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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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05/30/2007

Book Review - Competing on Analytics by Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris

Category Book Review
There is *so* much value and information locked up in the data that a company maintains on their business.  But how can a company turn that into a competitive edge?  That question is explored in the book Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning by Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris.  While not a detailed "how to" book on the subject, it makes a strong case for what needs to be done to survive and compete in today's marketplace.

Content:
Part 1 - The Nature of Analytical Competition: The Nature of Analytical Competition; What Makes an Analytical Competitor?; Analytics and Business Performance; Competing on Analytics with Internal Processes; Competing on Analytics with External Processes
Part 2 - Building an Analytical Capability: A Road Map to Enhanced Analytical Capabilities; Managing Analytical People; The Architecture of Business Intelligence; The Future of Analytical Competition
Notes; Index; About the Authors

I'll be the first to admit that a book on analytics doesn't necessarily sound like "edge-of-your-seat" reading.  But surprisingly, this book is much more readable than I expected.  Davenport and Harris avoid getting bogged down in academic posturing and theorizing, and the examples of real companies and scenarios are numerous.  You'll find everything from financial services (like Capital One) to sports teams (such as the New England Patriots).  Through these actual companies and case studies, the foundation is set for why this is critical to business success, as well as the mind-set changes that are needed to make it all happen.  They also do a great job in explaining the difference between reporting and true analytics, as well as presenting a continuum of stages of analytical competition.  You may be anywhere from analytically impaired (not good) to being an analytical competitor (very good).  While you may not like where you are, at least you'll understand what you need to do to move up the pyramid.

Even if you're not directly responsible for analytics, it's worth understanding what it's all about.  This is a good intro to the topic, and it may be what spurs you on to take the next steps from "what" to "why"...

05/29/2007

Random thoughts and memories of ILUG2007

Category ILUG2007
I'm still physically and mentally wiped out from the travel yesterday, but I wanted to wrap up with some of my thoughts and feelings about the crazy, incredible week we just had.  And as normal with these types of wrap-ups, if you don't understand the thought, then assume it's an inside joke meant for someone who does.  :)
  • I thought I was pretty clever in "buying" good evals with book giveaways.  That all paled compared to Rob Novak buying 80 rounds of Guinness for the attendees in his session.  I have much to learn from the master...
  • I haven't seen all the session evals, but my everlasting gratitude to whoever wrote this one in...  "Duff is SO CUTE!"  If I ever lose the "cute and huggable" vibe, I'm in trouble.
  • There's a whole group of elderly Asian tourists who wonder what was going on in the basement of the hotel.  I'm sure the tour guide did not prep them for female ringmasters with a whip standing guard in front of the restrooms.
  • As hard as we all tried to kill Fluffy, he became the most life-like mascot I've ever seen.  Just goes to show that the most playful part of an event is often something you didn't (and couldn't) plan.
  • If I sit through enough iterations of Chris Blatnick's session, I hope that I'll one day actually create something that looks cool.
  • My next blog project will use the IBM blogging template, and Phigment is going to be my resident expert.
  • I didn't know just how cool Ajax can be in Domino.
  • It still amazes me that every time I go to one of Rob Novak's sessions, I come out with a solution to a current project.
  • If you ever get a chance to see Paul and Bill speedgeek next to each other, don't miss it.  
  • Paul turns unhealthy shades of red when speedgeeking.
  • Paul also turns multiple shades of red when conferences end.  :)
  • Alan takes great nature shots off the beaten path.  Just don't ask to see the pictures.  :)
  • Every event like this needs a Matt White...  no ego, no agenda, and does whatever needs to be done, regardless.  Thanks, Matt.
  • I don't want to see another roll of gaffer tape for a long time.
  • "Tree" is a very important part of the Irish language.  Without it, you'd go directly from two to four.
  • The Irish Museum of Natural History is so much better than American museums.  It has old things in it.  
  • Can anyone explain "bog butter" to me?
  • My new favorite Chinese dish is "dook".
  • I hope we never hold this event in Cork, as I'll never understand anything said to me once I leave the conference...  unless I hire Eileen as my personal translator.
  • Ireland is a beautiful country.
  • 80% of American cars would be unable to navigate a Dublin residential street...  at least without major insurance claims.
  • If I were ever forced to make the choice between Lotusphere and ILUG, I'm not sure Lotusphere would win automatically.  I'd learn more there, to be sure.  But I've never felt closer to a group of people as I did in Ireland.
  • Passion makes the difference between "ok" and "unforgettable".

