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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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03/31/2007

How Microsoft manages their press...

Category Microsoft
From Joe Wilcox and Microsoft Watch: Channel 9 Unwired

All companies work at managing their press.  But apparently Microsoft takes press spin more seriously than I though.  Wilcox covers a story written by Wired that didn't turn out quite the way Microsoft wanted it.  And in the process, we were able to take a look at the man behind the curtain...

After investing executive time and PR dollars into handcrafting a story about increased transparency, Microsoft instead got a story more about radical evangelists bucking the system to push out transparency. Then there was the unwelcome surprise—learning that Vogelstein received the 15-page briefing file and seeing it dominate the closing paragraph of the Channel 9 story. Then on Monday, Wired chose to post the dossier online.

The Microsoft and Wagged blog response to the posting is most unsettling and reason for both companies to re-evaluate their blog policy. Ironically, the postings offer a kind of transparency into the PR tricks some companies use to combat bad news.

<snip>

The dossier details other meetings, presumably at some expense to Microsoft, to evangelize new transparency around Channel 9 and employee blogs, including a trip by Sandquist to meet with Wired's editorial staff. Sandquist leads the Channel 9 and Channel 10 teams.

In the interest of shaping the story and, presumably, supporting the idea of greater transparency, Microsoft gave Vogelstein a fair bit of access to employees working for Channel 9, including time with the team during the Computer Electronics Show in January.

The dossier reveals how Microsoft and its PR agency attempted to set the editorial agenda for Wired: "We're pushing Fred to finish reporting and start writing" and "We will continue to push Fred to make sure there are no surprises."

In an e-mail presumably sent from Waggener Edstrom to a Microsoft executive: "Briefing for your call with Wired is below. We want to keep it short and not offer any new avenues to him—Fred has done plenty of reporting here and it is time for him to stop and just write the article."

There are notes on Vogelstein's interview style and even scripted answers to expected questions. Microsoft pitched the story and clearly had every intention of managing it to a favorable end.

This is a rare look at how a company "opens up" in such a way that the expected outcome is exactly the story they want to push.  Something to keep in mind when you read a "pro-vendor" story.  Just how much leading (or even downright pressure) did the journalist get to come to their "own" conclusions?

As with all forms of communication (press, books, magazines, blogs), remember it's buyer beware.  Non-biased journalism is terribly rare, as everyone comes into the game with their own biases.  That's to be expected.  But coming in with someone else's slant presented as "the facts" is another story altogether.

03/29/2007

Book Review - Clear Blogging by Bob Walsh

Category Book Reviews
At my place of employment, I'm getting more and more questions about blogging.  What exactly is it, how do you do it, what do I need to know, and can I blog within the company?  If I had my way, I'd buy about 25 copies of Clear Blogging: How People Blogging Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them by Bob Walsh and start handing them out.  This is a perfect mix of details, concepts, and guidelines, all packaged up in a very readable (and enjoyable) format.  I even picked up a few gems myself...

Content:
Part 1 - Revolution in Progress - Please Make Noise!: Why Blog?; Hooking into the Blogosphere; Getting Started
Part 2 - Building Your Blog: What Do Good Blogs Share?; Building Your Personal Blog; Professionally Blogging, Blogging Professionally; Building Your Company Blog
Part 3 - Secrets of Influential Bloggers: Power Tools for Bloggers; Successful Blogging; The New Fourth Estate; Adding Podcasting to Your Blog; Monetizing Your Blog for Fun and Profit; Building Readership
Part 4 - Blogging Towards the Future: Blogging from the New Front Lines; Welcome to Your Future;
Index

From the technical perspective, he covers how to start a blog in a few of the mainstream offerings...  Blogger, Windows Live Spaces, and TypePad.  Keeping in mind that these packages can change on a weekly basis, he is clear and concise on how to create the blog and post content.  Even if things change, the concepts are pretty much the same, and you can follow along.  But fortunately, he doesn't spend a lot of time on the "follow the menus" material.  It's the other stuff that is so elusive to explain to newcomers.  What makes a good blog?  Who's going to read it?  What do I write about?  And of course, can I make lots of money at this?  :)  Parts 1 and 2 are the foundations for just about every question I've been asked lately, and Walsh covers it all with a flair.  If you could convince rookie bloggers to read and understand things such as voice, audience, and consistency, the long-term success rate of their blogging would rise dramatically.  I've made a number of the mistakes that Walsh cautions against, and it would have saved me a few hairs had I known this all three years ago.  And if you're not a newbie blogger?  Part 3 goes into what I call "power blogger" mode, and discusses more advanced topics like how a blog can generate income, and how you can add podcasts to your blogging repertoire.  You don't *have* to do all these things, but they are directions that are worth considering.  Again, reading this first before diving in could mean the difference between stepping up to the next level and alienating your audience.  

There were a few things that drew me to this book.  One is the writing style.  I enjoy conversational writing that isn't afraid to have fun and be a little edgy.  He definitely fits that criteria, and he's not afraid to offer up his own opinions alongside the facts.  The second thing involves the interviews.  There are a number of question/answer sessions with big name bloggers, those who have defined the field and who are leading the pack.  Learning from them what works and what doesn't is invaluable towards improving your own writing.  And finally, each chapter ends with a "Your Action Task" section.  It's the "call to action" to actually take the next steps to apply the chapter's material and do it yourself.  That focus on practicality and "do it now" drives the reader along and should make for some successful blogging efforts.

If you've been getting the blogging questions coming your way because people know you do that blogging thing, point them towards this book.  Between your explanations and the material here, there shouldn't be much left over that your questioner doesn't understand.  And I'll venture to guess they'll even have fun getting there...

03/28/2007

The Chicken/Pig commitment story... a *bad* way to motivate your staff...

Category Everything Else
Perhaps many of you have heard some variation of the story about the chicken and the pig when it comes to involvement vs. commitment.  Just randomly searching the 'net, here's a basic version of the story:

Think about a meal consisting of eggs and ham and consider the contributions made by a chicken and a pig. A chicken provided the eggs and a pig provided the ham. It can be said the chicken was involved, because the chicken continues to live as it lays more eggs. It can be said the pig was committed, because the pig gave its all to provide the ham and other pork products.

This is one of those "motivational" stories that sounds real good when you read it, and I've seen it used by management at various companies to motivate their staff towards being committed as opposed to just being involved.  But continuing to follow that analogy probably isn't what management had in mind, nor is it what most workers want to do with their lives.

The chicken is contributing at a long term, sustainable level.  She's able to keep giving, as her output is renewable.  The pig, however, is screwed.  He gives everything at a single burst, and that's it.  No more pig, and he needs to be replaced.  While the "farmer" gains from both levels of contribution, the pig isn't around to see the benefits.  The farmer's out looking for another pig.  And the chicken?  She's just sitting there, laying more eggs, and continually providing for the farmer.

I don't think there are many employees who want to be the pig.  Everyone who is part of the team would much rather be the chicken.  And the next time a motivational speaker uses that analogy, think about it...  Do you want to go down in a blaze of glory, or do you want to produce over the long term?

03/28/2007

Follow the money when it comes to "research"...

Category Everything Else
From IS Survivor: An Important Fact About Nutrition

This is an excellent article on "connecting the dots" when it comes to "research" and who sponsors it.  The IT angle in the story is about Accenture claiming big things for SOA, with a veiled reference that they've invested close to a half billion dollars in it.  Think they have a stake in the outcome?  

Connecting these two dots matters to those of us who toil in the trenches of IT management, or more generally in the trenches of business management, because un-sponsored research is hard to find and harder to distinguish from the other kind.

Accenture's financial stake in SOA is stated. That isn't usually the case. Take a look at any industry publication and see if the publisher clearly identifies the stories that started life as press releases. They don't, but they should.

The research firms are no better. When the vendors they rate also subscribe to one or more of their very expensive services, any claim of impartiality must be considered questionable at best and disingenuous at worst.

