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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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04/28/2007

Book Review - Windows Presentation Foundation Unleashed by Adam Nathan

Category Book Review
It seems like a never-ending task to keep up with Microsoft's latest and greatest application design software.  But such is the life of a software developer...  I got a chance to look at Windows Presentation Foundation Unleashed by Adam Nathan, and I'm impressed on a couple of levels.  This is how I wish all software books were written and published...

Content:
Part 1 - Background: Why Windows Presentation Foundation?; XAML Demystified; Important New Concepts in WPF
Part 2 - Building a WPF Application: Introducing WPF's Controls; Sizing, Positioning, and Transforming Elements; Layout with Panels; Structuring and Deploying an Application
Part 3 - Features for Professional Developers: Resources; Data Binding; Styles, Templates, Skins, and Themes
Part 4 - Going Beyond Today's Applications with Rich Media: 2D Graphics; 3D Graphics; Animations; Audio, Video, Speech, and Documents
Part 5 - Advanced Topics: Interoperability with Win32, Windows Forms, and ActiveX; User Controls and Custom Controls; Layout with Custom Panels
Part 6 - Appendix: Helpful Tools
Index

Nathan aims the book at developers focused on user interfaces using, of course, the Windows Presentation Foundation software.  It's meant to span the continuum from .NET newbies to experienced WPF developers.  I can say he succeeded from the newbie perspective.  I came away with a good basic understanding of WPF, how it works, and an idea as to all the features that can be used to create very nice applications from the user interface perspective.  I appreciated the historical coverage of how we got to this point, and it set the table for everything that followed.

Beyond the content, the style and layout of the book was phenomenal.  The most obvious difference is that this is a full-color book.  All the code samples are color-coded, and more importantly, all the screen shot examples are as they would appear on your monitor.  While this is important for user interface books, it's critical for a book like this.  Many of the subtleties of WPF involve things that don't translate well to black and white print, like transparent windowing.  Having those examples in color allows you to understand exactly what can be expected.  Add in the numerous sidebars of tips, faqs, warnings, and so forth, and you've got a book that can take you from beginner to journeyman in short order.

I really wish more development books would go to full-color printing.  It can take a very good book and make it truly outstanding, like this one...

04/28/2007

Book Review - Building A PC For Beginners by Michael F. Quarles

Category Book Review
I've always purchased my computers prebuilt and loaded with the operating system.  I have the books that would likely guide me through the process of building my own, but it still seems a bit daunting when you're looking at 600 pages of (in my mind) things that can go wrong.  Michael F. Quarles has a simplified guide to building your own PC with the book Building A PC For Beginners.  This would appeal to the first-timer who isn't up on all the minutia on motherboards and bus speeds (nor wants to be).

Contents: Selecting Parts (CPUs - Intel & AMD, Motherboards, Hard Drives, CD/DVDs, Floppies, 3 Cards, Case), Getting Started, Installing the CPU, Heatsink, & Fan; Installing RAM; Installing the Motherboard; Installing the Floppy; Installing the Hard Drive; Installing the CD/DVD; Power for the Motherboard; Installing the Case Fan; Front USB Wires; The CD/DVD Audio Wire; Installing the Graphics Card; Installing the Modem; Tying Up Cables; First Boot; Troubleshooting; Installing Windows XP; Troubleshooting

This is a self-published book that has lots of photographs of the installation process, along with a straight-forward description of how to choose and install the devices that make up your new computer.  There's a careful balance between covering the necessary information without inundating the beginner with everything that can possibly be mentioned.  As such, a beginner can focus on the essentials.  As I was reading through the book, I could actually see myself using this to successfully manage my first build.  Hardcore geeks would likely want more information than what's contained here, but first-timers would find it understandable.  This could also be used if you're repairing your PC and want to understand a bit more about the inside of your computer before you start plugging things in.  For instance, there was enough information about power supplies in here in order for me to make an informed decision on replacing one in my desktop machine.

The book isn't perfect, and could have done with some additional editing for spelling and grammar.  That's not uncommon on self-published efforts.  But overall, the author accomplishes what he sets out to do, and this is a good place to start for building your own PC for the first time.

04/28/2007

Book Review - Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Category Book Review
I finally got around to putting Thunderstruck by Erik Larson on my library hold list.  I was divided on my liking of his last book (Devil In The White City), as I didn't think the two stories intersected very well.  Since Thunderstruck is written in the same style, I wasn't sure whether this would be something I'd take to readily.  But thankfully, this story blend made much more sense to me, as it covered a technology that changed how society would function.

The two stories involve Guglielmo Marconi and Hawley Crippen.  Marconi is well-known as the father of wireless communication.  Crippen is less known these days, but was quite the name in 1910.  He was accused and convicted of murdering his wife via poisoning, and then vivisected the body to try and remove identifying characteristics.  By everyone's account, he was a mild-mannered gentleman who gave his wife everything she wanted.  But she was less than enthralled with him, using and abusing him to further her standing in the entertainment circles of London.  She often threatened to leave Crippen, and in fact had appeared to when she disappeared.  The story was told that she went to America to care for a sick relative.  Many of her friends were a bit skeptical of her sudden departure, especially when Crippen's secretary started showing up in all of the wife's clothes and jewelry.  They were even more disbelieving when news came that she had succumbed to illness while over there.  They were able to get Scotland Yard on the case, which eventually lead to Crippen's capture and conviction.

Marconi's story is more familiar.  With little education in the sciences, he created radio waves that would travel the "ether" and trigger devices that received them.  This started out as something that worked over a matter of feet.  Then it was miles.  When he was able to communicate over a hundred miles to ships at sea, he decided the main goal would be to transmit transatlantic signals.  This went against all the scientific thought of the time, and there were a number of rivals that were determined to destroy Marconi's business and reputation.  Although he faced tremendous physical obstacles and spent the equivalent of millions of dollars, he eventually succeeded in his quest.

So how do these stories intersect?  The ability to communicate with ships at sea via wireless is what lead to Crippen's downfall.  He left London via ship to go to Canada to avoid discovery for his crime.  His lover was dressed as a young boy and they traveled as father and son.  But the captain became suspicious of the pair, knew the story of Crippen, and contacted London via wireless with his discovery.  The London police were able to overtake the ship, arrive a day before Crippen's ship, and arrest him before he could escape.  If not for Marconi's wireless, Crippen would have made it to Canada and preserved his freedom.  Also, since the world was able to listen in on the transmissions, everyone was aware of the unfolding story...  everyone, that is, but Crippen.

