phone service, and sell the time in small increments.  The cell phone gave a business to the village, in addition to creating subsidiary jobs and opportunities with the communication that was enabled by having phone service throughout the country.  It's this use of technology that's advocated in the second part of the book as an example of how business opportunities can remove the grip of poverty from nations and lead to living wages instead of handouts.

You Can Hear Me Now is an inspirational book with plenty of lessons for those who are willing to look outside the normal constraints of what we consider business opportunities.


So what happens when you're "freak of nature" Nathan T. Freeman and you...

Category IBM/Lotus
... come up with a really cool technique involving rounded corners?

(6:56:08 PM) caveatemptor27: I think I might have officially dug the hole too deep :)
(6:56:22 PM) caveatemptor27: now I'm getting online DARES
(6:56:49 PM)
caveatemptor27: "oh yeah... well cant you make a box that had a f'ing PICTURE.... oooooh.. yeah... whatever... f'n poser"
(6:56:58 PM)
caveatemptor27: I love this industry :)
(6:59:07 PM)
caveatemptor27: (note to potential viewers: I have consumed > 1 bottle of chardonnay tonight)
(6:59:12 PM)
caveatemptor27: ahahaha
(6:59:55 PM)
caveatemptor27: the world is permitted to know that I'm creative when intoxicated.... if it's good enough for Poe ad Colleridge, it's good enough for me :)
(7:00:11 PM)
TWDuff: Keep digging...
(7:00:14 PM)
caveatemptor27: (even not spelling "and" correctly)
(7:00:17 PM)
caveatemptor27: :)

But seriously, Nathan's done some amazingly cool things with Notes client design.  Go check it out if you haven't already...


Book Review - J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2007: For Preparing Your 2006 Tax Return

Category Book Reviews
So this year I decided to venture back into do-it-yourself tax preparation.  Armed with TurboTax and J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2007: For Preparing Your 2006 Tax Return, things went really well.  If there's anything you need to know about preparing your taxes, you'll be able to find it somewhere in these 800+ pages...

Filing Basics: Filing Status
Reporting Your Income: Taxable Wages, Salary, and Other Compensation; Fringe Benefits; Dividend and Interest Income; Reporting Property Sales; Tax-Free Exchanges of Property; Retirement and Annuity Income; IRAs; Income From Rent and Royalties; Loss Restrictions - Passive Activities and At-Risk Limits; Other Income
Claiming Deductions: Deductions Allowed in Figuring Adjusted Gross Income; Claiming the Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions; Charitable Contribution Deductions; Itemized Deduction for Interest Expenses; Deduction for Taxes; Medical and Dental Expense Deductions; Casualty and Theft Losses and Involuntary Conversions; Deducting Job Costs and Other Miscellaneous Expenses; Travel and Entertainment Expense Deduction; Personal Exemptions
Personal Tax Computations: Figuring Your Regular Income Tax Liability; Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT); Computing the "Kiddie Tax" for Children Under Age 18; Personal Tax Credits Reduce Your Tax Liability; Tax Withholdings; Estimated Tax Payments
Tax Planning: Tax Planning Overview; Tax Savings for Residence Sales; Tax Savings for Investors in Securities; Tax Savings for Investors in Real Estate; Tax Pointers for Investors in Mutual Funds; Educational Tax Benefits; Special Tax Rules for Senior Citizens; Members of the Armed Forces; How To Treat Foreign Earned Income; Planning Alimony and Marital Settlements; Household Employment Taxes ("Nanny Tax"); Gift and Estate Tax Planning
Business Tax Planning: Income or Loss From Your Business or Profession; Retirement Plans for Self-Employed; Claiming Depreciation Deductions; Deducting Car and Truck Expenses; Sales of Business Property; Figuring Self-Employment Tax
Filing Your Return And What Happens After You File: Filing Your Return; Filing Refund Claims, and Amended Returns; If the IRS Examines Your Return
Sample 2006 Tax Forms and Tables; Glossary; Index

Tax preparation isn't fun, and the thought of having to work through an 800 page book to do so isn't appealing.  But the layout of the book makes it easy to focus on the areas where you need help.  Each section has a number of example situations where you can see the rules as they pertain to a real-life scenario.  There are also a number of sidebars (law alerts, planning reminders, cautions, etc.) that are extremely valuable in determining exactly how the legal interpretation of the tax situation plays out.  I also appreciate the numerous legal case examples where the IRS ruled one way and the Tax Court overturned the decision.  It makes it apparently that an IRS decision does not necessarily mean that you have no other recourse.  

This would be a recommended book to have by your side if you're doing anything more than a short-form filing.  It will answer the questions behind what or if something is deductible or not, as well as helping you get a head-start on next year's "festivities"...


OK... The Irish User Group Meeting (ILUG) 2007 site is now ready for business!

Category Irish User Group Meeting
Here's the link:  http://www.ilug2007.org/ilug2007.nsf

This is where you'll find the list of speakers and topics, as well as the registration details.  Just to reiterate...  Cost to you, the attendee?  Nothing (as in FREE).

If you've been looking for that conference that won't herd you around like cattle or have you lost in the crowd, this is it.  The smaller venue and limited attendance guarantees you access to the speakers and fellow attendees, with plenty of time and activities to pick the minds of some of the brightest people in the Notes/Domino community.

If you're interested in coming (or going) over, check out the site for details.  Register now, as there are limited spaces available.  You really don't want to miss this one...


Book Review - Knots and Splices by Steve Judkins and Tim Davison

Category Book Reviews
I wasn't a Boy Scout growing up, nor did I do anything that required more than basic "tie your shoe" knowledge.  But I've always been impressed when I watch sailors quickly and intuitively tie intricate knots that have specific uses.  When I ran across the book Knots & Splices by Steve Judkins and Tim Davison, I wondered if it was possible to become somewhat more coordinated in this area.  The answer is, yes I can!

Terms; Tools of the trade; Choosing a rope
Ten Knots Everyone Should Know: Round turn & two half hitches; Clove hitch; Figure of eight; Reef knot; Bowline; Bowline on a bight; Sheet bend; Double sheet bend; Fisherman's bend/Anchor hitch; Rolling hitch
Other Useful Knots: Carrick bend; Sheepshank; Constrictor knot; Buntline hitch; Surgeon's knot; Alpine butterfly bend; Fisherman's knot/Englishman's knot; Cow hitch; Cow hitch round turn and Prusik knot; Timber hitch; Marlinespike hitch; Man harness knot/Artillery loop; Trucker's hitch/Dolly knot; Marling hitches; Coiling a rope; Turk's head
Splices & Whipping: Eye splice; Short splice; Eye in braid-on-braid rope; Eye in braid-on-3-strand rope; Common whipping; Sailmaker's whipping; Eat sealing the end of a synthetic rope

This is a really small book (64 pages), but the illustrations are clear and easy to follow.  For single rope knots, the illustrations are big enough to follow the trail of the rope through each step.  And on two-rope knots, the authors use different colored rope drawings to make it very easy to see what parts belong to which ropes.  There are also small side notes that let the reader know which knots are easy or hard to undo, as well as which knots might fail under certain conditions.  Using that information, you should be equipped with everything you need to decide whether or not a bowline would be a better choice than a rolling hitch for your particular needs.

An excellent little book, perfectly designed to address the topic...


Book Review - Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Category Book Reviews
It's been awhile since I had the pleasure to venture into Carl Hiaasen's world.  His latest work, Nature Girl, is as strange and wacky as his other novels, but it didn't seem to have quite the edge that I've come to expect...