And the situation is deteriorating. Once upon a time, independent test labs routinely compared the performance and features of just about every technology you can buy. These comparisons are becoming a faint, quaint memory, the victims of end-user license agreements (EULAs) that prohibit publication of performance data. That means in many cases the only data you can get comes from the manufacturer.

So the trade press publishes one sponsored study showing Windows is more reliable than Linux, followed by another sponsored study demonstrating the reverse. Yawn.

So the next time someone touts the latest "research" report, ask who backed it in the first place...  Follow the money.  And that goes regardless of which technology you place your bets on...

03/27/2007

Some quick reflections on the Kathy Sierra incident...

Category Blogging
If you're a reasonably well-read blogger, you've no doubt heard and read about Kathy Sierra's post about her reaction to threats she received via email and other blogs.  This is something that you just can't believe once you've read it and started following the links and comments.  I just wanted to jot down a few random thoughts that have flitted through my mind over the last couple days concerning this...
  • What is it about a small subset of male internet users that brings out this type of behavior?
  • I am stunned that some people have the attitude "that's just the way things are, get used to it or go home."  Since when did vulgarity and threats of physical violence become an acceptable way to interact with others?  Just because some people choose such a warped way of interaction does not mean that it's OK, all in the name of "free speech."
  • I realize that the right of privacy and anonymity does serve an important purpose in society, and by no means would I want that right to disappear (or at least at a faster pace than it already is).  But with rights come responsibilities.  No one has the "right" to make the type of vulgar, harassing comments that have appeared over the last few days.
  • I'm amazed that people think their virtual and physical personas are two complete and distinct entities with no reflection on each other.  The virtual persona is created by the physical one.  If your virtual self gets off on degrading women and making physical threats, what part of the physical self gave rise to that?  You can't tell me that talk of beating a woman (virtually) and loving your daughter and wife (physically) are somehow mutually compatible.  
  • Google remembers everything...  
  • Whatever happened to owning your words?  
  • Let's say the police showed up at your door asking questions about a murder that occurred somewhere close to where you live or work.  If you were known to run a blog that hosts violent comments and posts (some of which you may have made), do you think the police would surmise "well, I'm sure that doesn't matter because that's his *virtual* self, not the *real* person?"
  • Has anything rational or coherent ever come from a Slashdot posting?

If Kathy were someone like Ann Coulter, someone who is taking positions on things by using extreme speech, I could start to see how people might become polarized and outspoken in their responses to her.  But we're talking technical stuff here, not life-and-death matters, religion, or politics.  And even then, the type of hatred and vile that's been exposed over the last few days has no place in the discussion.

I'd hate to see Kathy quit blogging or speaking as a result of this.  I've interacted with her on a number of occasions, and she's a wonderful person with unique insights.  But under no circumstances should the events of the last few days be seen as the "price of admission" to participate in the larger tech community.  And if that "price" is too much to be paid, then I fully support her decision and actions.  And those of us who have lost out on her (and others, male and female, who refuse to play in that world) wisdom can thank the few miscreants who don't know their place in a civilized world.

03/25/2007

Book Review - A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Category Book Reviews
Normally I'm more of an action-adventure type reader when it comes to novels and recreational reading.  But I was given the chance to read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner), so I decided to try something out of my normal genre.  I am *so* glad I did.  This is a stunning and moving novel of life and love in Afghanistan over a 30 year period.

The story covers three generations of women who were born and raised in Afghanistan from the early 60's through the present.  These three women tell their story of being raised in a culture that those of us in the West can hardly imagine.  Mariam was born in 1959, a child of a rich businessman and his servant.  As the child would be a major embarrassment to him and his three other wives, the servant is moved to a small shack outside of town.  Mariam worships her father, who visits her every week.  But her mother tries to convince Mariam that she's really a nuisance and inconvenience in his life, and should remember that all men are inherently bad.  The reader has to wonder which side of the story reflects the truth.  As the story progresses, Mariam grows up and is given to a stranger, Rasheed, in marriage.  Terrified by the whole prospect, Mariam has to adjust from a life of relative freedom and western culture to existence under a burqa and total subservience to her husband.  Rasheed changes from a kind, tolerable man to one who is a tyrant, as he is furious over Mariam's inability to produce a son for him.  Her suffering only increases with the arrival of Laila...

Laila is a child down the street from Mariam and Rasheed, and she also lives a life that is less than wonderful.  Her mother is afflicted by an illness that leaves her in what we would call a clinically depressed state all the time.  Laila is falling in love with a boy by the name of Tariq, but cultural norms prevent her from making that love known to him.  She is crushed when he leaves to fight in the ongoing war, but a passionate good-bye leads to a pregnancy.  Shortly thereafter, her home is hit by a missile, killing everyone but her.  She's taken in by Rasheed and Mariam, but soon finds another world of pain and suffering when Rasheed takes her as his second wife.  Like Mariam, she's plunged into the dominance and abuse of a male-dominated Islamic society.  She must conceal the true parentage of her child, Aziza, from Rasheed, knowing that her daughter (as well as herself) would likely be killed.  Life becomes harsh as the Taliban takes over Kabul, and the strict Islamic rule makes Mariam, Laila, and Aziza little more than second-class citizens that are used and abused by the men around them.  The story concludes with a turn of events that offer an escape for all three women, a way to release themselves from their life of hell.  This "escape" means different things to each one, however.  

This story affected me on a number of levels.  Many of us have no concept of what it's like to live in a war zone, never knowing whether each day or each hour will be your last.  Hosseini's been through that in Afghanistan, and he paints that experience into his story in a way that's hard to forget.  It was also sobering to see just how some governments, when applying their form of Islamic rule, utterly obliterate the personhood of women.  The will to survive and persevere under crushing oppression from men left me speechless.  It's hard to remember that this "story" is just normal existence for millions around the world.  Finally, the concept of love and duty portrayed here is beautiful.  Love isn't a mushy feeling that comes and goes depending on whether you happen to feel good about the person you're around.  Often it means sacrificing everything (including life) for them.  While there wasn't much that was lovely in their lives, these women learned the true meaning of the world through their devotion to others.

I have no doubt that this book will debut at the top of the best-seller lists, and it has every right to be there.  Besides being a story that will keep you up far past your normal bedtime, it will open your eyes to cultures and emotions that affect and drive the lives of a vast number of people.  It's not a book that will quickly be forgotten...

03/25/2007

Book Review - The Unofficial Guide to Windows Vista by Derek Torres and Stuart Mundie

Category Book Reviews
I was pretty convinced that I wasn't going to be using Windows Vista for a good long time.  That changed two days ago when I purchased a new laptop.  What better way to start figuring things out than with The Unofficial Guide to Windows Vista by Derek Torres and Stuart Mudie.  This is a very nice mix of Windows Vista information with opinion on what Microsoft did well and what they blew...

Contents:
Part 1 - Installation, Configuration, and Customization: The Road to Windows Vista; Preparing for Installation; Installing Windows Vista; Managing the Windows Desktop
Part 2 - Manage the Vista Environment: Managing Users; Managing Files and Folders; Managing Security; Mastering Multimedia with Windows Vista
Part 3 - Networking with Windows Vista: Networking and the Internet; Working with Windows Internet Explorer 7; Working with Network Services; Integrating with Active Directory
Part 4 - Manage the Hardware Environment: Working with Windows Internals; Working with Hard Drives; Managing Portable Computers; Troubleshooting Windows Vista
Part 5 - Appendixes: Supported Video Cards; Upgrade Checklist; Differences between Windows Vista and Windows XP; Keyboard Shortcuts; Online Resources; Index

Fortunately, Vista isn't *so* much different that you can't just open it up and start using it.  So far, my Windows XP skills have enabled me to get around pretty well.  But some things aren't in the same place, and that's where this book came in handy.  For instance, the Windows switcher is now a button in the Quick Start menu, and it cascades the available windows with a 3D effect.  That's the kind of information in the Differences appendix that makes it pretty simple to find the before/after pairings.  Torres and Mundie have a good blend of graphics to text in their writing, and they've avoided the temptation to try and make the graphics reflect the enhanced visual effects of Vista.  Where possible, the backgrounds are plain white so you can concentrate on the core function rather than trying to pick it out amongst the visual clutter.