Larson did a good job in telling both stories.  I personally found Crippen's story more interesting, but you really didn't see the intersection until the possibility of murder was raised.  Once that part of the story came into play, Marconi's story was pretty much done.  My only real disappointment was how Crippen's story came to a rather abrupt end.  There had been so much detail prior to the shipboard capture.  But the trial and execution wrapped up in just a few pages.  There was no real examination of what Crippen might have been thinking, or how his last few days were spent.  I would have preferred to see that captured in more detail.  But even so, I enjoyed the read.  I also learned just what Marconi did, and how his work changed the world as we know it.

04/26/2007

Sometimes you have but to ask...

Category Book Review
I've been a fan of Barry Eisler's John Rain novels, and I look forward to reading each one.  His latest, Requiem For An Assassin, promises to be just as good as prior ones.  I've had one or two email exchanges with him based on prior reviews, so I decided to ask if there was any way to get on the list for an advance reader copy of the book when it came out.  He asked for my address, and the whole thing sort of moved to the back of my mind.

Today, I get a package from FedEx.  Nothing special, as parcel delivery guys and I are on a first name basis with the number of books that come through my place.  But this one was special.  It's the actual hardbound copy that goes on sale in about a month.  Plus, the press kit is a black folder, marked "For Your Eyes Only", and the contents are patterned after a dossier on a spy.  Which, given the style of Eisler's books, makes perfect sense.  Bottom line, it looks really cool and shows a lot of creativity...

Which just goes to remind me...  Often, all you have to do is ask...

04/25/2007

Book Review - The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome by Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux

Category Book Review
The book The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome: Overcoming the Undertow of Expectations by Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux is one of those titles that presents a concept that is counter-intuitive to most managers.  But once you have it explained, the light comes on and you realize just how correct the idea is.

Contents: The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome; When Common Sense Fails Us; Set-Up-To-Fail - A Vicious Cycle; Labels, Biases, and Misperceptions; Colluding to Collide; The Cost Iceberg; Blinders of Our Own Making; Cracking the Syndrome; Preventing the Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome - Lessons from the "Syndrome Busters"; Getting There; Notes; Index; About the Authors

The idea here involves what happens to underperforming employees when their supervisors attempt to "help" them.  The supervisor sees that a particular employee isn't at the level that's expected.  Their natural first step is to start coaching them, offering feedback on how to perform better.  But in far too many cases, the employee resents the implications of underperformance.  This leads to either withdrawal from the job or hesitancy to make decisions for fear of making a mistake.  These actions reenforce the judgement of the supervisor, leading to more "help".  At that point, the downward spiral has begun, with little chance of improvement.  Both sides become entrenched in their mental framework.  So instead of helping an employee improve, the supervisor has unwittingly set them up for failure.  

The authors describe this situation in all-too-familar clarity, and I was amazed at how much sense it made once you changed your perspective.  It was scary to see their research on how quickly these underperformance impressions are formed.  In many cases, these signals start coming from the boss within hours.  What's worse is that the residual damage can go on for years, even after the situation is resolved in one way or another.  The Cracking chapter puts forth a solid format for breaking the cycle, setting expectations on both sides, and how the results can be measured without the emotional baggage that so often comes with these scenarios.    Even the simple act of being aware of the syndrome can dramatically change the way you practice your management style.

In terms of being practical and useful, this book delivers solid value.  It doesn't matter how big or small your business is, or whether you've been managing for years or weeks.  After reading Set-Up-To-Fail, you'll be unable to offer feedback or coaching in the same way again...  or at least you'll feel guilty if things don't work out the way you'd expect...

04/23/2007

Book Review - My Bad by Paul Slansky and Arleen Sorkin

Category Book Review
While at the library the other day, I wandered by the front desk where they display recommended titles.  This one caught my eye...  My Bad: 25 Years of Public Apologies and the Appalling Behavior that Inspired Them by Paul Slansky and Arleen Sorkin.  If you're as fed up with public "apologies" as I am, you'll love reading this...  or be even more disgusted.  :)

Contents: Introduction; Media Mea Culpas; Taking Care of Business; I Fought the Law; You Can't Say That on the Radio; Readin', Writin' & Regrets; The Boob Tube; Judges and Lawyers and Cops, Oh My!; Slinking Off the Silver Screen; In the Penalty Box; The Disarmed Forces; Facing the Music; Forgive Me, Lord; Politically Incorrect; Future Imperfect; Index

This book could be five times the size and still not run out of material.  The authors have a number of apology quotes followed by an explanation of what prompted them.  They cover the spectrum of business blunders to sports slip-ups to political improprieties.  Many of the explanations are offered without much commentary, but you do catch some of the authors' feelings along the way.  There are also some humorous running threads where a particular person (like Ted Turner) makes repeated appearances, proving that many people do *not* learn from their mistakes.  To be fair to the offenders, some of the apologies are sincere and are the best that can be offered under the circumstances.  But people have become so glib with their "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" statements, that it's hard for a real apology not to be viewed with the same jaded cynicism as all the others.

I think what got me was how some people could think that anyone would believe their explanations or rationale for saying what they did.  I recently read someone writing about mistakes and apologies, and they were correct...  "When you're wrong, just take the bullet.  Trying to rationalize it will only make it worse."

This was an enjoyable and instructional read.  It helps you remember that anything you say or do will definitely be held against you in the court of public opinion, so engage the brain before the mouth gets started...

04/22/2007

Book Review - Google Analytics by Mary E. Tyler and Jerri L. Ledford

Category Book Review
One of the hardest things to do if you own a website is to figure out how effective it might be in accomplishing your goals.  Is it selling products?  Are people signing up for things?  One of the best (and cheapest) ways to find answers to those questions can be found in the book Google Analytics by Mary E. Tyler and Jerri L. Ledford.  Good coverage on an essential software package...

Contents:
Part 1 - Basic Analytics: Why Analytics?; Analytics and AWStats; Oh, No! More AWStats!
Part 2 - Setting Up Google Analytics: Getting Started; The Settings Dashboard; Filtering Your Data; Using Analytics Goals; AdWords Integration
Part 3 - The Reporting Dashboards: The Executive Dashboard; The Marketer Dashboard; The Webmaster Dashboard;
Part 4 - Marketing Optimization: Unique-Vistor Tracking; Visitor Segmenting; Marketing Campaign Results; Search-Engine Marketing
Part 5 - Content Optimization: Ad Version Testing; Content Performance; Navigational Analysis; Goals & Funnel Process; Web Design Parameters
Part 6 - E-commerce Parameters: Commerce Tracking; Loyalty & Latency; Revenue Sources; Product Merchandising
Index

On the surface, it looks like Google Analytics is pretty basic.  Number of hits, where they came from, etc.  But when you dig down deeper, you'll see a wealth of features that can tell you a whole lot about your site.  It also integrates into other Google features like AdWords, so you can see how your marketing efforts are playing out.  Tyler and Ledford take what could be a dry, dull subject (analytics) and demystify it into normal language and understandable examples.  Rather than just going down the geek trail, they look at the Google offerings from all the user offerings, from webmaster to marketer to executive.  So really regardless of which role you play in an organization (or if you play all three), you should be able to quickly figure out the specific value that Google Analytics offers to you.  I particularly liked the part where they covered the browser characteristics of your visitors.  This feature can help you decide how much effort to put into cross-browser compatibility.  You may only be getting 10% of your 10000 visits via Firefox, but that's 1000 potential customers.  Do you want to take a chance of losing that much potential business by not making sure your site works with that browser?