Normally I try and put a bit of a plot synopsis in the review, but doing that on a Hiaasen novel makes you look as if you're experimenting with drugs.  :)  One of the overriding plotlines involves Honey Santana trying to teach a telemarketer some respect and appreciation of life.  Santana, who has problems with hyper-focus and music in her head, lures the unsuspecting guy to Florida with an "eco-tour" spiel.  The reality is that she wants to get him isolated on an island out in the 'glades so that she can convince him to change his ways.  Pretty basic, but it's the surrounding cast of characters that liven up the mix.  There's Louis Piejack, Honey's former boss, who made unwelcome advances on her.  The net result of that was an encounter with crabs that lopped off his fingers.  The doctor messed up the reattachment surgery and the pinkie and thumb aren't in the right place.  He's still obsessed with Honey and will do anything to have her.  There's Sammy Tigertail, a Seminole who ends up with a dead tourist on his hands after an unfortunate encounter with a snake on a jet boat.  He ditches the body but determines that he really needs to disappear in the Everglades to avoid prosecution.  He ends up picking an island where two college couples are camped out, and one of the girls decides she wants to be Sammy's hostage.  Problem is, Sammy doesn't want or need one...  The telemarketer, Boyd Shreave, is a total loser who is having an affair with a co-worker who's trying to get rid of him.  He's married to a woman who is rich, knows he's having an affair, and wants a private investigator to get ever-more graphic evidence of the liaisons before she divorces him.  The investigator follows Boyd and his lover to Florida and Santana's eco-tour "vacation", where everyone (and that means *everyone*) ends up on the same island...  Dismal Key.  

From a recreational mind-candy perspective, I enjoyed the book.  The characters are so bizarre and crazy that you never quite know what's due to happen next.  What seemed to be missing here was the edginess of his prior work.  Hiaasen has a number of soapbox issues related to Florida that seem to appear in all his work...  anti-Disney, anti-development, pro-environment.  While I don't look for a moral in his books, and I definitely don't share his anti-Disney stance, I still appreciate his convictions and the way he weaves them into the story.  Nature Girl seemed to be a bit light on those elements, and the book lost a bit because of it.  But would I read the book again if given the chance to do it over?  Oh, yeah...  


Book Review - Private Label Strategy by Nirmalya Kumar and Jan-Benedict E. M. Steenkamp

Category Book Reviews
I always thought that store brands were just manufacturer brands that had different labels on them.  But Private Label Strategy: How to Meet the Store Brand Challenge by Nirmalya Kumar and Jan-Benedict E. M. Steenkamp opened my eyes to what exactly goes on in the world of private label branding.  And it definitely made my Saturday morning shopping trip more interesting today...

Contents: Brands Under Attack from Private Labels
Part 1 - Retailer Strategies Vis-a-Vis Private Labels: Competing on Price with Traditional Private Labels; Competing on Quality with Premium Store Brands; Competing for the Rational Consumer with Value Innovator Own Labels; Encircling Manufacturer Brands with Retailer Brand Portfolios; Creating Successful Private Labels Is About More Than Just Price; Maximizing Retailer Profitability Using Private Labels
Part 2 - Manufacturer Strategies Vis-a-Vis Private Labels: Produce Private Labels for Greater Profits; Partner Effectively to Craft Win-Win Relationships; Innovate Brilliantly to Beat Private Labels; Fight Selectively to Marshal Resources Against Private Labels; Create Winning Value Propositions for Manufacturer Brands; Are Brands Dead?; Retailer Facts
Notes; Index; About the Authors

As I mentioned in the opening, I never have given much thought to store brands except as a cheaper alternative of the same thing the brand name is selling.  But the authors point out there's a wide diversity in private label strategies.  There's the generic brand...  black and white labeling, low quality, cheap pricing.  Then there's the copycat brand...  Made to look nearly identical to the leading brand, only at a cheaper price.  It often even mentions the leading brand as a comparison point.  These copycat brands also encompass the store brands you often see throughout major chains.  Third on the list are premium store brands.  These are private labels with additional qualities (more flavor or ingredients) or features than the brand name.  These often sell for the same price or even slightly more than the leading brand due to their higher quality.  And finally there's the value innovators...  the labels that have redefined the product group with the best price/performance combination.  Think Ikea.  Obviously there is far more to private labeling that I imagined...

The first part of the book examines private labels from the point of view of the retailer; how they are positioned, the profit margin, and the power they provide over brand manufacturers.  The second part of the book focuses on the other side of the equation.  That would be what manufacturers can do to effectively compete against this situation.  The option to farm out excess capacity to make these lower-quality knock-offs is tempting, but can lead to lower profits and dependency on that income.  Often the best option is to partner with retailers to create a lower-priced branded option, or to innovate at a rate that prevents private labels from keeping up and copying the design.  It's a fascinating game of cat and mouse, and one that has a significant amount of money at stake.

When we went shopping this morning, I paid a lot more attention to store brands, product placement, and how the shelves were laid out.  I also spent more time analyzing prices between name and store brands, understanding how these forces work against each other.  Although the book is really targeted at manufacturers, the informed consumer will also learn quite a bit by reading it.  This was definitely an enjoyable and eye-opening read...


Book Review - Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich

Category Book Reviews
I'm a big fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.  So when I heard about Plum Lovin', I was a little confused.  Was Evanovich killing off the numbered title series?  Were we going off in a different direction?  Was this just a play on the series' popularity to eke out a bit more money?  Fortunately, all the answers are "no".  Subtitled as a "between-the-numbers" novel, it's a nice interlude to a full-on Plum adventure while keeping all the same insanity we've come to know and love...

Things are slow at the bail bond agency, and Stephanie doesn't have much to do.  That is, until Diesel shows up.  Diesel is another one of those mysterious men like Ranger (but different) who plays by a different set of rules, and has skills and abilities that aren't all too common.  Diesel has the only person (Annie) who is a big-ticket bail bond item currently outstanding, and Stephanie needs to bring her in.  But Diesel won't give her up unless Stephanie takes over the final five clients on Annie's list.  Annie's a matchmaker who tries to hook people up.  Desperate for the money, Stephanie agrees, and thus starts the fun.  Imagine Steph and Lulu dishing out relationship advice to people who aren't losers but are definite hard-sells.  But in the midst of all this, she finds out that others are looking for Annie, including someone with "unique" powers that you don't want to get close to.  All in all, it's a typical day in the life of the Jersey bounty hunter, complete with dogs, donuts, and unwanted physical attractions...

About the only thing I have against this book is the size.  At 164 pages, it didn't even last a whole day.  You could almost think of it as a larger short story or a ".5" installment in the series (both in series and size).  Other than that, it has everything that I come to expect in a Plum novel.  Ranger and Morelli are background here, so that Diesel can play a larger role.  But the rest of the family is present and accounted for, and everything else makes this a welcome addition to the series.  I don't know that I'd want to spend $17 to read it in less than a day, but as a library book it was great...  :)


If you're looking for a book author to speak to your user group meeting, here's an offer...

Category Everything Else
I received this email today, and I got David's permission to post and share here...

My name is David Platt. I've just published a book for computer users, entitled Why Software Sucks … and What You Can Do About It. It's not a how-to book; it's the world's first "why-you-shouldn't-have-to" book. "I was reading this on the train to Ottawa last week, and laughing so hard that the other passengers were all looking at me like I had three heads. This is the first time I've gotten real belly laughs from a computer book," said reviewer Shane Schick (audio at http://www.itbusiness.ca/OutLoud/11132006_platt.mp3). You can read a free sample chapter online at www.whysoftwaresucks.com.

I'm offering a free 1-hour presentation to any computer user group or book reading group that would like to feature it. All you need is 10 attendees at a meeting. The closer you are to Boston, or someplace else I'd like to be, such as Hawaii in February, the more likely I am to show up in person. Otherwise we can run any sort of remote link you like, from a simple speaker phone to Internet video. I promise you an enjoyable and rewarding evening.

The book has been featured in the online editions of such media as Fox News (
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,241578,00.html) PC Magazine, and the New York Times. I have been featured on a number of radio shows and podcasts, with excellent reviews. For example, I was on the syndicated show Let's Talk Computers (audio at http://www.lets-talk-computers.net/asx/2006/10_oct/10-21-06/102106a.asx ). Phil Windley interviewed me for his ITConversations show, http://www.itconversations.com/shows/detail1694.html.