And finally...

If you ever think IBM doesn't know and appreciate their Lotus community, think again.  IBM sponsored ILUG, handed over significant money, trusted their brand to a bunch of crazy conference organizers who were making it up as they went, and most important...  didn't tell us how it had to be done.  Thanks.

05/29/2007

The *only* downside of ILUG2007 for me...

Category ILUG2007
... other than spending far too much time in a plane.  :)

Coming back to reality after this event has been really hard.  Returning from a regular conference is not that big of a deal.  Returning from Lotusphere is hard because of what that event has meant to my professional and personal life over the last 10 years.  Coming back from Ireland is painful.  I knew we had bonded during that week (and the previous 4 months to get to "that week"), but I don't think I realized how much.  I feel rather empty right now, as if my best friend(s) have just moved away.

05/27/2007

Yes, I actually *did* make it over here...

Category ILUG2007
Sorry for the darkness when it comes to blogging about ILUG 2007 over here in Ireland.  It's been a non-stop week that's been one of the most incredible times of my life...

On my way home tomorrow (Monday), I'll likely recap and reflect.  Right now, it's still washing over me.  From learning new things to talking with insanely smart people who love what they do to being part of the masochistic group that actually pulled this event off...  It's been an insane four months to deliver ILUG 2007, and I'd kill for the privilege of doing it all again.  Actually, I think my co-organizers have threatened to kill me if I don't.  :)

Until I can group my own thoughts, check out:

ILUG 2007 blog entries

ILUG Flickr photos (because "What happens at ILUG, ends up on Flickr...")

05/20/2007

Book Review - The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun

Category Book Review
Occasionally I run across a book that puts into words my general and ill-defined feelings on a particular subject.  And this is one of them...  The Myths Of Innovation by Scott Berkun.  He captures perfectly the difference between what we've been led to believe about innovation as opposed to how it actually works.  And on top of that, it's a fun read...

Contents:
The Myth of Epiphany; We Understand the History of Innovation; There is a Method for Innovation; People Love New Ideas; The Lone Inventor; Good Ideas Are Hard to Find; Your Boss Knows More About Innovation Than You; The Best Ideas Win; Problems and Solutions; Innovation Is Always Good; Research and Recommendations; Photo Credits; Acknowledgements; About the Author; Index

Berkun takes on the myth that all great discoveries were made by one (or a small team of) individual who has a "eureka" moment when everything comes together.  The myth feels good, as it fits in our American culture of individualism.  But the truth of the matter is that the "inventor" of something is really a nebulous thing.  Was the inventor the first person who came up with the concept?  Was it the first person who made it work?  Maybe it's the first person who made it a financially viable product.  What you quickly learn in this book is that every large idea is made up of many smaller ideas and innovations that come together to make the new concept possible.  The personal computer is an innovation, but it relies on innovations in design, silicon, transistors, magnetics, energy, etc.  No one person is responsible for everything.  If you remove any of the prior inventions that make up the new whole, the entire structure collapses.  

I really enjoyed Berkun's thought-provoking chapters.  For instance, Newton is credited for many advances in the field of physics.  But he's as much a product of his location and time as he is of his studies.  Born in a different country or 100 years earlier, Newton doesn't exist as the key figure.  But that's not to say that his ideas would have never been uncovered.  Others working in the same field with the same surroundings could likely have traveled the same path.  Another idea that resonated with me is the concept of "epiphany"...  that moment when the "missing piece" drops into place and the whole picture is revealed.  In actuality, there's a large amount of work that leads to that moment in time, and without that prior work the "missing piece" becomes just one more part of the puzzle.  Innovation is hard work, and it's a process, not a moment in time.