On top of the solid information here, I appreciated the honest assessment by the writers on many of the features.  It's refreshing to read a tech book where the writer doesn't treat everything as if it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.  For instance, they generally like the idea of BitLocker for encryption.  But they feel that Microsoft borrows many of these ideas from others, and suggests that for hard-core encryption, they recommend spending the money for PGP.  There was also the section on diagnosing connectivity issues, and how Microsoft will offer to send a report to themselves if they can't figure it out.  But that *does* assume network connectivity now, doesn't it?  :)

This is a very nice practical guide for Vista that truly earns the "unofficial" title.  You're getting the non-vendor-varnished truth, and it's appreciated.

03/25/2007

Book Review - Got What It Takes? by Bill Boggs

Category Book Reviews
I enjoy reading about how others have successfully navigated life and their careers.  I was pleased to get the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Got What It Takes?: Successful People Reveal How They Made It to the Top by Bill Boggs.  While you still have to filter their words and experiences through your own reality, it's a great read for those who are into personal improvement.

Contents:
Introduction - The Reasons for Success
One - The Path to Success: Find Your Path; Get Hired; Capitalize on Luck and Timing; Make Good Decisions
Two - The Mind-sets of Success: Seize Opportunity; Identify Your Drive, Mission, and Purpose; Cultivate Self-Confidence; Strengthen Your Will to Prevail; Defy Category
Three - The Practices of Success: Work Hard; Collect Wisdom; Don't Take Anything for Granted; Take the Risk; Develop Excellent Everyday Practices
Four - The Challenges of Success: Confront Fears, Insecurity, and Other Inner Demons; Learn to Cope with Stress; Allow for Regrets, Failures, and Mistakes; Overcome Adversity; Resist Ruinous Temptations; Keep Your Life in Balance
Five - Advice for Success: Know When to Reassess; Use What You've Got; Industry Advice from the Pros
Acknowledgements

Boggs got the opportunity to interview a large number of well-known and successful people in various industries.  There were some names I didn't recognize, but a large number were household names...  Maria Bartiromo, Sir Richard Branson, Jim Cramer, Mario Cuomo, Christie Hefner, Matt Lauer, and Norman Lear, to name just a few.  The interviews appeared to be very conversational, and the personalities of the different people shine through very well.  Boggs took a somewhat different approach than most books of this sort, however.  Instead of taking the "person per chapter" route, he divides the book into success components, like working hard, confronting insecurity, and keeping your life in balance.  Then for that particular subject matter, he'll pull in the pieces of the interviews that corresponded to that.  Seeing how people like Cramer, Anna Quindlen, and Bill Bratton all deal with stress in one consolidated chapter helps you put it all together.  Boggs also adds a few "calls to action" on many of the paragraphs, so you don't get to read it all and walk away with no clue as to what to do to put it into your own life.

There is the danger in a book like this to view the people as "perfect", individuals who are hyper-focused and who never make missteps.  That's definitely not the case, and there are a few foibles in the different chapters.  I think this book works best when you see the underlying principles of importance, paying a bit less attention to the person behind them.  There's a wealth of wisdom and examples here, and it's an entertaining read.  It's definitely worth reading to see where you need to notch up your performance...

03/22/2007

10 Reasons Why Microsoft's Vista Has Missed The Mark

Category Microsoft
From SeekingAlpha: 10 Reasons Why Microsoft's Vista Has Missed The Mark

Yes, Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Vista will eventually run on most corporate desktops. But early sales in the consumer market have been softer than some analysts expected. For those of us who covered Windows 95's launch more than a decade ago, Windows Vista has been a yawn. These 10 questions—and their answers—reveal why Vista isn't the hit some pundits expected:

This is an interesting article for a couple of reasons.  First, it talks about why Vista isn't making the impact that Microsoft had hoped and promised.  No new revelations there...  But second, it does so in the context of Windows 95, Microsoft's biggest OS splash of a decade back.  When you place the context of the Windows 95 launch against the computing environment back then, it's easy to understand why it was successful.  What people did, where people lived, and what other offerings were available.  The mindset of users and the landscape of the computing world has changed dramatically since then, and unfortunately Vista is still trying to answer and address the Windows 95 world.  

Definitely worth a quick click-and-read...

03/21/2007

Book Review - How Do You Work This Life Thing? by Lizzie Post

Category Book Reviews
Although the adolescent years are often considered to be the hardest in terms of life transition, moving from teen-living-at-home to out-on-your-own has to rank right up there.  For those who are struggling on how life's supposed to happen in the real world, there's How Do You Work This Life Thing?: Advice for the Newly Independent on Roommates, Jobs, Sex, and Everything That Counts by Lizzie Post.  I'm sure my 18 and 20 year olds could learn much from this book, and I know a number of others (unfortunately much older) who would also benefit from a refresher course or two...

Contents:
Introduction: Why This Book?
Part 1 - How to Avoid Killing Your Roommate (and Others) - The "Three C's" Approach to Building Better Relationships; Your New Place; Top Five Potential War Zones at Home; Hello, Neighbor; Welcome to My Home - Hanging Out, the Etiquette of Couch Crashing, and How to Be the Ideal Houseguest; Significant Others, One-Night Stands, and Things That Go Bump in the Night - Romance, Dating, and Sex at Your Place; Entertaining - From Wine Tasting to Beer Pong, and Everything In Between
Part 2 - The Rest of the World and You: Steppin' Out - What You're Telling the World; Errands; The Cell Phone; Dining - A Night Out With Friends; Dining - The Mechanics of it All; Socializing - From Etiquette With Friends to Meeting New People; Dating - For Real; Let the Games Begin! - The Etiquette of Sports and Fitness; Driver's Ed-iquette; Four Times When You've Got to Get It Right
Part 3 - Work, Paid and Unpaid: Landing the Perfect Job; On the Job; When School is Your Job
Index

It's tempting to think that moving out and getting a roommate will be cool, easy, and nonstop fun.  The reality of it is that within the first week, your cool roommate will start to transform into the "roommate from hell" before your very eyes.  Don't laugh...  They're thinking the same thing about you.  Your assumption that everyone thinks and acts like you do is incorrect, and clashes are inevitable.  Lizzie Post has taken many of the common points of contention in a roommate situation and gives great advice on how to avoid the conflict before it happens.  Hashing out issues like the kitchen (clean vs. messy, what food is communal, etc.), the bathroom (clean vs. messy), and the living room (same issues!) before they become flashpoints is a great way to enjoy your new-found freedom and still continue to like the person you're living with.  

Parts 2 and 3 are extremely useful, in that she covers the face and persona that you show to the public.  There's great advice on how dating should work, the unwritten rules of dining, and what to do (and not do!) with your cell phone.  This is the part of the book that I'd like to see be required reading for a number of people who shouldn't need to be reminded of stuff like this.  Like the cell phone chapter...  ESPECIALLY the cell phone chapter...

The writing style is definitely appropriate for the young adult reader.  It's accurate and complete, without being "stuffy."  Although it's lighter in tone than you would find in a typical "etiquette" book, I think I would have tried for even more humor just to keep the typical "do I have to read this" person engaged a bit more.  But still, I'll be tossing this in the mail to my older son, with hopes that it will make his transition to self-sufficient (and enjoyable-to-be-around) adult a bit easier...

03/18/2007

Book Review - The Big Bamboo by Tim Dorsey

Category Book Reviews
Somehow I let a couple Tim Dorsey novels slip by.  To catch up, I grabbed the library's copy of The Big Bamboo and hung on for the ride...  Great fun!