The only recommendation I would have for a reader of this book is to make sure you already have a Google Analytics account (or you plan on signing up).  If you're reading the book just for fun, many of the sections start to run together after awhile as the marketing displays have much in common with the other two views.  If you're not actually playing around with Google Analytics while you're reading, you'll miss quite a bit that the book has to offer.  Or else you'll end up going back for more focused reading later on.

Either way, this is a book that you'll want to consider if you have any interest in Google Analytics.

04/22/2007

Book Review - Swords For Hire by Will Allen

Category Book Review
Some time back, I ran across a posting somewhere that said Swords For Hire: Two of the Most Unlikely Heroes You'll Ever Meet by Will Allen was a fun read in the mold of The Princess Bride.  Having loved Bride, I decided Swords had to go on my library hold list.  I started it last night around 7:30 and didn't put it down until I finished it at 9.  It really is a fun read that had me shooting the movie of the book in my own mind...

King Olive is locked up in an ultra-secure dungeon of The Boneman.  This is because his brother, a strange individual named Boonder, slowly poisoned him in order to take over the throne.  But really, Aleron is running the kingdom as Boonder's aide, as Boonder spends most of his time putting worms on his head.  Olive is able to smuggle a note out about his existence, and it ends up in the hands of two rather strange and quirky potential heroes.  Rigby Skeet is a crazy soldier who didn't fit in with the regular regiment, so they let him find his own quests.  Sam Hatcher is the son of a farmer (and former war hero) who wants more than what life is giving him.  He doesn't fit the mold of a soldier either, but they send him off to Skeet for an apprenticeship.  These two oddball adventurers get the message and decide that this is the quest they must pursue.  They're really not sure how they'll pull it off, but something will come to them as they head in that direction...

The characters in the story are crazy and would turn into screen characters with little effort.  Skeet's off-the-wall behavior and dialogue is reminiscent of The Princess Bride and that cast of characters, and it's no stretch to think that fans of Bride will enjoy this one as well.  The only sad part is that Will Allen died many years ago of cancer.  This book is something he wrote but that was never published.  His brother decided to release it to the world, and the reaction has been unanimously positive.  It's disappointing that he can't follow up on stories involving these people, but I'd love to see this go to the big screen...

04/21/2007

Book Review - Cinderella Was a Liar by Brenda Della Casa

Category Book Review
I'm a guy, and I'm not the target audience for this book.  Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed Cinderella Was a Liar by Brenda Della Casa.  She skewers the "Prince Charming" myth and dishes out some great advice on how to attract a decent guy.  And those of both genders could benefit from her suggestions on becoming comfortable with yourself first before you try and attract a potential mate.

Contents: The Twelve Sisters No Prince Wants to Date; Throw Out the Proverbial Bridal Binder!; Don't Shove Your Feet into Slippers That Don't Fit; The Joy of Walking Barefoot; Having a Ball in the World of Dating; The Lies We Speak into the Mirror; One-Night Stands (and Other Bad Potions); The Curse of Verbal Diarrhea; Guaranteed Ways to Send Him Far, Far Away; The Lads Holding You Back and the Toads Who Have to Go; How and Where to Bag Your Royal; Real Royals Answer Questions for You; Your Very Own Coat of Arms; Index

The fairy tale of Cinderella has Prince Charming taking Cindy away from her life of drudgery and servitude when he matches her up with the left-behind glass slipper.  Ever since, girls have been raised to look for their "Prince Charming", the one true love that will sweep them away to a happily-ever-after.  The problem is, it's all a fantasy.  Trying to find that one Prince Charming puts a ton of pressure on everyone, and causes real guys to be overlooked.  Della Casa interviewed quite a few real guys to find out how they feel and think about dating and relationships, gathered up their input, and used it to show how a women's quest for her "Prince" is often a series of missteps, disappointments, and disasters.  Instead, "Cinderella" should relax and learn to enjoy her own company.  Developing your own interests and activities guarantee that you'll never be at a loss for options, and you're not dependent on someone else to make you happy.  One you get to that point, then let dating be the opportunity to meet people, have fun, and learn what you like and don't like.  You don't have to fit into the slipper of everyone you date, nor do you want to wear a slipper that gives you blisters.  Relax...

And if you're a guy reading this, much of the advice is just as applicable.  The focus is a bit different, in that we're not looking for someone to take us away and provide for our every need (or at least we shouldn't be).  But learning to have your own interests, as well as looking at dating as a way to find out what you do and don't like is a great idea.  You can also work on your own bad dating habits so that you don't scare off your Cindy when you do meet her...

Great advice, and a lot of humor mixed in here.  I had a lot of fun reading this one...

04/18/2007

Book Review - Hurricane Punch by Tim Dorsey

Category Book Review
OK...  I'm caught back up with Tim Dorsey since I finished Hurricane Punch this evening.  Serge and Coleman are on the loose in Florida again, and hurricane season takes on a whole new meaning...

The (very!) loose story-line is that Agent Mahoney, freshly released from the psych ward, is convinced that he can nab Serge this time around.  He teams up with a newspaper reporter, McSwirley, who doesn't want to do crime beat stories any more.  Unfortunately, he's really good at it even though he tries everything possible to sabotage the stories.  A series of murders are occurring with each new hurricane that rips through Florida, and Mahoney thinks that Serge is responsible for all of them.  Of course, with Serge's sense of "justice" and rather creative ways to off people, it's entirely possible.  Within that framework, you've got all the wacky, off-the-wall action that you've come to expect from a Dorsey novel.  And along the way, you've got all the little obscure Florida history lessons that only someone like Serge would know and share.

If you've read a Dorsey novel, you know how incredibly funny and bizarre they are.  This one ranks right up there.  If you've never read one, be prepared for anything and everything to happen.  This was a lot of fun, and I don't think I'll ever view the number 20 in the same way again...

(You'll need to read the book to get that one...)