Finally, I very much agreed with his view of how time adds meaning to an idea or concept.  The Wright brothers' first flight wasn't a big deal when they first launched their contraption at Kitty Hawk.  Very few people showed up, and it would be decades before flight became a common occurrence.  The Eiffel Tower was considered an eyesore when it was first constructed.  Now it's a famous monument.  Only with the passage of time does the true importance of something become revealed, or do we attach significance to an event.

There's so much in this book to make you rethink and question the stories of innovation that have become part and parcel of our culture and society.  But once you do that, then it's possible to truly understand how innovation occurs, and how you can play a part in that.  This is a great read that will occupy your mind for quite some time after you turn the final page.

05/20/2007

A few new software sites I'm playing with...

Category Everything Else
Over the last week in between other things I was doing (or should have been doing), I incorporated a couple new websites into my regular computing routine.

The first is my new primary RSS reader, Google Reader.  I've been using SharpReader for some time, and generally it's worked out well.  But it seemed like I was doing a lot of clicking to mark things as read, and I had to click through on more stories than I generally wanted.  A couple of friends had posts on RSS readers, and I decided to try out an on-line version.  This solves a big problem for me when I go mobile, as I run my feed reader on my desktop machine.  After exporting my feeds and importing them to Google Reader, I quickly became hooked.  Response time is great, and the interface is very clean.  If I want to keep a post around, I can star it.  And my favorite feature...  You can display the posts in expanded mode, and automatically have them marked as read as you scroll by them.  That's a big convenience for how I tend to work with readers.  I've shut down SharpReader, and I don't miss a thing.  Google Reader is worth a look if you're searching for an on-line site for gathering your RSS feeds.

The other site I'm getting hooked on is Jott.com.  This free beta service allows you to dial a toll-free number and dictate a message, or "jott".  This message is then automagically transcribed into an email and sent to the recipient.  You are allowed to set up an address book of recipients, and the service will do voice recognition to determine where it goes.  So if I'm in a bookstore and find a title that looks interesting, I can call Jott, say "me", and then give the title of the book.  When I get home, the email message will be waiting for me.  The transcription might not be perfect, but it will be enough to remember what I was thinking or seeing at the time.  This may be one of those services that I pay for when it comes out of beta...

05/20/2007

Winding down and wrapping up...

Category ILUG2007
Well...  I'm about 12 hours away from zipping up the suitcase and heading to the airport.  I'm at the point where everything is packed, but I'm wondering what I probably forgot.  I always overpack for trips like this...  I was trying to go totally carry-on, but it became apparent that the package effort to get there was going to be too much of a pain.  So I'll check one bag and carry on a small tote with my laptop (just in case the bags decide to go on a different trip than I do).

I'm looking forward to this conference.  I've been fortunate to be part of the Skype chat used to organize this event (been going since mid-February), and I had no idea of the time and effort it takes to put on an event like this.  Be sure to tell Paul, Bill, Eileen, Kitty, and Warren thanks...  They've poured themselves into this conference...

05/19/2007

Book Review - Little Green Book of Getting Your Way by Jeffrey Gitomer

Category Book Review
Through my reviewing activities, I've become a fan of Jeffrey Gitomer's "Little Book" series.  His latest, Little Green Book of Getting Your Way: How to Speak, Write, Present, Persuade, Influence, and Sell Your Point of View to Others, is another excellent volume that applies to far more than just the stereotypical "salesman".

Contents:
Getting Ready to Get Your Way; The Fundamentals of Getting Your Way; The Fundamentals of Persuasion and Personal Power; The Essentials of Getting Your Way; Power Presentation; Persuasion Performance; Sales Persuasion Performances; The Write Way to Get Your Way; Persistence; Eloquence

Now on the surface, you may think this sounds very manipulative.  But think about it...  Sales is all about persuasion and "getting your way."  And sales is much broader than you think.  You "sell" when you go to a job interview.  You "sell" when you're in a project meeting talking about how you will implement a system.  And of course, you sell when you have a title of "sales rep".  Using the ideas and techniques that Gitomer packages here, you'll find yourself much better prepared to be successful in the course of your sales efforts.  Much of what he covers is based on attitude...  with the right attitude, you are half way there.  If you go in confident about your "product" and benefits, people will be more likely to have an interest that you can build on.  Go in thinking you don't stand a chance, and you won't.