It's nearly impossible to do justice to a plot summary of a Dorsey novel.  Think of it as the literary equivalent of "physical comedy." Serge and Coleman are off on another adventure, complete with more twists and turns than you can imagine.  Serge wants to visit all the locations where films have been shot in Florida, and he's got an encyclopedic knowledge of every scene.  He's also trying to write a screenplay, which is being acted out as the story unfolds.  You're never quite sure what's the real story and what's in the script.  While trying to do all this at his normal manic pace, his grandfather dies and leaves him a letter that opens up a whole new path that Serge just has to investigate.  Turns out that path happens to be in another film mecca, Los Angeles.  All the various crazy plotlines and subthreads converge at the end to a twist that wasn't what I was expecting, but strangely enough works quite well as an ending to a Dorsey novel.

Don't go into this expecting a subtle plot and normal story pacing.  It's a non-stop ride, complete with Hollywood parties, a few killings, Japanese and Alabama hit squads paired off against each other (yes, Alabama...), and some of the most tongue-in-cheek dialogue and writing I've had the pleasure of reading in a long while.  This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I sure liked it...

03/18/2007

Book Review - Second Life: The Official Guide

Category Book Reviews
Yes, I call myself a geek but I have yet to check out the phenomenon known as Second Life.  That changed yesterday when I finished the book Second Life: The Official Guide by Michael Rymaszewski, Wagner James Au, Mark Wallace, Catherine Winters, Cory Ondrejka, and Benjamin Batstone-Cunningham.  I can now see the appeal on a number of levels...

Contents:
Part 1 - Getting a Second Life: What Is Second Life?; Getting Started; The Grand Tour
Part 2 - Living a Second Life: Changing Your Appearance; Using Your Library; Managing Your Inventory; Building; Using the Linden Scripting Language
Part 3 - Success in Second Life: Who Are You?; Making Money; Real Residents; A Cultural Timeline; The Future and Impact of Second Life
Appendices: Real-Life Education in Second Life; Glossary; Additional Resources; Menu Commands and Functions

My learning style would be best described as "read first, then try."  One of the reasons why I had not yet tried out Second Life is because I had no idea as to what was involved and how to get started.  Yeah, you can always dive right in, and then clean up mistakes as you go.  This book allows you to avoid the "mistake" phase, orient yourself from the start, and start getting the most out of your on-line experience.  The writing is a nice blend of intro and advanced material.  For newbies, there's the "here's where to start, and here are the basic instructions on how to move around and interact" information.  At that level, Second Life is basically a three-dimensional chat room.  But the real fun comes when you start building your own objects and scripting your own actions and gestures.  There are chapters included on how to manipulate the Linden Scripting Language to personalize your avatar.  And using "prims", you can create and build just about anything you can imagine.  For creative types, Second Life is a playground without limits.  Architecture, engineering, fashion design, you name it.  And a little time spent with Second Life: The Official Guide will spark your imagination and get you geared up to expand your creativity.  The book even explains how it's possible to buy and sell using Linden dollars (which *do* have a real-life exchange rate).

A very useful and aesthetically appealing book that will likely hook you into a new virtual existence.

03/18/2007

Microsoft needs to hire a professional CEO who knows how to control his mouth...

Category Microsoft
From TheAge.com.au: Microsoft boss snipes at Google

Too much quote-worthy material in this story, and proof that Ballmer's reality has no bearing on what is happening in the rest of the company and world...

MICROSOFT Corp chief executive Steve Ballmer says rival Google's pace of employee growth is "insane" and the company has few successful businesses outside of internet search and advertising.

"They're going to double in a year. That's insane, in my opinion," Mr Ballmer said, speaking to students at Stanford University in California.

You can grow like that when you have a smaller employee base.  Google has 10000 employees, Microsoft has over 74000.  Yes, uncontrolled growth is generally not a good idea and can often lead to entrenchment later on.  But this is the same Microsoft that is building new facilities, wants to hire 10 to 15 thousand new employees over the next year, and whose own staff feels that they need to trim the fat when it comes to employee count.  Google is still very agile.  The same can not be said for Microsoft as a company.

"They're still really one business and it's a search and advertising business," he said. Google's other efforts had been "cute", he said.

That'll win you a lot of friends there, Steve...  Calling another company and competitor "cute"....

Asked by a student what kept him up at night, Mr Ballmer said managing people and relationships and shifting business models were the biggest culprits. Still, those weren't major interruptions.

"I actually do sleep very well," he said.

And that may be a prime reason that Microsoft has lost any sense of urgency and creativity in today's market.  They are coasting on Windows and Office, and nearly everything else is a "me too" product that is generally competitive through force of sheer dollars spent.  Origami?  Zune?

There should be a lot of things keeping Ballmer up at night...

Edit:  I don't read Scoble on a regular basis, but apparently he feels the same...

03/16/2007

I finally have my name on the cover of a book...

Category Book Reviews
No, I haven't changed my stance towards not writing a book yet.  But still, this is pretty cool...

Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - I finally have my name on the cover of a book...

Review quote snippet, front cover, complete with attribution and website.

If you're interested in publicity appearances and book signings, please contact my agent.  :)

03/13/2007

Book Review - Groovy In Action

Category Book Reviews
Scripting languages, although initially derided as "toy languages", have continued to evolve and mature over time.  Now, no serious programmer (in my opinion) would deny that a scripting language can save a ton of time and effort for many programming problems. Groovy In Action by Dierk Konig with Andrew Glover, Paul King, Guillaume Laforge, and Jon Skeet covers the Java scripting language known as Groovy, and does an excellent job in doing so.

Contents:
Your Way to Groovy
Part 1 - The Groovy Language: Overture - The Groovy Basics; The Simple Groovy Datatypes; The Collective Groovy Datatypes; Working With Closures; Groovy Control Structures; Dynamic Object Orientation - Groovy Style
Part 2 - Around The Groovy Library: Working With Builders; Working With The GDK; Database Programming With Groovy; Integrating Groovy; Working With XML
Part 3 - Everyday Groovy: Tips And Tricks; Unit Testing With Groovy; Groovy On Windows; Seeing The Grails Light
Appendix A - Installation And Documentation; Appendix B - Groovy Language Info; Appendix C - GDK API Quick Reference; Appendix D - Cheat Sheets; Index

If you're familiar with the Java language and syntax, then you've already conquered a great deal of what you need to know about Groovy.  The authors show how simple a Groovy script can be, and how much can be accomplished in many fewer lines than an equivalent Java program.  In part 1, you get the mental framework for how Groovy works, the model for scripts, and many examples of code that cover a broad spectrum of what's possible.  Part 2 goes a bit more into the guts of the language, giving you a reference guide to the different language features.  This is where you'll spend a lot of time as you start to work with the language and explore the various methods and properties that are available.  And finally, the last part shows real-life solutions and scenarios that you can use to either learn how to solve your particular problem or get ideas on solutions you may not have thought about before.  When you look at this as a combination tutorial/reference/cookbook title all in a single volume, you start to grasp what a great job they did...

I was especially intrigued with the integration material.  Compiled Groovy scripts are actually turned into Java bytecode the same as a compiled Java program would be.  With the addition of the Groovy jar files into your project, you can use the scripts in your own programs with no additional effort.  I'm really wondering if adding the Groovy jar files to a Domino application would allow you to use Groovy scripts for agents.  If so, that gives me a powerful new addition to the Domino development toolbox.  Now if I can only find some time to give it a try...

It goes without saying that if you're interested in Groovy, you'll want this book.  And if you're interested in leveraging your Java knowledge into a whole new area, I'd completely recommend checking this out.  It's very good...

03/11/2007

Book Review - VSTO for Mere Mortals by Kathleen McGrath and Paul Stubbs

Category Book Reviews
VBA has been the basic code base for making Office applications for a long time.  But now there's a way to use .NET languages to create Office apps, and that way is Visual Studio Tools for Office, or VSTO for short.  VSTO for Mere Mortals: A VBA Developer's Guide to Microsoft Office Development Using Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office by Kathleen McGrath and Paul Stubbs does a nice job in helping the professional developer make the transition from VBA to VSTO.