04/18/2007

Book Review - The Silicon Forest: High Tech in the Portland Area 1945 to 1986

Category Book Review
OK...  I'll admit that this is *not* a book you're going to run right out and buy...  The Silicon Forest: High Tech in the Portland Area 1945 to 1986 by Gordon B. Dodds and Craig E. Wollner.  So with all the books I have piled up to read, why this one?  Well, I work in high-tech (sorta) and I live in the Portland Oregon area.  A friend said his neighbor had given him a copy of this book, and he hadn't gotten around to reading it yet.  Over a few bus commutes, I worked through it.  It's not bad for what it is...  a niche book written by a couple of college history professors that captures the beginnings of a number of companies that make up our version of "Silicon Valley".

Contents:
Part 1 - The Companies: Beginnings; Electro Scientific Industries; Tektronix; Floating Point Systems; New Ventures; The Supercomputers
Part 2 - The Larger Community: High Technology and Education; Politics; The World of Work; The Balance Sheet; Epilogue
A Note on the Sources; Notes; Index

This was published in 1990, after Oregon was coming out of a nasty recession and the tech industry was starting to heat up.  The authors trace the roots of a number of high-tech firms that started out here in the greater Portland area.  As they outgrew their original buildings, a number of the located out to Washington County, earning that area the nickname of "Silicon Forest".  The histories are not overly elaborate, but they do cover the major events, the founders and major players, as well as the type of management that typified the early years.  Part 2 deals more with the state's attitude towards the new industries and what they did (or didn't do) to help them grow.  It's somewhat ironic that many of the companies were considered on solid ground with promising futures when the book was published.  Needless to say, not many of them aged well.  And the ones that did (such as Intel), don't get much coverage here.  That's the great thing about the future...  No one can tell how it's going to turn out...  :)

If you worked for one of those early Silicon Forest companies, you'd find this mildly interesting.  Local history buffs might have the same reaction.  The rest of you?  Move on, there's nothing to see here...

04/15/2007

Book Review - Think Two Products Ahead by Ben Mack

Category Book Review
It's relatively easy to get someone to make a single purchase from you.  But how do you instill that long-term loyalty and love that causes people to refuse to buy from anyone else?  Ben Mack talks about that and many other branding issues in the book Think Two Products Ahead: Secrets the Big Advertising Agencies Don't Want You to Know and How to Use Them for Bigger Profits.  It's an unconventional book that doesn't mince words...

Contents:
Pool Hall Wisdom; Brand Misinformation versus Back-End Thinking; The Common Thread and Thinking Two Products Ahead; Branding? Be Good to Your Gander; Branding Processes Are Strikingly Similar; What's a Brand Essence?; Legendary Branding; Extracting a Brand Essence; The Kama Sutra of Marketing - Five Basic Positions; Framing to the Right Target Audience; Structured Creativity - Framing Tools; Creativity on Demand - Why Ad Agencies Can't Brainstorm; Feed Their Passions; Plan to Have Many Conversations; Everything Communicates; Storytelling - Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle; Branding and Thinking Two Products Ahead; Myth, Magic, and Making Money the Old-Fashioned Way; AKS; Jeff Lloyd's Secret to Commercial Residential Real Estate Sales; How to Turn Every First Sale into a Residual Stream of Income; Direct Response Branding; Acknowledgements; Index

Mack states that successful branding comes when you start thinking two products ahead of the current sale.  In other words, you need to be thinking about the overall story and impression that your company and product leaves with a customer.  This collection of legends and perceptions defines your brand, not the cute logo or corporate colors you stick on your products.  What that means is that you *have* a brand whether you think you do or not.  You need to bring your customer into the "marketing funnel", which is a four stage process: intrigue, consider, interested, and buy.  When you get them to buy, then the "two products ahead" mindset turns them from one-off buyers to loyal customers.  It's all a matter of managing your brand...  the story that your customers tell about your company and product.

This book started off as an e-book that the author marketed himself (for a much higher price).  His style of writing and communication is frank and blunt, with no room for dancing around an issue.  As such, it's a lot of fun to read.  Since I don't have a marketing background, I found it a little difficult to keep the finer points of marketing vs. branding vs. selling straight at times.  But overall, I got the message that your brand is a priceless asset, and it's important to do everything you can to make sure that brand says the right thing to your customer.

A valuable read for any business, but especially for the small business owner who doesn't think he has a brand...  he does.

04/15/2007

Book Review - Giving Feedback: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges

Category Book Reviews
One of the hardest things to do in the business world is give effective feedback to a peer or subordinate.  This is followed closely by *accepting* feedback from others.  If you want a quick guide on how to handle this task more productively, the Pocket Mentor guide titled Giving Feedback: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges by Harvard Business School Press is a good option.

Contents:
Giving Feedback - The Basics: What Is Feedback?; When To Give Feedback; How To Give Feedback Effectively; How To Receive Feedback Openly; How To Manage Feedback Problems
Tips And Tools: Tools For Giving Feedback; Test Yourself; To Learn More; Sources For Giving Feedback; Notes

The nice thing about the Pocket Mentor series is that you're not required to wade through 200+ pages to learn a skill.  This guide is 75 pages of core information focused squarely on giving and receiving feedback.  One of the most important things they cover is the difference between feedback, coaching, and performance evaluation.  It's all to common for your boss to give you "feedback" when it's really a performance evaluation.  Knowing the difference between reinforcing/changing behavior and evaluating work can make a big difference in how seriously the input is taken, as well as what to expect as a desired outcome.  They also talk about the level of difficulty when it comes to giving feedback to change a job skill versus addressing a personality characteristic.  It's much easier to effect a change on how someone does a particular task as opposed to someone's temper when dealing with a difficult customer.  There are some good worksheets and checklists in the Tools chapter that can help formulate your thoughts and approach before you go diving headfirst into a confrontation that may not turn out well...

This is an ideal book for someone who's busy, doesn't have an abundance of time to read a full book, but honestly wants to improve in this area...

04/14/2007

Book Review - The Daemon In Our Dreams by John F. Rooney

Category Book Reviews
I received an offer via email to read and review a copy of The Daemon In Our Dreams by John F. Rooney.  It's not a book I'd normally run across in my regular reading genres, but the premise sounded interesting.  And while the writing style showed promise, the story line left a bit to be desired.