I think my favorite chapter is on "power presentations."  It consists of 25 pages of tips and attitudes that can turn every presentation into a memorable event.  And that's not just sales presentations either (although presentations are all trying to sell something, if even just ideas...)  Commanding a room, asking engaging questions, using props, etc.  These are all things that *any* presenter should be aware of and strive for.  And since everything is short and to the point, you can review this material on a regular basis and come away with something new to practice each time.

If you understand that persuasion is more than just "getting your way" and that selling doesn't always involve a cash transaction, you'll immediately grasp what Gitomer is talking about.  And if you *don't* understand those concepts, then you need this book even more.  This should be a fixture on your bookshelf, and it should pay back your investment of money and time many times over...

05/15/2007

Book Review - Kingdom Come - The Final Victory by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

Category Book Review
So we come to the end (I *really* hope!) of the Left Behind series with Kingdom Come: The Final Victory by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.  This series was done four books ago, but it was being kept alive with artificial life support.  That's too bad, as it's tarnished what was a good concept...

In this final book, the action shifts to the millennial kingdom after the end of the Tribulation.  The plot, such as it is, revolves around man's rebellion during that time, leading up to the final showdown between Christ and Lucifer.  There's a basic espionage/infiltration story with some romantic bylines, but it's something that could have been done in 100 pages or less.  The vast portion of the book involves retelling of Old Testament stories and quotations of prophecy related to end times.  

On the positive side, this is one of the few treatments I've read of what life during the 1000 year period after the Tribulation could be like.  LaHaye and Jenkins interpreted some Old Testament passages in ways I had never considered.  Not that I think they were right or wrong...  it's just an angle I had never heard.  Christians who read this will have some room for their imaginations as to what that life will be like.  Having said that, this book is bad from a literary standpoint.  The plot is thin, to say the least.  The stories and Scripture don't add much of anything to the story-line other than from a theological viewpoint.  There was a small sliver of hope that the espionage plot was going to turn into something, but it was getting very late in the book (and my fears were that they were going for yet another volume).  In the last few pages, they just jumped ahead a few hundred years, wrapped everything up in about 10 pages, and that was it!  You could almost hear the editor saying "you're late" or "you're over your page count".  

At least with the prequels (which I also thought were ill-advised and full of filler), I felt there was a bit of background that made them marginally entertaining if you had read the entire series.  There's nearly nothing here from a literary perspective that I'd recommend.  Yes, I believe the underlying message.  But LaHaye and Jenkins went to the well far too many times in this series.  This series *should* be done, as there's nowhere else to go with it.  But if they figure out some way to stretch out another title out of it, they'll do it without me.

05/15/2007

At what point do you say "this isn't working?"...

Category Everything Else
I didn't know whether to label this "Everything Else" or "Humor"...  There's a local semiconductor company here called MathStar.  I know nothing about them, have no ties to them, and have no axe to grind.  The only reason I've heard of them is that their "earnings" showed up in a local business newsletter I get.  Something about them losing $15 to $20 million last quarter on revenue of...  $80,000.  And then there's this story from today's news, about their top sales exec leaving (I wonder why???)...

MathStar announced last week that it will sell $25 million worth of its stock by mid-June. The stock now trades at about $1.70 per share.

The Hillsboro-headquartered company has been consuming cash at a high rate, developing a new type of programmable logic chip. As of March 31, MathStar had $6.5 million in cash on its balance sheet, enough to last through Labor Day, according to CEO and founder Doug Pihl.

MathStar moved to Hillsboro from Minnesota early in 2006. The company first sold its stock on the public market in October 2005.

MathStar has raised almost $93 million through selling stock, notes and warrants since it was founded 10 years ago. The company's total revenue during that time has been less than $1 million. However, recent contracts with a major electronics manufacturer and a major electronics distributor should bring in $2.5 million to $3 million in revenue by the end of this year, according to company statements.

Bold italics are mine...

You've been in business for 10 years, sold $93 million in stock, and have less than $1 million in revenue for that entire time???  And now you want to find some sucke...  INVESTORS to put in another $25 million?

Guess there *is* one born every minute...