Contents:
Part 1 - Introduction to VSTO: Getting Started with VSTO; The Programming Environment; Introduction to Managed Code; Moving from VBA to VSTO and Visual Basic 2005
Part 2 - Word and Excel: Customizing Word and Excel Task Panes; Customizing Word with VSTO; Customizing Excel with VSTO; Controls in Word and Excel; Smart Tags in Word and Excel
Part 3 - Outlook and Beyond: Creating Add-ins for Outlook with VSTO; Security and Deployment; Migrating VBA Solutions to VSTO; Advanced Topics in VSTO; VSTO 2005 SE and the 2007 Microsoft Office System
Appendix A - Creating Code Snippets; Appendix B - Creating Inspector CommandBars; Index

Looking at the preface, the authors target the professional developer who wants to manipulate Office objects using .Net code.  They also make the case for why you'd want to explore alternatives to VBA, like the fact that Microsoft is not enhancing VBA with the same features you find in Visual Basic or C#.  So rather than try to teach the power user how to program, they spend their time more profitably by assuming you already have the prerequisite skills.  I liked the way they spent plenty of time getting the VBA programmer familiar with the VSTO environment, and then dives into details of what and how you can manipulate Word, Excel, and Outlook.  The writing and examples are easy to understand and follow, so I don't imagine that readers would have too many problems using this book to get up to speed.  

I have a coworker who recently asked to get the VSTO toolset for some work he's doing.  He's also been eyeing this book, and I'll be taking it into work tomorrow and letting him loose with it.  I think he's really going to appreciate the content found here...

03/11/2007

Book Review - Rocking Wall St. by Gary Marks

Category Book Reviews
It seems that everyone has a strategy for how to beat the stock market and make your fortune.  This book looks at things slightly differently...  Rocking Wall Street: Four Powerful Strategies That will Shake Up the Way You Invest, Build Your Wealth And Give You Your Life Back by Gary Marks.  If you are the right audience for the book, there are some concepts here that will change the way you think about your nest egg.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Emotional Controls: The Beginning, and the End Game; Investing for Your Life versus Spending Your Life Investing; The Power of Hedging - Always Hedge Your Bets
Part 2 - Knowing the Difference between Market Stats and Market Hype: Just the Facts, Ma'am; Addressing Investors' Questions from Part One; The Right Stuff (and the Wrong Stuff)
Part 3 - Hedging Wall Street - Hedged Portfolio Construction: Successful Investments - Where Are They?; Hedge Fund Mindset
Part 4 - Planning for the Future and Seeking the End Game: The Financial Planning Maze; The Game Beyond the End Game
Appendix - Specific Due Diligence Notes and Fund of Funds Questionnaire; About the Author; Index

The gist of Rocking Wall Street (or at least what I took away from it) was that chasing after the hottest stocks and largest gains is a losing battle.  You either lose big time or you spend all of your time managing your investments rather than enjoying life.  Marks advocates the use of hedging to lock in a consistent range of returns for your investments, regardless of market direction or action.  Your 10 - 12% return may miss out on the 25% market gain, but your 7 - 9% return when the market tanks more than makes up for it.  And you don't spend your time on an emotional roller coaster, either.  There is a little information on hedging for the common investor, but the main target audience seems to be the "qualified investor", a legal term for a person with $1.5 million in investable assets.  Through the use of "funds of hedge funds", that type of investor can leverage the success of many different hedge funds without putting all their money at risk with a certain type of investing.  The fund of funds manager can move money around and has the staff and experience to do the extensive due diligence on the funds to make sure the financial end is doing what it states.  And being that you're investing hundreds of thousands of dollars with this manager, you should have an extensive list of questions as well as an ongoing relationship with them.  His feeling is that once you get to a high financial net worth, you've reached the "end game."  You don't have to make 20% a year to maintain your lifestyle (or at least you shouldn't have to).  Preservation of capital is paramount, and making 8 - 12% regardless of market swings is your goal.

Now it's for sure that I am not the target audience for this book.  :)  But he makes some great points for all investors.  Living your life around your investments on a daily basis is a poor excuse for a life.  It's even worse when you've reached a point where you have all the money you'll ever need.  The concept of an "end game" is one that more people need to understand and use to get more out of their life.

03/11/2007

Book Review - Cross by James Patterson

Category Book Reviews
Back to some recreational reading...  I received the latest James Patterson novel, Cross, at the library a week or so ago.  Not bad...  It travels back to when Alex Cross's first wife, Maria, was murdered.  It ties together some of his past in order to make the present a bit more understandable.

The book starts off with Alex Cross and his first marriage to Maria.  All was wonder and bliss until she was gunned down coming out of a building where she was meeting a client.  The killer appeared to be some sort of sniper, and Alex couldn't see where the shot came from.  He ran with her to the hospital, but she died there.  That left Cross a single father of three kids (with the help of his mother, Nana Mama).  A close brush with death in a drug raid gone bad convinced him to turn in his FBI badge and take up psychology.  But crime still happens, and his skills as the "Dragon Slayer" are still called upon in a consulting role.  This consulting role gets him involved in a serial rape case that appears to have ties back to his wife's killing, and he is compelled to find the rapist in order to get answers to his wife's death.  But along the way, he has to examine his values and family to draw lines as to what's important and what needs to be let go...

As with many Alex Cross novels, there are a number of story-lines going on.  The rapist is an interesting character with his own demons and concerns, and it's interesting to see how he manages the multiple lives that he leads.  In fact, I found him to be the more compelling character as the story unfolded.  If you're a fan of the Alex Cross series, this is a good story to fill in some of his background.  It explains his departure from the FBI and his strong attachment to his family.  While not a "I can't put it down" book, it definitely didn't last more than two or three days...

03/11/2007

Book Review - Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes

Category Book Reviews
Many of the personal improvement blogs I follow have had rave reviews about the book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes.  I started it last night, and read it cover to cover, finishing slightly before midnight.  This is an excellent example of how the mind can break through barriers thought insurmountable.

Dean Karnazes had always enjoyed running and pushing himself to the limit as a kid.  This love of running "from the heart" led him to a successful high school career as a cross-country runner, battling others who had more age and experience.  But he hung up his running shoes after an unfortunate encounter with the high school track coach (different than the cross-country coach), and that was the last competitive running he did for the next 16 years.  While being a party animal in college, his life changed forever when his sister died in a car accident.  The family was devastated, but he cleaned up his act and went on to a successful sales career.  But on his 30th birthday, he hit his crisis point.  He was empty inside, controlled by his job, and had no joy in what he was doing.  After getting drunk at a party that night, he wandered home, saw his running shoes (now used for gardening), stripped down to his underwear and a t-shirt, and started off on a run.  30 miles later, worn out, in great pain, he called his wife to come pick him up.  But that was the turning point for him.  He had pushed past physical and mental barriers and rediscovered a goal and motivation he hadn't had in a long time.  His running became an obsession, and it led him to start seeking out opportunities to test himself.  Ultramarathons became his passion, and thus began a series of incredible feats that show just what a person is capable of.

Karnazes is an inspiration to those who think they "can't".  His blow-by-blow account of his first Western States 100 event sucked me in and kept me turning the pages to see how it all turned out.  After that, you have the Badwaters event (through Death Valley in the summer), a 197 mile relay event run solo, and the first Antarctic marathon.  In all those cases (and many others), he suffered incredible physical and mental torture along the way but always kept moving forward, sometimes even crawling forward, towards his goal.  I have no doubt he'll end up meeting his demise on one of these runs, but he'll have lived his life on his terms and will have accomplished more than 100 people combined.

While I don't advocate everyone running out (no pun intended) and training for an ultramarathon, I *do* believe that everyone should have goals and passions that they pursue wholeheartedly.  If you want some serious inspiration to see what can be done with mental and physical focus, this is the perfect book.

03/10/2007

Book Review - Why Software Sucks by David S. Platt

Category Book Reviews
Although targeted towards explaining to ordinary people why computer software is hard to use, Why Software Sucks...and What You Can Do About It by David S. Platt is something that software developers would do well to read and understand how we blow it on a regular basis.  Five words...  The. User. Is. Not. You.