The story starts off with an assassination in a London pub.  An unidentified killer stands in the doorway of the pub, singles out three different people, and proceeds to kill each of them with three shots.  He then disappears into the crowd, and the media starts to go wild with the story.  After that quick and deadly start, the story goes back to three people who are having strange dreams.  The dreams involve a man, apparently of Indian origin, who appears and glares at each of them.  The imagery involves melting skulls and demonic transformations, and they seem like something more than just a bad nightmare.  These three people, none of whom know each other, all meet on a cruise that ends up, of course, in India.  They discover that they've been haunted by the same visions, and attempt to figure out what it all means.  The tension escalates as they start seeing the actual dream man in the different ports, and the appearances seem to be more threatening.  The relationships deteriorate as the pressure mounts, and none of them know how this will all culminate in the end.  The guess is, not well...

From a straight writing perspective, the book is pretty good.  Quite a bit of the material revolves around the culture and sights of the ports.  I found that pretty interesting, actually.  But the story plot involving the dreams was thin.  Even as the story ended, I still didn't know why these three had been singled out.  Nor did I understand what the killings accomplished.  I'll be the first to admit that I don't always get deep and subtle stories.  But I'm not sure there *was* a point here.  I'd have been happier if it was just a story about a cruise...

I think Rooney has promise as a novelist, but he definitely needs some work on the plotlines.  Couple a solid plot with his writing style, and I'd be looking for his next work...

04/14/2007

Boycott Comic Sans!

Category Humor

Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - Boycott Comic Sans!

04/10/2007

Book Review - Born In Death by J. D. Robb

Category Book Reviews
I'm always happy when Nora Roberts cranks out another J. D. Robb novel for the In Death series.  I finally got to the top of the library list for Born In Death, and as usual, I enjoyed it.  Maybe not quite as compelling as prior installments, but still well worth the time.

Eve Dallas and Roarke are more than a little freaked out.  They've been tagged to be birth coaches for Mavis and her nearly-here baby.  Neither of them want anything to do with it, but such are obligations to friends.  The main crime in this novel is the brutal murder of two accountants who appear to have some dirt on a client.  Roarke gets pulled in to do a little financial forensic work, given his way with numbers (especially when they involve money).  Clues are few and far between, and there's not many obvious leads as to what had been uncovered, as well as who would be threatened by something of that nature.  Eve's life becomes a bit more complicated when a pregnant friend of Mavis, Tandy, goes missing two days before Mavis' baby shower (which Eve was coerced into hosting).  Mavis applies major pressure on Eve to find her before Tandy delivers.  Eve's commitment to the job and to her friend means the candle is burning at both ends.  The pressure gets even more intense when there's a hint that both of her cases may be related...

This installment is a bit more "relationship"-based than action-based.  Watching Eve deal with her discomfort over childbirth and parties is amusing, and it's also one of the few times you see Roarke at a loss for what to do.  There's not a "race against time" element as a killer escalates their behavior, and Eve has to stop them.  The crimes are somewhat singular events, and the focus is more on trying to solve them.  Granted, finding Tandy before she has the baby is a race against time, but it didn't have the same Eve vs. killer feel.

Even though the book was a bit different than prior stories, I still found myself enjoying it a lot.  Unlike other major authors who have seemingly burned out over time, Nora Roberts as J. D. Robb still holds my interest...  Can't wait for the next one.

04/10/2007

Seems like we're not the only ones questioning Mr. Lyons' ethics and techniques...

Category Everything Else
From Groklaw:  SCO Moves for Summary Judgment on Slander of Title in Novell Case

This would look like a relative snoozer of an article (unless the whole SCO thing lights your fire), but further down PJ gets into the latest "reporting" by Lyons on his blog.  Like we haven't lived through *this* experience with him?

If you were to assume that Lyons is also on the SCO team (you might find this account of a conversation between Dan Lyons and journalist James Turner of interest, where bias against me on the part of Lyons shines through), then you could also now understand the likely purpose of Lyons' effort to rehabilitate O'Gara in the article he wrote about how bloggers are from the devil and all that. Remember how we puzzled about why he defended her in that article? Could it be because SCO knew it needed her to be a credible witness in the case down the road? A credible witness. Now that, methinks, will be an uphill slog.

Well worth reading if you need convincing that a leopard doesn't change its spots...

04/09/2007

Book Review - Flickr Mashups by David Wilkinson

Category Book Reviews
It's hard not to get inundated with all the talk of "Web 2.0" these days...  Everything is "Ajax this, mashup that".  But what exactly *is* a mashup, and how do you build one?  Wrox has started a Mashup series of books, and I got a chance to take a look at Flickr Mashups by David Wilkinson.  This is an excellent intro to the concept, focused on the Flickr website for content manipulation.

Contents: Rewriting the Web; Flickr - A Short Tour; Getting Ready to Mash; The Flickr API; Flickr Feeds; Remixing Flickr Using the API; Authenticating with Flickr; Uploading Photos; Remixing Flickr Using Greasemonkey; Working with ImageMagick, Visualizing the News; Searching the Blogosphere; Displaying Your Photos with Google Maps; Caching Your Data; Answers to Exercises; Flickr API Methods; Response Data Structures; Useful Resources; Index

To start with, you shouldn't have the expectation that you'll be able to (or even want to) run every mashup that's here.  Rather than confine his examples to a single small set of technology tools, Wilkinson uses a wide array of software, such as PHP, Perl, JavaScript, Java, Greasemonkey, ImageMagick, and others.  When he first talks about a technology like Greasemonkey, he gives some basic information to get the software and install it.  From there, he builds the mashup with some pretty detailed explanations on the code and results.  He states in the forward that the examples *should* be easy enough to follow even if you're not terribly familiar with the language, like PHP.  Overall that seems to be the case.  But to be honest, you'll probably get a lot more out of the book if you're already conversant with PHP, as a lot of the examples use that.  But even if the particular language of the example isn't your forte, you should be able to take the general idea and apply the concepts to your         tool of choice.

Another thing that is done very well done in this book is an explanation of the Flickr API.  A solid, accessible API is critical to successful mashup use, and his explanation of how the Flickr API works is excellent.  From getting your own API key to creating SQL feeds of Flickr data, he covers a number of possibilities that should have any photo-happy mashup artist coding in short order.  The Flickr site and API are a constant work in progress, so you can't view this as a definitive guide to the package.  The only way you can get that is to visit the website.  But you'll receive a grounding in the fundamentals here, so you'll be well-equipped to handle the new stuff as it comes out.

Overall, I think this is a great series, and I'm looking forward to reading other Mashup titles.  Flickr Mashups got the brain moving in areas I had never thought of, and I can see how this would be a must-read for any coder who can't live without their Flickr subscription...

04/07/2007

Book Review - CMMI Survival Guide: Just Enough Process Improvement

Category Book Reviews
I've been exposed to a number of process improvement methodologies throughout my career, as well as read a number of books that try to explain them.  To be honest, it's not a subject that's high on my "can't wait to read" list.  But were more books styled like CMMI Survival Guide: Just Enough Process Improvement by Suzanne Garcia and Richard Turner, I would probably be more inclined to give them a chance.  This book covers what you need to know without all of the mind-numbing jargon and detail...