If you're interested, feel free to contact him at newsl <at> rollthunder.com.

And just because someone will ask...  No, I haven't reviewed this book, and I'm not quite sure how it slipped under my radar.  I *do* have a copy being mailed to me now, however...  :)


If you want to see a scathing, satirical look at yesterday's MSFT news conference...

Category Microsoft
... head over to MSFTextrememakeover and read I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

An excellent analysis, and one that puts into words many of the unspoken impressions I've had about Microsoft:
  • Loss of focus by trying to go after every market niche
  • Still relying primarily on two products...  Windows and Office
  • Spending billions in markets (Xbox) with little chance of ever recouping that investment

Over the last year or so, I've had this "haven't I seen this before?" feeling about Microsoft when it comes to their financials.  Enron had this great financial picture, impressive growth numbers, and a compelling story.  All it lacked was transparent detail about how they got there.  When analysts questioned that, they were told, in effect, that they weren't smart enough to understand it, and that it was a trade secret.  The reality was that there was significant trouble brewing, and the attempts to cover it up were becoming increasingly desperate.  When it comes to Microsoft, no one questions where the dollars come from (can you say monopoly?).  But the company is chasing after more and more opportunities for the next "big hit", none seem to be transpiring, and the cash cows are starting to be introduced to the backyard barbecue grill.  When the analysts question the numbers and outlook, they're being given vague answers, contradictory statements, and vision with no substance.

I have to wonder if the big stock/company crisis for Microsoft is still to come...  The dollars will still be flowing in, but flat or negative growth will send the stock spiraling, leading to massive cuts, retrenchment, and general panic.


I'm finally doing regular backups with Carbonite...

Category Everything Else
I've been notoriously bad about backing up files.  I have a few CD backups of a select number of files I'd really miss if they were lost with a drive crash, but by and large I've been flying without a net.  So I was interested when I was contacted by BzzAgent about a promotion for an on-line backup service called Carbonite.  Bottom line, it works really well!

I run the Carbonite software on my computer, and the files/folders I designate get encrypted and backed up during slack times on my system.  No fuss, no bother, and I know I'll never have an issue with losing important files...  like my obsessive reading log.  :)  Once my free trial is up, I'll definitely become a paying customer.

If anyone is interested in trying this out, the following line was in one of the emails I got from BzzAgent...

And, if you haven't already, try Carbonite now by visiting http://www.carbonite.com/bzzagent. Remember that your friends can receive a 30-day trial by visiting the site and entering in the Offer Code "Bzz".

I don't get any deals or kickbacks for people signing up...  I just put it out there for anyone who is interested.


OK, everyone... time for some Red Bull 2 steaks!

Category Microsoft
From InteropTips: Microsoft Transporter Suite For Lotus Domino Release - On Valentine's Day !

Today we release the Microsoft Transporter Suite 2007 for Lotus Domino.  It is publically available for download at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/interopmigration/collaboration/default.mspx.  Customers, Partners and consultants can download the released product immediately and begin using these tools to transition from Domino to the Microsoft 2007 collaboration platform.

"begin using these tools to transition from Domino to the Microsoft 2007 collaboration platform"

Sorta screws up Gary's message of peaceful coexistence...  :)


Interesting take on the open standards war between IBM and Microsoft...

Category IBM/Lotus
From Microsoft Watch: Microsoft's 'Open' Debate Is Nothing of the Kind

Seems that Microsoft is having to defend on multiple fronts these days...

Behind Microsoft's rhetoric and FUD there is a clear effort to advocate proprietary interfaces that protect the monopoly.

Microsoft contends that OOXML is "open" because of licensing terms, Ecma certification and possible future ISO adoption. In a recent conversation, Jean Paoli, Microsoft's general manager for Interoperability and XML Architecture, applied another "open" definition, in that other vendors could and would adopt OOXML, also making the format available on other platforms.

Paoli could be right someday, but that's not the case today. OOXML is closely tied to Office (arguably a monopoly product), which is closely aligned with Windows (a monopoly product as determined by US courts). From that perspective, at least some of Microsoft's position about open standards is nothing more than pure FUD.

"Open" is a term Microsoft defines for its own benefit. Microsoft also creates FUD around the definition of "choice." From today's letter:

    "[IBM's] campaign to stop even the consideration of Open XML in ISO/IEC JTC1 is a blatant attempt to use the standards process to limit choice in the marketplace for ulterior commercial motives--and without regard for the negative impact on consumer choice and technological innovation. It is not a coincidence that IBM's Lotus Notes product, which IBM is actively promoting in the marketplace, fails to support the Open XML international standard."

Microsoft's contention about "choice" is hallow. This is the same company that used marketing about choice to combat Apple's iPod and iTunes in 2004 and 2005. Strange, since kicking loose its PlaysForSure partners and releasing Zune and the Zune Marketplace, Microsoft is no longer talking about choice--even though its directional change limits the choice previously advocated about music services and devices. Microsoft's "choice" included a proprietary interface, Windows Media Audio, tied to its major monopoly product.

Microsoft's FUD about Lotus Notes has a ring of truth. IBM isn't backing Open XML, instead favoring ODF (OpenDocument Format). Microsoft accuses IBM of pushing back against Open XML for competitive reasons. But there is another explanation that is more plausible: IBM backs what it sees to be the more open of the two formats. ODF already has received ISO certification.

Microsoft fails to acknowledge that its products don't support ODF. Sure, at Microsoft behest several open-source companies created a single ODF wordprocessing translator for Open XML, but that is a long way from supporting ODF. If IBM is guilty of anything, Microsoft's format support position is little different.

While I don't expect that ODF will supplant OOXML for quite some time (if ever), I am starting to see that it's becoming a viable alternative for those who don't want to be tied into a single vendor's offerings and product schedule.  I can't blame Microsoft for wanting to offer up their specs as a standard, as it's becoming increasingly common to see government organizations opt for non-vendor-specific offerings.  And I think it's wise that IBM is trying to redefine the playing field rather than trying to fight the overwhelming numbers that Office currently has.

The times, they are a-changing...


Book Review - Hypnotic Writing by Joe Vitale

Category Book Reviews
As someone who does a bit of writing on the side, I was excited by the title of this book...  Hypnotic Writing: How to Seduce and Persuade Customers with Only Your Words by Joe Vitale.  I mean, who *wouldn't* want to have that type of effect on people?  While it's got some interesting tips, I didn't come away with the type of warm, fuzzy feeling that I expected, however...

Contents: It's Time to Awaken; Stop! Do This First; What Is Impossible?; A Disclaimer; A Beginning; Agatha Christie Proves Hypnotic Writing Exists; My Secret to Hypnotic Writing; You Can't Even Bribe Me to Read a Lousy Letter!; What Is Hypnotic Writing?; Hypnotic Writing: A Case Study; The Great Intimacy Secret; What's More Important Than Copy?; Hypnotic Writing Controlled Study; How I Learned the Secret of Hypnotic Writing; What Is Hypnosis?; Two Ways to Cause Action; What About Your Web Site?; How Long Is Too Long?; What Every Reader Wants to Know; The Hypnotic Power of Repetition; The Inner Game of Hypnotic Writing; Imitation Sugar Is Sweet, Too!; How to Jump-Start the Muse; How to Nail Your Reader's Attention; How to Make Your Writing Walk, Talk, and Breathe; Give Me Some Meat!; A Writing Lesson from the World's Greatest Hypnotist; Electrifying Tips for Creating Breakthrough Writing; A Case against Perfection; How to Persuade Readers to Your Side; Warp Speed Editing Secrets Worth Killing For; How to Make Your Writing Sexy; How People Think; How to Create Hypnotic Stories; How to Control the "Command Center" in Your Prospect's Mind; The One Hypnotic Command That Always Works; What I learned from The Sea Wolf; Your Turning Point Message; What Everyone Will Always Read; Your Connotation Is Showing; What Are My Secrets For Writing Hypnotic Selling Stories?; Hypnotic Blogging; Reminders as Triggers; How to Change Average Writing into Hypnotic Writing; 30 Ways to Write a Hypnotic Headline; Hypnotic Openings; Hypnotic Quiz; My Three Biggest Secrets; How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?; How to Change Perception; At Last! The Joe Vitale Hypnotic Writing Formula; A New Hypnotic Copy Checklist; The Five Secret Laws of Hypnotic Persuasion; The Seven Most Hypnotic Books of All Time; The Hypnotic Writing Formula; Your Challenge; Appendix - Hypnotic Emails; Bibliography; Index; About Dr. Joe Vitale; Bonus Offer