Contents: Who're You Calling A Dummy?; Tangled In The Web; Keep Me Safe; Who The Heck Are You?; Who're You Looking At?; Ten Thousand Geeks, Crazed On Jolt Cola; Who Are These Crazy Bastards Anyway?; Microsoft - Can't Live With 'em And Can't Live Without 'em; Doing Something About It; Epilogue; About The Author

Platt takes a look at software and web sites from the perspective of the user, someone who's just trying to get something done.  And his overwhelming conclusion is...  software sucks.  In large part, this is because the computer geeks who design the software are completely mistaken as to who is the target user.  They design something that works for themselves, thinking that everyone thinks and reacts as they do.  They think that complexity is cool, and whiz-bang features should be appreciated in and of themselves.  The reality is that the basic user does *not* think like a computer geek, and they get tired of sites that make no sense or make them work (or rework) for the reward at the end.  Using good/bad site contrasts such as Google (guesses the language to use based on the IP address/location) vs. UPS (ask for your country EVERY SINGLE TIME before you can do anything), it becomes quickly apparent when a site's been designed by computer geeks rather than design/interface specialists who are able to think like a user.  Armed with this book, a person can start to understand why things are harder than they need to be, and what steps can be taken to make your displeasure known.  It may not change anything, but being silent isn't a viable option either.

Now for computer software designers like myself, this book can be humbling.  I think I've done a few of the things he condemns, and I found myself rethinking (*and* changing) a few of my website project features after reading this.  I realized I was forcing the user to understand my world before they could do something.  And if I couldn't explain it well, how did I expect them to grasp it?  But aside from being a useful and extremely funny book, there's one chapter that was a joy to read.  Ten Thousand Geeks explains the concept of software conferences and what they're like.  Furthermore, he talks about what it's like to be a speaker at one; the joys, trials, and adrenaline rushes that come with being in front of people and mingling with your speaker peers afterwards.  It was like reading my own story, and it was incredibly accurate.  I would love to print out about five paragraphs of that chapter and post it with the title "This Is Why We Speak At Conferences."  That chapter was worth the price of the book by itself...

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to someone on a number of levels and for a number of reasons...  Well worth the time spent reading it.

03/10/2007

Book Review - The Right Hand Of Allah by D. E. Dawning

Category Book Reviews
I was recently contacted by the author D. E. Dawning asking if I would like to review the book The Right Hand Of Allah.  It's a self-published novel with an unusual premise, and it was strangely compelling despite some of the typical flaws often found in self-published works.

Kelly Rogers is a covert agent in the Middle East, and he's the target of an assassination attempt by a terrorist group.  His bodyguard, Saleem Rhamsy, is part of the plot, and is the person designated to deliver the bomb.  But an unexpected move by Rogers right before the bomb goes off means that Saleem takes more of the bomb blast than expected.  The net result is that Rogers is killed, and Rhamsy dies twice before the doctors are able to stabilize him.  But when he regains consciousness, a strange thing has happened.  Kelly Rogers is in Saleem's body, with no explanation on how it happened.  He's able to convince his CIA handlers that he really has switched bodies, and a plan is formed to turn Kelly/Rhamsy into the greatest undercover asset ever.  He's taken for "questioning" in the assassination attempt, where he undergoes intense training for his new role.  He's released back to the terrorist group, who believes him to have talked directly with Allah during his momentary deaths.  As an icon in the fundamentalist world, he has access to a number of terror plots that he can prevent.  He's also recovering some of Saleem's real memories, so it's becoming somewhat easier to fool others.  The goal is to prevent the killings without blowing his cover.  But there's one plan in particular that has everyone worried, and it involves a nuclear bomb and a neo-Nazi group.

Probably the biggest thing to overcome is the body-switching premise.  But hey, it's a story...  It's OK to suspend disbelief in things like this.  Once you get to that point, then the story line becomes interesting.  The plot has a number of points where you wonder exactly what happened.  For instance, he's careful at the beginning to maintain the appearance that he is who everyone thinks he is, but by the end that caution is completely absent during the final rush to prevent the bomb from going off.  Saleem/Kelly's wife also seems to accept the whole body switch/CIA operative situation with nearly no hesitation or disbelief.  And there's more sex and seducing than you can believe.  Normally I'd be a little more harsh in my assessment, but for some reason I found myself enjoying the book in spite of all the quirks.  I stayed up later than I should have finishing it up, and when I got done I was glad to have had the opportunity to read it.  While there's plenty of room for improvement, Dawning does a pretty good job in drawing you in and keeping you hooked...

03/07/2007

Making your next performance review a bit less painful...

Category Productivity
We're starting into that annual ritual at work known as the "performance review."  All management is sync'd up for their reviews on one date, and the rank-and-file follow about 4 months after that.  One of the key elements in many performance reviews is the "self-review."  That's where you have to come up with a list of things you've done that you want your boss to document and consider.

And if you're like most workers, you *hate* that task!  Not only is it nearly impossible to remember everything you've done over the last year (much less last week!), but most people think the self-review ends up being a case of "blowing your own horn"...  an exercise in self-promotion that feels uncomfortable.  And in both cases, you're right.  But you need to take steps to rectify the first issue and get over the second one.

Your "what did I do" list...  My wife got me into a habit about 15 years ago, and it's paid off tremendously ever since.  Using whatever editing tool you like, start keeping a daily log of what you did.  I'm not talking an entire journal page of minutia or an hour-by-hour description.  Just jot down the main bullet points of what happened.  For me, it might be something like:
  • April 14, 2007
    • Project X - started coding the design of the app, got the initial UI done, and gave it to the user to look at.
    • Trouble Ticket Y - helped Jermaine figure out his login problem on application Z
    • Staff meeting
    • Project Q - started with the design specs and submitted for review

    I can fill that in at the end of the workday, or just keep a running list going throughout the day.  The key is consistency...  you need to DO IT!  Then at the time of your annual review, you have 30 to 40 pages of day-by-day activities that you can use to list all the projects, help desk cases, and events you did.  When I wrote mine this year, I was able to produce a three page self-review in less than an hour that listed all the applications I built, the ones I maintained, any special training I took, and all other relevant details.  It was complete, detailed, and it took no effort on my part to come up with the documentation.  I've gotten to the point where I have a standard word processing template I use to track this for the week, and then I email it to my boss on Friday.  I told him that I really don't care if he looks at it or not, but it keeps me honest and accountable.  He actually *does* read it most of the time, and it means he's usually up-to-date on what I'm doing.

And for "self-promotion" worries...  Yes, it might feel uncomfortable.  But ultimately it's your career and paycheck we're talking about.  I used to have the same feelings until I worked for Enron.  There, the semi-annual review process was called "rank and yank".  You were stack-ranked against all your peers with the same title, and the bottom x% were strongly encouraged to improve or move out.  The percentages for the categories were hard and fast.  You would only have, say...  10% of the people allowed to get an exceptional rating.  If one person was moved up to that ranking and it went over 10%, then one person had to be moved down.  Very cut-throat.  Your manager had to present his staff to the review committee and make the case for their ranking.  The more ammo they had, the better chance you stood of ending up in a higher category.  Our manager understood the value of marketing your work, and he made sure we were selling ourselves big-time.  We would come up with "placemats", or full-color portfolios of our work and activities.  He'd hand these out to the review team and proceed to explain how come we belonged in the upper echelon of the rating system.  It may sound excessive or phony, but the bottom line is that it worked.  His staff consistently rated at the top end of the scale, which translated into significant annual bonuses.  And if you were ever a part of Enron's culture with rank and yank, you would understand just how important that was.  I came away from that experience with an understanding of how important it is to "sell" your work and value.  It may be that everyone depends on you, but when it comes review time, you need to have facts and numbers for your boss.  And if he already knows your value, he may need those to sell your raise and promotion to his boss.  That time you take to market your value and worth could end up adding thousands of dollars to your paycheck...