Contents:
Part 1 - Scouting the Territory: Why We Think Process Is Important; Why Process Improvement Helps; Why Process Improvement Isn't Trivial
Part 2 - Mapping the Route: CMMI As Your Guide; A Decision-based Life Cycle for Improvement
Part 3 - Surviving the Passage: A PI Case Study; Survival and PI
Part 4 - Experiencing the Journey: Developing and Sustaining Sponsorship; Setting and Measuring Against Realistic Goals; Managing an Appraisal Life Cycle; Developing Process Improvement Infrastructure; Defining Processes; Looking Ahead
Part 5 - Outfitting Your Expedition (PI Resources): Tools and Techniques
Bibliography; Index

The basic direction of the authors is to talk to the reader like they were actually there, and to simplify CMMI so that it can be grasped and understood.  And when you place a traditionally process-heavy methodology like CMMI up against agile methodologies like Extreme Programming, you realize just what a task the authors have taken on.  Surprisingly, they pull it off pretty well.  Part 1 lays the foundation for why a business or organization needs to have some sort of process improvement plan in place.  The larger the organization is, the more important it becomes.  Then using CMMI as the framework, part 2 covers the main topics of just what makes up the process improvement effort.  Part 3 is where the application of the process becomes concrete.  They use an easily-understandable case study that takes concepts and applies them to actual situations.  That's usually where the large "formal" books fail.  You can stuff as much information into your head as you want, but until it gets applied, it's pretty useless.  Part 4 goes into more details of how the process works on an ongoing basis, followed by the actual tools and techniques that come into play for CMMI (part 5).  By the end, you've covered everything you need to know (and you haven't poked your eyeballs out in frustration).

While this might not be the "official" guide to a methodology, it's far more readable and applicable than books three times its size.  And if you can read and understand the material, you have a far better chance of making it actually work...

04/07/2007

Book Review - iText In Action by Bruno Lowagie

Category Book Reviews
I've always figured that there should be some way to create PDF files without the manual effort of any 3rd party software client.  Now I find out there is a way, and it's rather exciting...  iText In Action by Bruno Lowagie covers the iText open source software project.  It's a very well done reference manual that can also serve as a tutorial for a decent Java developer.

Contents:
Part 1 - Introduction: iText - when and why; PDF engine jump-start; PDF - why and when
Part 2 - Basic Building Blocks: Composing text elements; Inserting images; Constructing tables; Constructing columns
Part 3 - PDF Text and Graphics: Choosing the right font; Using fonts; Constructing and painting paths; Adding color and text; Drawing to Java Graphics2D
Part 4 - Interactive PDF: Browsing a PDF document; Automating PDF creation; Creating annotations and fields; Filling and signing AcroForms; iText in web applications; Under the hood
Appendixes: Class diagrams; Creating barcodes; Open parameters; Signing a PDF with a smart card; Dealing with exceptions; Pdf/X, Pdf/A, and tagged PDF; Resources; index

Lowagie starts off with a brief background of how iText came into being, along with a scenario of where the ability to programmatically create PDF files could dramatically change the way a college would run a department.  Then after a short Hello World example that involves creating a simple document, he delves into all the different features and capabilities.  The book at this point starts to change from tutorial to reference manual, but it's done in such a way that you could just keep working through the material in tutorial fashion with little effort (and good results).  The example code in all the chapters are extensively annotated and explained, so you're not left to your own devices to try and figure out what the logic is trying to accomplish.  In fact, I would say that the code annotation and commentary is some of the best I've seen in a book of this type.  Great job...

The main target audience for this book is the Java developer, as the iText project is Java-based.  There are .NET ports for J# and C#, and knowing how close those languages are to Java, this book should work pretty well for those development efforts with a little bit of thought and modification.  Other languages should be able to use the iText toolkit if they have some way to call Java code modules from within their programs.  As a Notes/Domino developer, I should be able to utilize all of this package in any Java agents I write, and the LS2J feature of LotusScript might also work well.  After reading this book, I know I have some things I need to try...

If you have any sort of need involving the creation of PDF files from within your own system, iText is a great alternative to explore.  And if that seems to be the way to go, I don't know of any better book to get than this one...

04/04/2007

Got my first exposure to DXL today... pretty cool stuff!

Category IBM/Lotus
As I mentioned a couple days ago, I am working on a solution to a problem at work involving Google indexing of Domino web pages with collapsed sections.  The consensus was that DXL was the way to go, so I started my foray into uncharted (for me!) territory.  By the time the day was done, I had an agent that exports selected documents to an output file, creates a modified file with updated expand/collapse section settings, and then imports that modified file back into the database.  I had to piece it along as I went, working slowly but surely through each small chunk of processing logic.  The only problem I've seen so far is with sections that start with bullets.  It seems like the import routine sticks a empty bullet point at the start of the list.  Don't know why, but it does...

Anyway, special thanks go to Mr. DXL, Mac Guidera, who provided me with some email direction and encouragement.  I was feeling a bit guilty for not trying to use the NotesXSLTransformer class to do it all without file input/output.  But I'm having a really hard time wrapping my mind around XSLT.  Mac said that for what I was doing, XSLT was overkill.  So I feel better about my approach now.  :)  Plus, I figure this way I have a before and after file snapshot of what happened.  Any spin to help me sleep at night...

Anyway, if you want to see what I did and make fun of my code, check out the Read More...  I'm sure I'll look back at it and laugh six months from now, but for today I'm feeling pretty good about things.

Update 04/07/2007 - Apparently there are a few more issues with formatting than I thought.  A number of their tables are not coming back over correctly, either.  We will have to rethink this one a bit...

04/04/2007

Book Review - Stealing the Network: How to Own a Shadow

Category Book Reviews
It's nice when recreational reading overlaps with technical material, and the Stealing The Network series qualifies for that designation.  The latest installment is Stealing the Network: How to Own a Shadow - The Chase For Knuth by Johnny Long, Timothy Mullen, Ryan Russell, and Scott Pinzon, and it's an enjoyable read that is heavy on the technical how-to while maintaining a decent plotline.

There's basically two story-lines here...  The first involves Robert Knoll Jr. and his father, and is a continuation from the last book.  All the police surveillance and investigations are taking a toll on Junior's life, so he decides to act on his father's cryptic message to head down to Mexico with nothing much more than the clothes on his back (and a large amount of cash).  He is contacted by people who work for his father, and is taken down to Costa Rica where Senior runs an on-line poker site.  Everything that Junior wants is provided (top of the line, too), and he starts doing some programming and network intel for his father.  But he really doesn't have a clue as to what Senior is really up to...