Now, for a 260 page book, that's a lot of chapters!  Each one is just a few pages in length and tries to stay focused on the small snippet that's suggested by the title.  There *is* a lot of good material in here on how to write compelling copy that catches and holds a reader's attention.  But I couldn't seem to get past a few things that tended to lessen what I expected to get out of the book.  For one, the whole "hypnotic" theme seems to get old after awhile.  I understand that's the hook, but after awhile it's a bit of a stretch to think of everything he does as hypnotic.  The other issue, and probably the bigger of the two, was that there was too much hype about what was to be revealed "in a few chapters" as well as the focus on his personal copy examples (which felt like thinly-veiled self-promotion pieces).  The chapters seemed to be random thoughts about the subject, but there was no apparent structure or direction that let me know where I was in the process.  It was as if the secret was to be revealed in the next few pages, only to find another promise of the secrets in a couple more chapters...  Once I finally got to the At Last! chapter, I had lost the cohesive thread to how this style of writing all fit together...  

Overall, this is a tough book for me to review and rate.  I think it's a great idea with a lot of merit.  I think it could have been done in fewer pages with a better structure, however.  But perhaps then it wouldn't have been as hypnotic...  :)


Book Review - Your Credit Score (2nd Edition) by Liz Pulliam Weston

Category Book Reviews
It's become pretty common lately to hear news stories about your "credit score."  But it's one of those things that is not well-understood, nor are the factors that feed into it.  This book cuts through all the confusion with clear explanations and great advice...  Your Credit Score: How to Fix, Improve, and Protect the 3-Digit Number that Shapes Your Financial Future (2nd Edition) by Liz Pulliam Weston.  A little knowledge can save you a ton of money and grief...

Contents: Why Your Credit Score Matters; How Credit Scoring Works; VantageScore - A Revolution or Just More of the Same?; Improving Your Score - The Right Way; Credit Scoring Myths; Coping with a Credit Crisis; Rebuilding Your Score After a Credit Disaster; Identity Theft and Your Credit; Emergency! Fixing Your Credit Score Fast; Insurance and Your Credit Score; Keeping Your Score Healthy; Index

Like it or not, credit bureaus have a large influence on what you pay for loans (and increasingly, insurance).  Weston starts by explaining how the whole credit rating concept evolved, as well as the significant players in the game.  She also explains how that credit score is used by banks and lenders to predict the likelihood of getting paid back.  The lower your score, the higher the probability of payment issues, and the higher the interest rate will be.  The book becomes *really* valuable when you start understanding the many myths behind credit scoring.  For instance, conventional wisdom says it's a good thing to close out credit card accounts you're not using any longer, thereby improving your credit score.  In reality, that action will usually hurt your score instead.  Or another example...  It's a good idea to have your credit company lower your limit to improve your score.  Wrong!  Part of the calculation of credit scoring is the ratio of used to available credit amounts.  If you lower your credit limit, that ratio goes up (provided you didn't pay down your balance), and your score goes down.  It's practical information such as this that makes the book so valuable and worthwhile.  Oh, and you wonder why your insurance rates are higher than your neighbors, all things appearing equal?  More and more insurance companies are following the controversial practice of charging higher premiums to people with lower scores.  Yet another reason to be on guard.

Ideally, you don't run up credit charges and you pay cash for everything.  Practically, society is geared towards being able to categorize people based on their credit history.  You can use this book to position yourself well for credit expectations without having to go against your principles if you don't want to become caught up in the credit craze.  This book should be required reading before getting your first credit card or loan...


Just added a Google News bar on the right side...

Category Blogging
... under my Google Ads area.  It's a dynamic block that pulls the latest news stores with Lotus Notes or Lotus Domino contained within.  A nice little offering from Google.

You can find out how it all works here: http://www.google.com/uds/solutions/newsbar/index.html


Looks interesting... QEDWiki

Category IBM/Lotus
From the Alphaworks site:  QEDWiki

QEDWiki is a browser-based assembly canvas used to create simple mash-ups. A mash-up maker is an assembly environment in which the creator of a mash-up uses software components (or services) made available by content providers. QEDWiki is a unique Wiki framework in that it provides both Web users and developers with a single Web application framework for hosting and developing a broad range of Web 2.0 applications. QEDWiki can be used for a wide variety of Web applications, including, but not limited to, the following:

    * Web content management for a typical collection of Wiki pages
    * traditional form processing for database-oriented CRUD (Create/Read/Update/Delete) applications
    * document-based collaboration
    * rich interactive applications that bind together disparate services
    * situational applications (or mash-ups).

QEDWiki also provides Web application developers with a flexible and extensible framework to enable do-it-yourself (DIY) rapid prototyping. Business users can quickly prototype and build ad hoc applications without depending on software engineers. QEDWiki provides mash-up enablers (programmers) with a framework for building reusable, tag-based commands. These commands (or widgets) can then be used by business users who wish to create their own Web applications.

Or...  from an IBM press release:

Businesses seeking an easy way to create useful “mashups” can get a free preview of IBM’s QEDWiki. Situational applications or “mashups” blend external information and web services -- news feeds, weather reports, maps, traffic conditions -- with internal content and services, instantly "mashing" them together. IBM is offering the preview on its alphaWorks site, allowing users to evaluate the technology in actual business situations and provide feedback.

Based on Web 2.0 technologies, QEDWiki provides a framework that uses information from the Web and wiki technology to allow people to create a customized application in less than five minutes.

For example, many businesses rely on weather conditions to plan their daily operations. QEDWiki can help a logistics manager plan the most efficient way to send rock salt, shovels and snow blowers to the Northeast to stock the store in time for a forecasted snow storm. By using the enterprise mashup maker, the manager can "drag and drop" weather reports, online maps and the company's national hardware inventory data into an application that will show which stores will be affected by the storm and which stores need inventory.
alphaWorks is IBM's online community that provides early adopters with access to new and emerging software technology from IBM research and development labs around the world.

"By offering QEDWiki on alphaWorks, IBM is enabling organizations to test drive the enterprise mashup technology and provide valuable feedback to help shape it for future use in the mainstream business arena," said Kathy Mandelstein, director of Worldwide Developer Programs for IBM.

What's encouraging to me is that this type of effort *is* going on at IBM, and will eventually filter into other products.  And with all the focus right now on Quickr and Connections, this is just one more sign that IBM is positioning themselves well for what is coming down the road...


Book Review - The Black Sun by James Twining

Category Book Reviews
Having read James Twining's Double Eagle when it first came out, I looked forward to his follow-up novel, The Black Sun.  While I didn't find it quite as riveting as his first novel, it was still a very good read with plenty of espionage and legends...

Tom Kirk, the former art thief from Double Eagle, is working within the bounds of the law now and minding his own business.  He's asked to look into the disappearance of a painting from a synagogue.  It's nothing special, but his former partner has pieced that together with a number of other thefts of works by the same artist.  Even then, Tom's not overly interested until other crimes start to intersect with the paintings, like severed arms and stolen Enigma machines.  These clues lead towards a secret society of German World War 2 leaders symbolized by the Black Sun emblem.  This group supposedly hid a train filled with gold in a mountain as the war came to an end, and now an unknown number of groups are racing to find the clues that will point to the exact location of the prize.  Tom's expertise in art and other darker skills has him on the leading edge of the hunt, but others are also using him to discover the correct trail.  And you can figure that the one who gets there first isn't going to leave many loose ends wandering around...