So...  make a commitment to yourself to start writing down a short list of your daily activities.  Use Notepad, OpenOffice Writer, Google Docs, whatever...  Just start doing it now.  If you forget a day, then start back up the following one.  It will take awhile to get into the habit, but I can promise you that the time will be well-spent and well-compensated when your next review rolls around.

03/07/2007

A thank you to everyone who has ordered from Amazon through my referral links...

Category Everything Else
I wanted to take a moment and say thanks to everyone who has used my book review Amazon Associate links to shop at Amazon.  Here's how it works...  If you click through to Amazon by using one of my book review links, then I receive a small referral commission on everything you purchase in that session.  That's not restricted to just the book link, either.  *Anything* you buy in that session counts.  Even if you don't order the book that was linked but just use that as your starting page, it still racks up the referral count.  It's not retirement money, but it provides a little guilt-free spending cash.

The referral commission works on a sliding percentage scale.  It used to be that the payouts were quarterly, and the counts were accumulated during that whole quarter.  Now they've switched to a monthly payout, so the numbers they use are based on 30 days, not 90.  The commissions start at 4% for the first 1 to 6 items, then jumps to 6% for 7 - 30.  It can go clear up to 8.5% for 3131 items for the month (not that I'll ever see *that* one!).  

I had been receiving order counts between 40 and 60 for the quarter over the last two years.  But since the start of this year and the monthly stats, things have taken off.  I've been hitting around 50 per month, which has been very nice.  In fact, just yesterday there were over 12 items that were ordered!  

And in case you're wondering, I can't tell who is buying what.  I do see what items were clicked through as well as purchased, but they are not tied back to a specific buyer.  So unless you email me and 'fess up, I won't be able to associate anything you're buying with you.  Which is probably good, as Amazon *does* sell some of *those* types of items...  :)

So anyway...  Thanks for using the links to do your shopping.  I appreciate that you've chosen to do that, and to say thanks in a easy, painless way.

03/05/2007

Book Review - IT and the East by James M. Popkin and Partha Iyengar

Category Book Reviews
It won't come as any surprise to people in the IT industry that India and China are becoming major players on the world technology scene.  IT And the East: How China And India Are Altering the Future of Technology And Innovation by James M. Popkin and Partha Iyengar examine each country's strengths and weaknesses, and ponders what a "Chindia" alliance would mean to the global IT market.

Contents:
Part 1 - China: China - Reality versus Perception; China's IT Landscape Today; Charting the Course for China to 2012
Part 2 - India: India - Reality versus Perception; India's IT Landscape Today; Charting the Course for India to 2012
Part 3 - Chindia: The Emerging Economy of Chindia; The Case for Chindia Bloc; Priorities Today for a Chindia Future
Appendix A - Scenario Milestones and Signposts for China; Appendix B - Scenario Milestones and Signposts for India; Notes; Index; About the Authors

Popkin and Iyengar are both Gartner analysts, so it's no surprise that this book reads like an extended Gartner-style report.  Each section examines the past and present situation for both countries, followed by three different possibilities for the future.  The course for 2012 chapter creates a four quadrant grid for each country, and places them where they currently exist.  The three potential options for future events are then graphed out with timelines and events, along with Gartner's probability ranking for each.  For India, the highest probability is one where infrastructure improvements occur, but the educational institutions remain the domain of the elite.  Therefore, a large chasm will exist between the haves and the have nots.  For China, it's much more difficult to predict the future due to the closed nature of their government system.  It could be that China becomes a dynamic entrepreneurial force, or they could go back into a protectionist shell.  The path that would benefit both would be to join forces and complement each others strengths and weaknesses.  A Chindia bloc would bring heavy pressure on both the hardware and software markets, and it would be a difficult force to compete with based on manpower and costs.

If you're interested in the global IT trends and where they might head, this is definitely a book that would be of interest to you.  It'd also be interesting to look back at this book in five years to see how things played out...

03/04/2007

Book Review - The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson

Category Book Reviews
Finally, I ended up with a decent recreational read (I had been striking out a bit of late).  This spy novel, The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson, was a decent story with a plausible plotline and good pacing.

John Wells is a CIA agent who went undercover to infiltrate Al Qaeda.  For a number of years, he's been part of their movement in the countries of Pakistan and such, but his contacts with his state-side handler have been few and far between.  The agency has pretty much written him off, as there's been little to show for his effort.  But that changes when he comes back to the states under orders from Al Qaeda to be prepared for a large attack.  He contacts his handler, Jennifer Exley, but her superiors suspect him of having switched sides.  It doesn't help that he's converted to Islam and refuses to come in for a complete debriefing.  He has to make the choice between doing things the CIA way (which would likely kill his cover) or to play along with his Al Qaeda leader to discover where the attack is supposed to occur.  But by staying out, he's only reinforcing his image of a rouge agent who's gone over.  Exley is caught in the middle, wanting to believe that Wells is who he says he is, but also being pushed by her superiors to stop him before he strikes.  Either way, the stakes are high, and the wrong decision will leave many dead bodies...

This is Berenson's first novel, and he does a commendable job with it.  I wasn't totally engrossed in it, but I did care about what happened to Wells and Exley.  It wasn't that hard to believe the different plotlines as they played out, and it left me wondering just how much goes on that we don't know about.  For a few hours of entertainment and escape, this book was just about right.

03/04/2007

Book Review - The Cure by Dr. Timothy Brantley

Category Book Reviews
This is somewhat of a difficult book to review...  The Cure: Heal Your Body, Save Your Life by Dr. Timothy Brantley.  On one hand, I think the basic gist of what he's talking about is correct.  On the other hand, his program is truly extreme and almost ends up being an infomercial for his website and products.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Search for Balance: Balance and Imbalance; My Quest for Truth; Indecent Exposure; Curing the Incurables; Kathy's Story; Creation, the Real Healer; The Tin Man; Sonya's Story; Water, the River of Life; My Study
Part 2 - The Brantley Road Map to Balance; A Little Inspiration; What to Drink and When; What to Eat and When; Taking Out the Garbage; Sun, Spirit, Exercise, Rest, Relaxation, Fun, and Forgiveness; The Obesity Cure; The Antiaging Cure
A Final Word: Health Is Your Divine Birthright; Author's Products; Bibliography; Index

Brantley is someone who struggled with a number of health issues for much of his life, as well as watching his mother and father die of various illnesses.  He questioned doctors as to *why* people got these diseases, instead of just accepting cures that would not correct the underlying problem.  By using his own body as his lab, he came up with a number of dietary guidelines and practices that he feels restores the body to its natural state of health.  The first part of the book (the larger part) is his story of research, as well as how he worked with and cured a number of "incurable" people who had diseases that were considered terminal.  The last part of the book goes into some level of detail on the program and what a person should and should not be eating and doing to themselves.  

On one hand, he's correct that the typical American diet is atrocious.  The heavy reliance on processed food and chemical-laden products has a direct effect on our health and well-being.  He advocates for a diet consisting of food that is as raw as possible ("as Creation intended").  Veggies, fruits, nuts, meat, you name it...  raw or lightly seared.  For fluids, it's pretty much water.  I don't doubt that eating the way he wants would do wonders for your body.  But I tend to get a bit leery of all his "cleansing" routines.  He's come up with a number of detox formulas which are designed to eliminate all the toxins from your various organs.  Couple that with colonics, and you're doing some pretty strange things to yourself.  He is *very* turned off on modern medicine and pharmaceuticals, pretty much accusing them of doing nothing more than chasing the almighty dollar and making people sicker.  His role models are practitioners who have come up with some rather strange theories that don't have a lot of science to back them up.  And when you get to the second part of the book, there are numerous references to his website.  When you go there for more information, you end up finding ways to purchase his formulas instead of how you can do it yourself.  Therefore, it's hard not to come away from the book wondering if it was really a large sales push...  Yeah, I'm a cynic...  :)

If you were willing to completely change the way you live and eat to follow this program, I don't doubt that you'd see real changes.  And I also believe that there have been some "miracle cures" by people who have done this.  But if the typical person can't follow a simple diet program, I doubt that they're going to be able to commit the time and effort needed to do something like this.  Only the truly desperate would be willing to make these types of radical changes.  