The second story-line involves an autistic kid by the name of Paul Wilson.  As he grows up, he starts gaining an interest in computer hacking and solving puzzles involving gaining access to various network sites.  He's befriended by an on-line entity known as Rafa who is amazed at how Paul can pick up concepts almost immediately.  It helps that he has a photographic memory and is wired such that these types of problems engage him.  Rafa starts paying him for "research assignments", and Paul is thinking that he's actually doing legit security work.  That, coupled with his intense interest in the martial arts, pretty much absorbs all his time.  But he starts to understand a bit of what's really going on when he starts to hack a mysterious local business in order to help out a woman in his dojo.  She has an ulterior motive for wanting to use his phenomenal hacking skills, but it may get them both arrested or killed.  

From a plot pacing standpoint, I was pleasantly surprised.  The other books tended to be a bit more "vignette" in nature, so the overall story suffered.  At least here, the plot and technology actually supported each other.  Again, it's not New York Times best-seller action-adventure, but it works for this type of approach.  Paul seemed to be a bit over-the-top in his skills, but that element was supported by his autism.  It stretched credibility at times, but not so much that you started to laugh (or at least I didn't).  My biggest disappointment is that there was no plot resolution to either story-line, so it's a given that you'll need to read the next one to see how it turns out.  The plotlines are converging, and the next book *should* be pretty good.  Still, I would have liked a bit more payoff at the end.

Regardless, this is an interesting book about hacking techniques (complete with code) all wrapped up in an action/adventure plot.  I'll be interested to see how they merge the story and carry it on in the next installment...

04/03/2007

Book Review - Getting Unstuck by Timothy Butler

Category Book Reviews
There comes a time (or many times, actually) in everyone's life when things appear to be at a dead end.  You know you don't want to be where you're at, but you're in a quandary about how to move on.  That's the subject of the book Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths by Timothy Butler.  If you're willing to work his process and exercises, you may well find that "new path" to take you to the next level.

Contents:
Part 1 - Impasse: Facing Crisis; Feeling Stuck and Doubting Ourselves; Opening Up and Letting Go; Shifting to a New Understanding
Part 2 - Vision: Our Deepest Interests (The First Pattern in the Carpet); Learning to Let Our Passions Guide Us; Power, People, and Achievement (Three Interwoven Patterns); Mapping Our Insights (Patterns in the Sand)
Part 3 - Getting Unstuck: Moving from Impasse to Action; Living at the Border
Appendixes: Continuing the Journey (An Annotated Bibliography); A Note on Impasse and Depression; Scoring the One Hundred Jobs Exercise
Notes; Index; About the Author

Butler is a researcher and business psychologist who works with people who have hit a "dead end" in their life.  Many of the stories in the book involve students who have gone to business school, have a number of options in front of them, but nothing seems quite right.  His approach to getting unstuck is to allow the inner thoughts and passions to direct us towards what we probably already know the answer to be, but we just haven't tuned into it.  Many of these exercises are covered in sidebar entries called "deep dives".  These sidebars go into detail about how an exercise works and how to do it.  For instance, "free attention" is the technique of allowing your focus to reside on a particular part of the body, letting the sensations and feelings wash over you without judgement.  When your mind wanders, you've lost your free attention and need to refocus on the body part.  This then shifts to focus on breathing, and the goal is to let emotions run their course and learn from them.  Another technique is paying attention to images that form in your mind.  These images can often be formed from deeper core feelings and emotions, and taking the time to reflect and analyze them can cast light on your situation and point to a new path.  Probably one of the most in-depth exercises is the 100 Jobs list.  You choose 12 jobs from a list of 100 that appeal to you on an emotional basis.  Scoring the exercise involves categorizing the types of attributes that make up those jobs.  By grouping and classifying the different underlying traits, you'll see trends such as leadership, persuasion, coaching, etc.  These trends can then be used to examine your direction and make corrections...

On the whole, the ideas are solid.  I can see where working through the process could lead to dramatic changes that might not be explored by a more cursory examination of your life.  But while the book is designed to be used on your own, I think it'd work best if you had someone skilled in these techniques working with you.  It's hard to be objective about your own mind, and an external viewpoint would help keep things focused.  I also think that the material would appeal most to business professionals who are at a career crisis.  Most of the material is slanted towards job-related issues, and the stories are largely about college and grad school students.  While anyone could use these ideas in various areas of their lives, I think the "average" person might find it all a bit daunting...

04/02/2007

Book Review - Be Your Own Guru by Olivia Stefanino

Category Book Reviews
Is it always necessary to find someone to help you solve your problems?  Is it possible to have the tools to diagnose and fix your own issues?  Olivia Stefanino contends the answer is "yes" in the book Be Your Own Guru: Personal and Business Enlightenment in Just 3 Days!  This was a fun read with a lot of food for thought...

Contents:
Introduction - The Banker
Section 1 - Me! Me! Me!: Meeting the delegates; Why most training simply doesn't work; Jenny dumps her emotional baggage; Why healing the past is the only way to guarantee a great future!; Pete turns stress to his advantage; Getting to the real cause of stress; Matt discovers the childhood reason for his shaking hands; Learning to deal with negative emotions
Section 2 - Free! Free! Free!: Discovering the amazing power of the subconscious mind!; Getting to grips with what makes you tick; Experiencing the mind/body connection; Using your body to read your mind; Learning to talk the talk; Watch your language; Death is our teacher; It's only when you can face death that you're ready to live; Are you simply a figment of your imagination?; Are you the product of your history or your potential?
Section 3 - You! You! You!: Different views, same world; It's our differences which make live so exciting; Using intuition and energy to create phenomenal relationships; The Banker announces the results for the pilot project; Afterword
Section 4 - Tools! Tools! Tools!: Tools to be your own guru; The Self Journey (using PEAR), The Relationship Journey (using PEAR), The Soul Journey
Index

Stefanino takes an interesting approach to presenting her material.  The book is structured as a story about her working with a group of sub-par employees at a company.  Her friend "The Banker" gives her the job with the condition that she only has three days worth of time to work her magic.  She accepts the challenge and proceeds to guide the people through some challenging exercises that explore their inner selves and limiting beliefs.  The chapters alternate between the story and the principles that were just exhibited.  Because the format brings personality and being into the material, it's hard not to find yourself thinking about your own circumstances as you read along.  The PEAR process is one that I felt was extremely powerful to apply in your life.  It's a conversation you have with yourself, but it's focused on the person you see in the mirror.  It starts with Expression, stating the negativity you feel towards yourself.  Forgiveness comes next.  You forgive yourself for the feelings you've lived with.  Acceptance follows, followed by Love.  This same technique is also applied to relationships with others, with the additional step of Letting Go at the end.  Letting this pent-up emotion out can be painful and difficult, but living with the anger is more damaging than you can ever imagine.  