I found the story rather compelling, as all the historical elements (the Black Sun emblem, the gold train, the Amber Room, etc.) are real and have stories behind them.  Weaving this fictional tale into actual events causes it to come to life in a way many novels do not.  I don't think I liked the book quite as much as his first, as there was a lot more character development in the first one.  You could read these books in either order, but reading Double Eagle first will give you some background that you won't quite figure out here.  Even so, I'll be on the early list to read whatever his next novel is...


Book Review - Practical Subversion (2nd Edition) by Daniel Berlin and Garrett Rooney

Category Book Reviews
The version control system known as Subversion is quickly taking over the title of open source leader from the old standby, CVS.  If you already have some background knowledge in version control systems and you want to start using Subversion, the book Practical Subversion (Second Edition) by Daniel Berlin and Garrett Rooney would be a good way to transition yourself over...

Introducing Subversion; A Crash Course in Subversion; Repository Administration; Migrating from Other Version Control Systems; Advanced Apache Integration; Best Practices; Integrating Subversion with Other Tools; Using the Subversion APIs; Subversion Command Glossary; Subversion Compared to Other Version Control Systems; Index

Unlike some books that cover version control systems (either generally or one in particular), this one doesn't try and take you from ground zero to expert.  While there is some background material, the overall tone is one that assumes you are functionally literate on the subject and are particularly interested in Subversion.  While that might limit the potential audience a bit, it makes it much more focused and valuable for those who want to bypass entry level material.  The chapters cover both administrative and user-based functions, but tend to be a bit more heavy on the setup and administration end.  For something that could be a rather dry subject, the authors do a good job in keeping things moving forward and interesting.  I also found the chapter on version control system comparison to be valuable.  All systems are *not* the same, and there are some underlying structural differences that will have a significant impact on what does and doesn't convert over, should you choose to switch systems.

All in all, a good book on Subversion, and one that will get you started in the right direction.


Book Review - Smart Client Deployment with ClickOnce by Brian Noyes

Category Book Reviews
One of the reasons I chose to review Smart Client Deployment with ClickOnce: Deploying Windows Forms Applications with ClickOnce by Brian Noyes is that I had never heard of the ClickOnce technology.  After going through this book, I'm now aware of what ClickOnce is and what it does.  Noyes does a good job in covering a piece of software that can greatly simplify the life of a .NET developer...

Contents: Introduction to ClickOnce; Initial Deployment with ClickOnce; Automatic Application Updates; On-Demand Updates; Application and Data File Management; ClickOnce Security; Prerequisite Deployment with the Bootstrapper; Advanced ClickOnce Topics; ClickOnce Deployment of WPF Applications; Index

The "thick client" application is starting to make a resurgence on the desktop, but with it comes the problem of keeping the application up-to-date on possibly thousands of computers.  ClickOnce is Microsoft's answer to that.  As part of Visual Studio, ClickOnce packages an application for download and installation from the network.  Then as new versions of the software become available, the application will check the home directory to see if there's an update.  If so, the user has a choice (unless the developer mandates the update) to install the updates or wait until later.  Bottom line is that you get the increased functionality and features of a non-browser-based application without the deployment nightmares of large software suites (like Office).  Noyes starts off with an explanation of how ClickOnce works and what problems it solves, and then he dives into all the details of the software; how it works and how it can be configured to meet your particular requirements.  Because the book is more tool-focused than language-focused, it really doesn't matter whether you're using Visual Basic or C#.  Either type of application can use the ClickOnce technology.  I was impressed at the integration with Visual Studio, and he definitely sold me on the necessity of utilizing software such as this.  This was also good background material for me, as the software platform I work on will be going to this type of deployment scenario soon.  I'll have a much better idea of how it all should function after reading this book...


Book Review - Microsoft SharePoint 2003 For Dummies by Vanessa Williams

Category Book Reviews
I've often said that a good Dummies book allows me to get a broad understanding of a product or technology so I "know what I don't know".  This title is a classic example of that...  Microsoft SharePoint 2003 For Dummies by Vanessa Williams.  It's a non-threatening use-focused coverage of SharePoint 2003 that is a good introduction to the topic at hand...

Part 1 - Getting the Lay of the Land: Getting to Know SharePoint; Starting with the Basics
Part 2 - Central Portal Administration: Configuring the Portal; Accessing SharePoint
Part 3 - Portal Design: Matching SharePoint to Your Business; Managing Portal Content; Branding the Portal
Part 4 - Build It, and Hope They Come: Collaborating with SharePoint Sites; Document Libraries;
Part 5 - Power to the People - Engaging Employees with SharePoint: Managing Employee Relations; Mixing Up Your Marketing Mix
Part 6 - Throw Away the Spreadsheets: Expense Reports; Technical Uses for SharePoint
Part 7 - Maintenance: Monitoring SharePoint; Backup and Restore
Part 8 - The Part of Tens: Ten Ways SharePoint Adds Business Value; Ten Ways to Screw Up SharePoint

Williams goes after two different audiences here, and I'm surprised she pulled it off.  She targets the average power user who might have access to build a site on the SharePoint server.  With this book in hand, I would agree that a motivated person could do quite well on their own.  She also targets tech people who want an overview of SharePoint so that they can get started quickly.  Normally you can't mix those two groups and come out with something that's acceptable to either.  Again, I think she actually succeeded.  If I were going to start building SharePoint sites for a user base, I'd have enough information here to get started with an adequate mental framework of how it all fits.  I'm sure I'd quickly need the "1000 page book" (as she puts it) to start pushing the boundaries of what's possible.  But for basic "I need something now" sites, I could do it with the help of this book.

I was also impressed that she dealt with the cultural issue of collaboration software.  As a long-time Notes/Domino developer, I know and understand all too well that collaboration isn't something you can mandate or force on people.  People who get it will gravitate around the software right away.  Those who view information as power will horde it and refuse to participate.  And it doesn't matter how good of a developer you are or how slick the site is.  The application will fail...  By addressing these issues, Williams sets a realistic picture of what to expect if and when you install SharePoint.

Good material, and a good way to get your feet wet on SharePoint 2003...


Book Review - Beer School by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter

Category Book Reviews
Just from a title perspective, this book was too good to pass up...  Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter.  But even better, the book delivers the goods on a number of levels.  One of the most enjoyable business book reads I've had in awhile...

Contents: Steve Tells How Choosing a Partner Is Like a Second Marriage; Steve Discusses the Importance of Building a Solid Team; Tom Talks about Creating the Business Plan - A Money-Raising Tool and More; Tom Asks, "What's the True Mission of the Business?"; Steve Discusses the Keys to Successfully Motivating Employees; Tom Tells the Story of Their Dot-Com Revolution - Fishing for Finance and Failing; Steve Talks about Building a Brewery in Brooklyn; Steve Discusses Publicity - The Press Wants You!; Steve Reveals How the Revolution Kills Its Leaders First; Tom Talks about Cashing Out and Reinventing the Business, Again; Tom Wants to Know If You Have What It Takes; Timeline; Index

Hindy was a foreign correspondent for a news agency, and Potter was an executive at a bank, but both felt as if they wanted to do something different in their lives.  Their love of home-brew beer gave Hindy the idea of starting a brewery in their hometown of Brooklyn, a city rich with brewery history.  Potter was less convinced about the whole project until he visited a homebrewer's convention in 1986.  This was right at the start of the microbrew phenomenon, and they decided to seriously pursue their dream.  The book chronicles their work from 1986 through 2005, while also distilling what they learned about entrepreneurship along the way.  And since this is beer "school", each chapter ends with them giving themselves a grade on how they did in that particular area.  Unlike many business books that make the principals all-knowning and omniscient, Hindy and Potter are brutally honest about what worked and what didn't, where they were skillful and where they got lucky.  It's a fascinating read, both for the brewery story and for the business insights.