Of course, if we were closer to his program in the first place, they wouldn't *be* so radical now, would they?

03/04/2007

Book Review - America Misunderstood by N. Sivakumar

Category Book Reviews
I used to be like the typical American, unable to understand how come we had such a bad reputation in the world's opinion.  With some of our recent actions on the global stage, I don't think I'm quite as clueless any more.  But the book America Misunderstood: What a Second Bush Victory Meant to the Rest of the World by N. Sivakumar does a very nice job in allowing us to see, via the international press, exactly how others view us and our government.

Contents: Introduction; Acknowledgement; Great Expectations; Carte Blanche To Murder; The Lighter Side; Osama Helped Bush; Faith-Based Presidency; The Israel Factor; Change Or No Change?; What's Next - Optimism?; Conclusion - War Fair?; Epilogue; Index

Sivakumar, a Sri Lankan who lives and works in the United States, decided to take a look at how the world reacts to the presidential elections through the lenses of the international press.  He used the 2004 re-election of Bush to collect different opinion columns and cartoons from throughout the world to answer the question "Why does the world hate America?"  It's an eye-opening experience to see media from outside our own country, to experience our reputation without the filters of our own biases.  Much of the anger comes from our actions in Iraq, and Bush squandered much of the goodwill that we had right after 9/11.  While we do still have allies out there, the overwhelming response from the world was one of astonishment that we reelected him.  The major difference seems to be in what each group considers important.  It's pointed out a number of times that Americans are looking at a variety of issues when they vote, many of them internal (economy, morality, etc).  But to the world, it's more our stance on international affairs.  And on that front, Bush is perceived to be a lone cowboy who shoots first and doesn't bother to ask many questions...

For me, the biggest "takeaway" from this book is the necessity to look beyond your own borders when it comes to interpreting world events and opinions.  It seems like half the people think our media is controlled by the government, and the other half think it's part of a liberal conspiracy.  Taking the additional time to read and understand how the rest of the world looks at us is key in understanding the reality of our effect on the world, not just what we think we represent.  No matter how "noble" we think we are, our actions portray something else completely.

03/04/2007

Book Review - Founders At Work by Jessica Livingston

Category Book Reviews
In the dot.com era, it seemed like everyone and their brother was creating a new startup with hopes of making millions in an IPO.  A few did, but most crashed and burned.  In the book Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days, Jessica Livingston interviews a number of founders of software companies to find out the inside story of how it all came to be, their triumphs and trials, and any wisdom they can pass along to others considering a startup business.  

Contents: Max Levchin - Paypal; Sabeer Bhatia - Hotmail; Steve Wozniak - Apple Computer; Joe Kraus - Excite; Dan Bricklin - Software Arts; Mitchell Kapor - Lotus Development; Ray Ozzie - Iris Associates, Groove Networks; Evan Williams - Pyra Labs (Blogger.com); Tim Brady - Yahoo; Mike Lazaridis - Research In Motion; Arthur Van Hoff - Marimba; Paul Buchheit - Gmail; Steve Perlman - WebTV; Mike Ramsay - TiVo; Paul Graham - Viaweb; Joshua Schachter - del.icio.us; Mark Fletcher ONElist, Bloglines; Craig Newmark - craigslist; Caterina Fake - Flickr; Brewster Kahle - WAIS, Internet Archive, Alexa Internet; Charles Geschke - Adobe Systems; Ann Winblad - Open Systems, Hummer Winblad; David Heinemeier Hansson - 37signals; Philip Greenspen - ArsDigita; Joel Spolsky - Fog Creek Software; Stephen Kaufer - TripAdvisor; James Hong - HOT or NOT; James Currier - Tickle; Blake Ross - Firefox; Mena Trott - Six Apart; Bob Davis - Lycos; Ron Gruner - Alliant Computer Systems, Shareholder.com; Index

This could have been just an OK book if not for the skill of the interviewer, Jessica Livingston.  She turned it into an excellent read.  You could tell she had done her homework and knew quite a bit about the person and company for each chapter.  The questions went beyond the standard "so tell me how you got started" and delved into the mindset of the founder(s), the conflicts they faced, and what they personally had to go through during their time with the company.  She let the personalities of the interviewees shine through, so you felt as if you understood some of what motivated them.  I think this was most clear when she interviewed Steve Wozniak.  It was easy to see the person behind the words, his loyalty to H-P, as well as his high sense of ethics and treating people fairly.  You got the feeling that for him, it wasn't about the money or the success, it was about building cool things and making a difference.  Then there's the interview with James Hong of HOT or NOT.  This was a "fun project" while he was unemployed and not quite ready to find another job.  Through viral marketing, the site absolutely exploded, and he spent most of his time trying to keep one step ahead of capacity issues.  As with most of these companies, the scaling issue became a crisis point very quickly, and there's plenty of wisdom in these pages that potential startups should take to heart.  You can't have a flawless startup with no problems, but avoiding the known and familiar potholes can save you a lot of grief and money.

If you're at all interested in how many of the internet companies got started, you'll enjoy this book.  And if you're contemplating a startup of any kind, this should be the first thing you read.  You'll probably still make the same errors, but at least you'll recognize them more quickly.  :)

03/03/2007

Book Review - Plug Your Book! by Steve Weber

Category Book Reviews
With the ever-increasing number of authors taking the independent publishing route, the issue of how to publicize your work takes on a greater importance.  Even for those who *do* go the normal publisher route, there's still quite a bit you can do to influence and enhance the success of your book.  For that, I would highly recommend Plug Your Book: Online Book Marketing for Authors, Book Publicity through Social Networking by Steve Weber.

Contents: Introduction; Electric Word of Mouth; Amazon Bestseller Campaigns; Amateur Book Reviews; Building Your Author Web Site; Blogging For Authors; Author Blog Platforms Up Close; Blog Tours; Social Networking; Tag - You're It!; Advanced Amazon Tools; Social Search; Google, Amazon, Digital Content; Book Promotions With eBooks; Syndicating Your Content; Beyond The Blogosphere; Revenue From Your Web Site; Pay Per Click Advertising; Power Tools; Selling On Amazon, Beyond; Other Major Online Retailers; Ethics Of Online Marketing; Recommended Reading; Index

It's tempting to think that once a publisher puts your book on Amazon or the store shelves, they'll do everything possible to promote your title.  That may be true if you're Harlan Coben or Janet Evanovich, but let's be realistic.  Not everyone will get that sort of attention.  So regardless of who publishes your book, it's still up to you to get the word out.  Steve looks at all the different online options you have available to you as an author to generate buzz.  Since Amazon's such a giant in the book sales industry, quite a bit of the content revolves around how they work.  From sales ranking to paired placement to "others have bought", he gives you enough information to figure out how best to make sure your book gets seen most often by the people most likely to want to purchase it.  He also covers the importance of book reviews (of which this qualifies), and it's a vital piece of the puzzle.  Making sure you have reviews attached to your book gives others something to go on if they're considering a purchase.

Stepping away from Amazon, there's a whole array of options available to get your name out there.  Having a blog is an excellent way to attract potential readers (and to keep actual ones) to your brand or book.  He shows how a blog can open up a conversation with your audience in a way few other options can.  I hadn't considered social networking (like MySpace) to be a potential promotion route, but after reading the book I understand how that could work.  I've even opened up my blog to an author who was doing a virtual blog tour.  In that case, the book was backed by a large publishing house and will likely do well on its own.  But the authors were wise in making sure they were doing what *they* could to create interest and sales.

Whether you're a new author going the self-publishing route or an experienced author working on yet another book, you really can't afford to let your marketing be completely handled by others.  Nearly all the ideas in Plug are little to no cost, and the payback can be swift and rewarding...

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Thanks!

Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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