I enjoyed this book a lot.  It's a bit more "touchy-feely" than I normally go for, but the practical application with the characters made it something that was vivid and real rather than fluffy and ethereal.  If you're wondering why you can't break through some of your personal and professional roadblocks, you might well find the answer here...

04/02/2007

ODF testimony to the Texas House and Senate... Nice inclusion of Notes/Domino...

Category IBM/Lotus
From Bob Sutor:  My testimony to the Texas House and Senate regarding the open document format legislation

This is the text for the testimony I delivered to both the Texas House and Senate this last Monday, March 24.

Good afternoon/evening, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. IBM supports this bill. This bill is about the future, increased competition and innovation, and about more choice for Texas. It is completely consistent with the technological and intellectual property directions of the software industry.

The current file formats for how you save office document used by most of you and your citizens are based on technology and practices from the 70s, 80s, and 90s when some companies locked customers into their products and upgrades. This is not acceptable today.

When you and your citizens are effectively restricted to a single software supplier to access government information, you and they pay what I would consider taxes. Open standards avoid this.

snip

IBM joined our industry colleagues to work on an open standard for file formats, namely, the OASIS/ISO OpenDocument Format (ODF). File formats are merely blueprints for how a document is structured – headers, footer, paragraphs – and how it should be saved and exchanged. OpenDocument Format is being openly and actively developed by a community of global experts from many organizations and is seeing broad implementation in independent ways from both open and proprietary sources.

Its adoption rate is growing. Teenagers are using it. Politicians are using it. Some CIOs in organizations that officially use only proprietary formats are using ODF at home when it comes time to spend their own money and technical expertise to pick products for their personal use. The huge and growing base of Open Office users are saving and distributing files in ODF format. The next generation of IBM’s Lotus Notes will support it later this year.

Nice to see Notes/Domino being positioned to take advantage of legislation like this.

04/02/2007

Book Review - The Power of Ren: China's Coaching Phenomenon

Category Book Reviews
In the United States, organizational development, or "coaching" courses, are fairly common.  Whether they stick or make a difference is another story, but the process and concepts are generally understood to be desirable.  But in a country and culture such as China, coaching is a foreign concept.  The Power of Ren: China's Coaching Phenomenon by Eva Wong and Lawrence Leung offers up an approach that is becoming increasingly successful, as well as changing the ways that businesses function.  This book will appeal more towards those with an Eastern philosophical bent, but it's interesting to see how coaching concepts can bridge cultural gaps.

Contents:
Part 1 - People, Not Issues: The Human Touch
Part 2 - Ren at Work: Changing Attitudes; Finding Opportunities in Crisis; From Chaos to Prosperity; Revolutionizing Retailing; From Management to Leadership; Going to the Mountain; Living out a Prophesy; Believing in Coaching; From Rags to Riches
Part 3 - The Tao of Ren - Nine-Dot Leadership: Making Dreams a Reality
Postscript by Lawrence Leung; Index

Ren is characterized by the Chinese word for "human".  The character resembles a person standing sideways, and the base character makes up many of the characters related to humanity.  It's the focus on the human element of business that makes Ren different than the status quo, which is sacrifice to the group direction with no questioning of leadership.  The Ren At Work section of the book is made up of various stories involving Wong's efforts to turn around Chinese companies that were floundering.  She faced many obstacles in her journey, including rigid dictatorial management and gender bias.  But through perseverance and results, she was able to capture the hearts of the workers.  This dramatic change in the work force often caused management to reassess their own styles, and the results were remarkable.  Even businesses that had been successful were often not agile enough to change based on the business climate.  Applying Ren coaching to the situation invariably allowed the business to reclaim and recapture that initial energy and force.

The Tao of Ren section gets into the actual coaching program and the philosophies that underlie it.  The "Two Aspects" (Knowledge/Skills and Belief/Attitude) and "Three Pillars" (Why, What, and How) are based on the two brushstrokes and three terminal points of the ren character.  These philosophies are then expanded into something called "9-dot Leadership", based on the old puzzle of connecting a 3x3 grid of dots with non-overlapping straight lines.  This can't be done unless you think "outside the box" and extend your lines beyond the borders.  These nine dots are given labels - Passion, Commitment, Responsibility, Win-win, Enrollment, Appreciation, Trust, Giving, and Possibilities.  She goes on to explain how each of these traits needs to be present in order to find optimal working relationships with each other, and to lead in such a way as to guarantee success.

The layout of this book is likely to be a tough read for a Western mindset.  The first half of the book is entirely focused on the "results" of Ren coaching, with little explanation as to what it is.  In fact, I started to wonder if I was ever *going* to find that out.  The second half of the book answers those questions, but in a far more introspective fashion than what I'm used to in a self-improvement book.  It's not a "do this, this, and this" program.  It's more a deeper examination of one's self and how it blends into the whole of the group culture.  If this is your first exposure to organizational improvement material (and you're a typical Westerner), you'll probably struggle.  But for those who have studied the subject and want a different cultural angle, it provides a unique look.

04/02/2007

Is is possible to programmatically access Section properties?

Category IBM/Lotus
We're implementing a Google search appliance at work, and indexing text in sections has been a bit problematic.  If the section is set to auto-expand, indexing works fine.  But if the text is set to auto-collapse, then the indexing ignores the text in the section.  And for the particular applications we're targeting on this appliance, there are *many, many* sections, all set to auto-collapse.

I've been able to stick a JavaScript routine at the end of the page load to collapse everything down, so having the document display sections as expanded for indexing but collapsing them on open works OK.  My problem is that there are thousands of documents where the sections would have to be reset from auto-collapse to auto-expand.  Not something I (nor the users) want to contemplate.

Is it possible to somehow write a script to programmatically access the section properties in a document?  I'd like to hit up against all the documents, convert the section launch properties, and then save the document back in place.  LotusScript (from my knowledge level) would be ideal.  I know nothing about the C API if that's the route I need to go.  Is DXL a possibility?

And before you ask...  We filter out URLs that have ExpandSection in them.  If you leave that there, the search appliance grabs all variations of section openings.  Each variation becomes a new document that's crawled.  When we did that, we went from 38000 documents being served to nearly 5 million being crawled and 400K being served.  In addition, the search results came up with a lot of duplicate results due to the varying URLs.  So URL manipulation is (I think) out of the question...

Any and all suggestions graciously accepted and considered...

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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