There aren't too many business books with stories about being robbed at gunpoint of $30000, visiting a metal fencing operation to get a fork-lift battery charger back, and getting a visit from organized crime and union leadership, intent on getting a piece of their business.  Even if you dropped the business lessons, the narrative of the Brooklyn Brewery would be enough to make this a recommended read.  When you add in the small business information, this becomes a must-read for anyone dreaming of starting their own business.  And if you're already interested in homebrewing or microbrews, then this book will probably end up being read in a single sitting.  

An excellent read on a number of levels...


Book Review - Installing and Administering the Sametime Gateway by Chris Miller

Category Book Reviews
This is the perfect subject niche for self-publishing.  Chris Miller has taken his extensive experience in working with the Sametime Gateway product and packaged it up into a "consultant in your pocket" format.  The result is the book Installing and Administrating the Sametime Gateway (A Consultant In Your Pocket Guide).  If you are planning to install this product, I'd strongly advise you take a look at this book before you get started.  It'll save you a lot of wear and tear on your emotions and sanity.

Introduction; Gathering the Required Components;  Facing the Installation; Configuring LDAP and Security; Connecting Servers and the Sametime Gateway; Deploying the Sametime Gateway to Users; Administering the Sametime Gateway; Placing the Gateway in Your Network; References

First, full disclosure...  I served as a second set of eyes on this project.  No, I'm not a Sametime administrator by any stretch of the imagination.  But I was able to go through, ask a few questions to clarify points, and do a little clean-up work.  I won't pretend to be the most qualified person to discuss the detailed contents of the book.  But I *can* tell you this...  Chris lives this stuff day in and day out.  I can't think of too many other people who have the level of hands-on knowledge of the product that he has, and he tells you up front what works and what doesn't.  Since he doesn't work for IBM, you won't get the documentation regurgitated to you, either.  The book takes you through the planning, installation, configuration, and implementation phase of the product, and with this book close at hand, you'll maximize your chances of getting it right far quicker than you otherwise might expect.

This book has also made me rethink the self-publishing niche.  I always imagined self-publishing to be something that bad writers resorted to when no one else would publish their work.  But the reality is, of course, far different.  A subject like the Sametime Gateway doesn't (yet?) warrant a full book treatment due to the limited audience.  But that doesn't mean that there isn't a niche readership out there.  Self-publishing via Lulu.com allows a technical expert such as Chris to share his insight without trying to fill up 300 pages with fluff and filler.  It also allows him to earn compensation for sharing that knowledge.  No amount of promotion by a large publisher would make this book or subject a profitable project for them.  But the self-publishing model allows you to target your audience with your own style of promotion, and you gain a *far* larger cut of the sales profit than you would otherwise.  Generally, everyone wins here.  The author gets paid and the reader gets targeted experience for a relatively inexpensive cost.

If I tried to rate this against the quality of a book from a regular publishing house, there'd be a noticeable difference.  But given the target audience, the cost, and Chris's writing style, this book works really well.  I'd love to see more Notes/Domino developers and admins package their unique knowledge in a format such as this.  Good job, Chris!


Paul promised you an incredible line-up for ILUG 2007, and here it is...

Category Irish User Group Meeting
Irish User Group Meeting speaker lineup

And we're still three months out...  Two full days of access to these people, all with a registration fee of zero.

0 quid, 0 dollars, 0 pounds, 0 lira, 0 marks, etc...  you get the idea...

To even be listed in that group is an honor.  I'm *so* looking forward to this...


The reason we should take analyst reports with a (large) grain of salt...

Category Software Development
From InformationWeek:  Microsoft Exec Wanted To Mask Linux Report Sponsorship, E-Mails Reveal

I think all of us understand that the relationship between software vendors and industry analysts is not exactly a role model for integrity.  If it's not a personal issue between a vendor and an analyst, it's "buying" an opinion.  There's a lot behind that phrase "sponsored by"...

In the above article, I found the following piece towards the bottom rather revealing...

The court evidence also gives a peek into the relationships large vendors like Microsoft have with research firms. In a different Nov. 3, 2002, message, Houston said that the company had been unable to convince any other major research company to do the TCO study, and specifically mentioned Gartner as one that turned down Microsoft's request.

"We approached Gartner about doing this study and they declined," said Houston. "They said it was because they didn't know that their model for TCO would work well with Linux. I privately wonder if they want to take on this debate."

And the month before, Houston wrote Johnson a message that intimated pressure had been put on IDC to tweak the report so it would put Microsoft in a better light. "I hate to put it like this, but at this point, IDC is done negotiating with us. We have moved them quite a bit already, but they are now holding the line, saying that if we want the names of their 'big' analysts on the report, this is it."

"if we want the names of their 'big' analysts on the report"...  This sounds like "we'll lie for you, but if you want us to lie convincingly, it'll cost you even more."

This doesn't reflect well on either party.  I would love to see a "code of conduct" for industry analysts, or some sort of disclosure guideline that would allow everyone to know where the money is coming from up front.


Book Review - Java and XML (3rd Edition) by Brett D. McLaughlin and Justin Edelson

Category Book Reviews
Being able to work effectively with XML is getting to be nearly a requirement for a Java developer.  The book Java and XML (3rd Edition) by Brett D. McLaughlin and Justin Edelson focuses specifically on the relationship between those two technologies, as well as what options are available for parsing an XML file.

Introduction; Constraints; SAX; Advanced SAX; DOM; DOM Modules; JAXP; Pull Parsing with StAX; JDOM; dom4j; Data Binding with JAXB; Content Syndication with RSS; XML As Presentation; Looking Forward; Appendix - SAX Features and Properties; Index

SAX and DOM parsers have entirely different approaches and uses when it comes to reading an XML file.  The book does a good job of explaining those differences, as well as showing coding examples of how those parsing routines would look in Java.  The additional coverage of lesser-known parsers like StAX is also appreciated, as you may not always have the choice of which methodology and API you'd like to use.  I felt that the combination of code samples and diagrams of hierarchies was done well, and anyone with a good background with Java and XML would have no problem going forward from here.  The only part of the book I felt could have been left out, strangely enough, was the introduction and constraints chapter.  The book is not a complete introduction to either Java or XML (nor did I expect it to be).  If you come in with the prerequisite knowledge I think you'd need, the first two chapters are unnecessary.  And if you come in as a complete beginner to both subjects, the chapters don't go into nearly enough detail for you to proceed.  While it seems "proper" to have introductory material in a book, in this case I think you could have left those out entirely and just jumped right in to the parser material.

Nitpicking on the first two chapters aside, this is definitely a book that the Java/XML developer will find useful.  Most of what you'll need to know can be found here...


Book Review - Skype for Dummies by Loren and Susan Abdulezer and Howard Dammond

Category Book Reviews
Skype is one of those applications that has completely rewritten the rules of an industry.  No more does the phone company hold sway over who you can and can't communicate with, as well as how much it is going to cost you.  Skype for Dummies by Loren & Susan Abdulezer and Howard Dammond gives an excellent guide to the product, as well as to many of the add-ons that regular users may not be aware of...

Part 1 - Getting Started with Skype: What's All the Hoopla about Skype?; Hooking Up with Skype; Getting Familiar with Skype's Interface
Part 2 - As You Like It - Skype Your Way: Customizing Skype Options to Suit Your Style; Getting Personal; The Mad Chatter; Skyping Eye to Eye - Skype with Video; The Ins and Outs of SkypeIn and SkypeOut
Part 3 - Calling All Seasoned Skypers: Managing Your Messages; Partying On - On the Conference Line!; Spicing Things Up with Great Gadgets and Add-Ons
Part 4 - The Professional Skyper: "Skypifying" Your Business; Exploring Skype Communities; Skypecasting
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten Reasons Your Mom (and Other Family) Will Love Skype; (Almost) Ten Ways to Promote Your Business Using Skype; Ten Ways to Use Skype at School
Appendix A: Skype Multilanguage Support; Appendix B: Skype Tips and Tricks Guide; Index

For the person who has never used Skype and doesn't know about VoIP telephony, this is a perfect, non-threatening introduction.  There's enough background on why Skype is important and how it works without descending into complete geek-speak.  The authors take you through download, installation, configuration, and your first call.  If that's all it did, the book would be OK for a certain target audience, but fortunately it goes beyond that.  For people beyond the basics, you'll find out about conference calling as well as other third-party add-ons to the Skype product.  For instance, Pamela is an add-on that record calls, remind you of personal details about the person you're calling, and various other nice items.  I downloaded and installed it, and it's a nice addition.  I also didn't know about designing your own avatar for viewing on Skype.  Granted, avatars are not exactly mission-critical, must-have features, but it was fun to do and would have remained hidden to me without a book such as this bringing it to my attention.

My particular occupation (software development) and profession keeps me in regular contact with friends all over the world.  Without Skype, I'd be restricted to email or instant messages.  Reading this book has reinforced the need to keep my headset plugged in and nearby for incoming Skype calls.  It's also motivated me to check out getting a webcam for video chatting.  That will shrink my world even further.  Yes, I could find out about all this stuff in Skype without reading a book.  But having Skype for Dummies at hand made it much easier to review what I didn't know about the software, as well as tweaking my work setup to take better advantage of it.

Good book, and definitely recommended for those who want to talk to people all over the world without it costing an arm and a leg...


Book Review - Facing Your Giants by Max Lucado

Category Book Reviews
No one more literally faced a giant in their life than when David met Goliath on the battlefield.  Using that picture and illustrations from the life of David, Max Lucado talks about conquering your own giants in the book Facing Your Giants: The God Who Made a Miracle Out of David Stands Ready to Make One Out of You.  It's an excellent read, and highly inspirational.

Facing Your Giants; Silent Phones; Raging Sauls; Desperate Days; Dry Seasons; Grief-Givers; Barbaric Behavior; Slump Guns; Plopping Points; Unspeakable Grief; Blind Intersections; Strongholds; Distant Deity; Tough Promises; Thin Air-ogance; Colossal Collapses; Family Matters; Dashed Hopes; Take Goliath Down!; What Began In Bethlehem; Study Guide; Notes

When you think about David and his life, it's easy to skip from killing Goliath to being king.  But there were a number of other "giants" between those two points, and even more once he ascended to the crown.  Saul sought to kill him on a regular basis.  His sons turned against him.  He lost family members due to death and disobedience.  For all the positives in his life, he had even more struggles and giants to subdue than most of us.  Max Lucado looks at various episodes of David's life and relates them back to similar giants we face.  It could be as common as reaching a point of exhaustion and deciding not to push on (David at Brook Besor).  Or it may be an extended dry season where you're isolated from everything and everyone you hold dear (David and the cave at Adullam).  But in all cases, God is still present and waiting to lift you up when you turn to Him.

I appreciate Lucado's ability to take a minimal narrative that's found in Scripture and paint color around it.  He's able to inject life and emotion into people that can be minimized when you read the straight text without taking time to ponder.  In addition, he easily moves the historical event into today's world and relates it to situations more familiar to us.  For instance, I never quite thought of Goliath's army as being a "bloodthirsty gang of hoodlums boasting do-rags, BO, and barbed-wire tattoos."  But if you think about it, is that so different than some armies out there today?  :)

An excellent read, and one that will help provide you with direction and hope when facing the giants in your own life.


Book Review - Writing The Successful Thesis And Dissertation by Irene L. Clark

Category Book Reviews
Never having gone the route of graduate school, I've never had to contemplate writing a thesis or dissertation.  But it's always sounded like a monumental task to me.  In Irene L. Clark's book Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation, she covers the steps and mindset necessary to successfully complete the chore.  It's still a lot of work, but at least she puts a framework around it that makes it do-able.

Getting Started; So What? Discovering Possibilities; The Proposal as an Argument: A Genre Approach to the Proposal; Mapping Texts: The Reading/Writing Connection; Writing and Revising; Writing the Literature Review; Using Visual Materials; The Advisor and These/Dissertation Committee; Working with Grammar and Style; Practical Considerations; Index

I appreciated Clark's analogy of a thesis or dissertation.  Imagine you're in a large room of academics who are talking about a subject.  You hang around and spend time listening to all their points of view.  Once you've understood and heard all they have to say, you then add your voice to the conversation...  your viewpoint or slant on the issue.  Your thesis is your conversation.  All the books and papers written on the subject are the conversations of others.  Your contribution is akin to entering the conversation.  When put that way, the concept doesn't seem quite as daunting as it did before.  Once you have that mental image in place, she takes you through the entire process; from coming up with an idea to the act of writing, through the process of review and acceptance by the committee.  When you finish the book, the effort facing you is still the same.  But the monster now has discrete parts instead of just sitting there as a massive blob that's intimidating.

I would strongly recommend that anyone looking at the thesis/dissertation route take the time to read this book early in the process.  You're still going to work like you've never done before, but your chances of success (or at least survival) should go up significantly.


I'm starting to wonder if Microsoft management is completely disconnected with reality...

Category Microsoft
First, I ran into this item today:  Microsoft tried to muck with anti-Linux ‘facts’

Mary Jo Foley talks about the Get The Facts campaign that Microsoft ran (and still runs) to convince people to choose Windows over Linux...

According to an e-mail message, dated November 1, 2002, that has been entered as evidence in the Iowa consumer antitrust case against Microsoft, some Microsoft executives favored hiding the fact that Microsoft paid International Data Corp. (IDC) for one of the total-cost-of-ownership studies comparing Windows and Linux that the firm conducted at Microsoft's request. (It looks like fear of being outed triumphed, and Microsoft ultimately decided to admit its role in commissioning the IDC TCO and subsequent anti-Linux studies.)

Additionally, according to the e-mail trail, it looks like Microsoft attempted to pressure IDC analysts to tweak the December 2002 study to put Microsoft in a better light.

I think everyone understood that there were inconsistencies and conflicts of interest there, but this shows that Microsoft actively knew it and still chose to "stretch the truth."

Ah, but the better item...  From Daring Fireball, talking about a Newsweek interview with Bill Gates:

I mean, it’s fascinating, maybe we shouldn’t have showed so publicly the stuff we were doing, because we knew how long the new security base was going to take us to get done. Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine. So, yes, it took us longer, and they had what we were doing, user interface-wise.

That's a direct quote from Bill Gates.  And we thought Ballmer was a fool who couldn't keep his mouth shut.  There's only two conclusions I can draw from this.  Either 1) Bill Gates is totally disconnected with reality and the state of computer security, or 2) he's a company leader with no morals who will tell any lie necessary to come out on top.  Neither view is flattering.

But you have to like this question/answer...

So you feel in 2010-2011 Microsoft will be back with the next big one?
Absolutely. We'll tell you how Vista just wasn't good enough, and we'll know why, too. We need to wait and hear what consumers have to tell us. We don't know that, otherwise, of course, we would have done it this time.

Followed by...

So can you give us an indication of what the next Windows will be like?
Well, it will be more user-centric.

What does that mean?
That means that right now when you move from one PC to another, you've got to install apps on each one, do upgrades on each one. Moving information between them is very painful. We can use Live Services [a way to connect to Microsoft via the Internet] to know what you're interested in. So even if you drop by a [public] kiosk or somebody else's PC, we can bring down your home page, your files, your fonts, your favorites and those things. So that's kind of the user-centric thing that Live Services can enable. [Also,] in Vista things got a lot better with [digital] ink and speech but by the next release there will be a much bigger bet. Students won't need textbooks, they can just use these tablet devices. Parallel computing is pretty important for the next release. We'll make it so that a lot of the high-level graphics will be just built into the operating system. So we've got a pretty good outline.

So in one statement, he doesn't know what the next version of Windows will look like.  In the next statement, he already has the next version mapped out.  And Bill?  If you look at what you promised at the start of Vista and what you delivered, the "we would have done it this time" statment rings very hollow.

Let the schedule slippage begin!  Let's just hope we've all upgraded to 128 bit machines with a terabyte of RAM by then...


What do you get when you take about half the people on stage at Gurupalooza...

Category Irish User Group Meeting
... ship them over to Ireland, and stick them in a hotel conference room for a couple of days?

You get the Irish Lotus User Group (ILUG) conference in Dublin on May 24th and 25th.  And if you thought last year was good, you ain't seen nuthin' yet!

I was chatting with Paul Mooney (one of the organizers along with Eileen) and he started listing names of people who are tentatively planning on showing up.  It's a stunning list of "who's who" in the Lotus Community.  And if only half of them end up speaking, you'll get content that would rival any conference you'd pay big bucks to attend.  And your cost to attend this event?


Now's the time to start planning, whether it's for volunteering to present or just showing up for the knowledge and networking.  Last year's event was a personal and professional highlight for me.  I can hardly wait for this year's installment, and it's guaranteed you'll have an incredible time.


I conquered a long-term fear today... I donated blood.

Category Everything Else
Me and needles don't get along.  It's all in the mind, I know, but it doesn't matter.  I've been known to come close to passing out with a simple blood draw.  

It didn't used to be that way.  I used to be able to watch nurses give me injections and such.  But then there was the second time I tried to give blood, 20+ years ago...

I'm overweight, my veins tend to not be overly visible, and they roll.  When they tried to take blood last time, it took three attempts in one arm, two more in the other, and then the blood quit flowing after about five seconds (flesh plug in the needle).  When they saw how white I was, they decided that perhaps another attempt wouldn't be a good idea.

Ya think???

Ever since then, blood drives, flu shots, innoculations, you name it...  major stress points for me.  Ironic that I have a son with type 1 diabetes that injects himself every day.  Doesn't matter...  I still focus on the needle.  Oh, and the guilt...  I'm type O negative.  Universal donor.  

Two weeks ago I decided that it was time to put this behind me (or at least see if I still pass out).  I signed up for the blood drive and couldn't find any good reason to back out today.  After answering all those highly personal questions they are required to pose to you now, I told them they had one chance to get this right.  Any problems with finding veins, and it would be the last time I'd ever see the Red Cross chaise lounges again.  Armed with that knowledge and challenge, they started me out completely flat so that I'd have little chance to get light-headed.

And it worked.  The initial stick wasn't bad at all, and she nailed the vein on the first try.  A slight adjustment about five minutes in got the blood flowing at a swift rate, and it was done before I knew it.  I stood up with no ill effects, the volunteer didn't have to catch me, and I was able to enjoy my water and cookie without wearing it.

Of course, now I have no reason not to be donating every couple of months...


1000 book reviews, and over 8000 positive votes...

Category Book Reviews
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - 1000 book reviews, and over 8000 positive votes...

Definitely looks like obsessive-compulsive to me...  :)


Book Review - The 360 Degree Leader by John C. Maxwell

Category Book Reviews
In a number of the self-improvement blogs I follow, one book title kept appearing over and over...  The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization by John C. Maxwell.  Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to see what the talk was all about.  Bottom line is that I found it to be one of the most practical books on leadership I've ever had the pleasure to read.  And you don't have to be a CEO to apply the truths...

Section 1 - The Myths of Leading from the Middle of an Organization: #1 - The Position Myth - "I can't lead if I am not at the top."; #2 - The Destination Myth - "When I get to the top, then I'll learn to lead."; #3 - The Influence Myth - "If I were on top, then people would follow me."; #4 - The Inexperience Myth - "When I get to the top, I'll be in control."; #5 - The Freedom Myth - "When I get to the top, I'll no longer be limited."; #6 - The Potential Myth - "I can't reach my potential if I'm not the top leader."; #7 - The All-or-Nothing Myth - "If I can't get to the top, then I won't try to lead."
Section 2 - The Challenges 360-Degree Leaders Face: #1 - The Tension Challenge - The Pressure of Being Caught in the Middle; #2 - The Frustration Challenge - Following an Ineffective Leader; #3 - The Multi-Hat Challenge - One Head... Many Hats; #4 - The Ego Challenge - You're Often Hidden in the Middle; #5 - The Fulfillment Challenge - Leaders Like the Front More Than the Middle; #6 - The Vision Challenge - Championing the Vision Is More Difficult When You Didn't Create It; #7 - The Influence Challenge - Leading Others Beyond Your Position Is Not Easy
Section 3 - The Principles 360-Degree Leaders Practice to Lead Up: #1 - Lead Yourself Exceptionally Well; #2 - Lighten Your Leader's Load; #3 - Be Willing to Do What Others Won't; #4 - Do More Than Manage - Lead!; #5 - Invest in Relational Chemistry; #6 - Be Prepared Every Time You Take Your Leader's Time; #7 - Know When to Push and When to Back Off; #8 - Become a Go-To Player; #9 - Be Better Tomorrow Than You Are Today
Section 4 - The Principles 360-Degree Leaders Practice to Lead Across: #1 - Understand, Practice, and Complete the Leadership Loop; #2 - Put Completing Fellow Leaders Ahead of Competing with Them; #3 - Be a Friend; #4 - Avoid Office Politics; #5 - Expand Your Circle of Acquaintances; #6 - Let the Best Idea Win; #7 - Don't Pretend You're Perfect
Section 5 - The Principles 360-Degree Leaders Practice to Lead Down: #1 - Walk Slowly Through the Halls; See Everyone As a "10"; #3 - Develop Each Team Member as a Person; #4 - Place People in Their Strength Zones; #5 - Model the Behavior You Desire; #6 - Transfer the Vision; #7 - Reward for Results
Section 6 - The Value of 360-Degree Leaders: #1 - A Leadership Team Is More Effective Than Just One Leader; #2 - Leaders Are Needed at Every Level of the Organization; #3 - Leading Successfully at One Level Is a Qualifier for Leading at the Next Level; #4 - Good Leaders in the Middle Make Better Leaders at the Top; #5 - 360-Degree Leaders Possess Qualities Every Organization Needs
Special - Create an Environment That Unleashes 360-Degree Leaders; Notes; About the Author

As you can see above, the book is packed with a lot of information, but it's all very practical and applicable.  The premise of 360-Degree leadership is that you don't become a leader when you're promoted into a position with the title.  You become a leader when people start to follow you.  It doesn't matter where you are in the organization, as you'll always be leading in an upward direction (to your superiors), an outward direction (to your peers), and a downward direction (to those who report to you).   By using this book to understand the true meaning of leadership, you can start to hone your skills in your current environment, thereby building the bridges and relationships you'll need going forward.  

I really like how this book is laid out.  Section 1 destroys the common mindsets that middle managers often have towards being an official "leader" (higher than they are now).  Upper management have different challenges, and there's no magic decree that makes them expert leaders when they are promoted.  Section 2 takes a deeper look into the special challenges of being "in the middle" of an organization.  Many things are expected from both directions (and from your peers), and it feels like you don't have the authority to lead as you'd like.  But rather than just leave you floundering there, Maxwell covers how 360-Degree leadership is manifested in all directions...  how to lead your boss and upper management by learning to lead yourself, how to interact with your peers to build a stronger overall team, and how to lead those who officially look to you for direction.  The last direction can be hard, as you may have the title but not the respect and trust of your subordinates.  If you strive to become the leader that Maxwell describes, you'll find that people willingly align themselves with you and your leadership "selling" is far easier...

In my working career, I've found that 360-Degree leaders (or whatever you want to call them) are by far the most effective leaders a company can have.  People love working for them, things get done, and they're the ones that seem to handle everything with a level of grace and ease not often seen these days.  I strongly recommend this book to just about anyone in an organization, as we should all be "leaders" in our own areas, even if you don't have a title that reflects that.

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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