05/13/2007

Book Review - Ajax Bible by Steven Holzner

Category Book Review
Finding a book on Ajax isn't too hard any more.  Finding one that covers beginning to advanced Ajax (and does it well) is another story.  Steve Holzner has put his entry into the field with Ajax Bible.  This is one of the better titles out there, and there's something to appeal to all levels of developers.

Contents:
Part 1 - Fundamental Ajax: Essential Ajax; Know Your JavaScript; Creating Ajax Applications; Serious Ajax Programming
Part 2 - Ajax In Depth: Introducing Ajax Frameworks; More Advanced Ajax Frameworks; Using Server-Side Ajax Frameworks
Part 3 - Ajax and the DOM, XML, CSS, and Dynamic HTML: The DOM and Event Handling; XML and Ajax; Cascading Style Sheets and Ajax; Dynamic HTML and Ajax
Part 4 - Advanced Ajax: Introducing Ajax and PHP; PHP - Functions and HTML Controls; Handling User Input in PHP; Ajax and Security; Filters, MVC, and Ajax
Index

Holzner's written over 100 technology books, so I've come to expect a high level of writing from him.  He definitely delivers here.  Part 1 gives you all the information you need to start writing an Ajax-enabled application.  The JavaScript chapter is designed to give you enough background if you've never worked with Ajax before, but not so lengthy as to dominate the entire book.  The Serious Ajax Programming chapter will appeal to readers who have done some Ajax coding already, covering such subjects as multiple XMLHttpRequest objects and calling other domains. Part 2 gets into the whole topic of frameworks and how they can save you time and effort in your coding projects.  No need to reinvent the wheel if someone else already has done that.  Part 3 covers more of how you can take the returned data from the Ajax call and format your web page to display and use that data.  And finally, Part 4 goes into some fairly advanced topics that won't mean much to the beginner, but might be exactly what the advanced developer needs.

What I especially liked are Holzner's code examples.  In many books, you get a code example all at once.  The following writing then tries to explain whatever was just shown.  That's usually OK, but sometimes longer code snippets can get confusing.  Holzner "builds" the code alongside the writing.  So you first get the start and end of the function along with the explanation.  Then you get that code along with a new bold section that explains the next step.  This pattern is repeated until the entire code snippet is built.  While some might feel that it pads the book with redundant pages of code, I prefer it as you see the specific part of the code being discussed without getting confused about additional lines you don't yet understand.

If there was a need for me to recommend a book on Ajax to someone without knowing their background, this would be a very safe bet.  Beginners will get exactly what they need, and intermediate/advanced readers will find stuff that they don't know.  Nice job...

05/12/2007

Book Review - Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

Category Book Review
I heard of Daniel Tammet after watching a documentary on his incredible mental skills.  His book Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant is a fascinating look into the life of someone who doesn't see the world like others do.  It's even more remarkable in that he's able to tell the story himself.

Tammet is a autistic savant with Asperger's Syndrome, a combination that usually leaves a person with little to no social skills to survive in the normal world.  As he grew up, he was definitely "different", but his parents tried to make sure he participated in his world as much as possible.  So instead of descending into isolation, he was forced to find ways to adapt and fit in.  This socialization has allowed him to do things far beyond what would be expected, such as serving as a volunteer in a foreign country on his own.  It's amazing to see how he's struggled to find his place, as well as how he's used his phenomenal mental abilities.  For instance, he can learn a language fluently in just a few weeks.  He memorized the value of pi out to over 25000 digits.  For him, numbers are art, and have shapes and colors.  These mental images allow him to view words and values in ways that we can't even imagine.  He can do mental calculations with nearly instantaneous results, and it all appears to be a flowing image.  It's hard not to think about the original "Rainman", Kim Peek, when you read this story.  In fact, one of the moving parts of the story is when he actually meets Peek during a visit to America.  Watching two people relate to each other when no one else can see the world as they do is touching.

Because this is his own story, it's not an exhaustive explanation of autism or Asperger's.  The chapters are much more personal, and have a bit of a random nature in their layout.  But as a way to experience what it's like to live with these conditions, it's hard to beat.

05/12/2007

Book Review - The Escape Artists by Joshua Piven

Category Book Review
Have you ever thought that you'd rather be doing something else with your life?  Do you have a hobby or obsession that you'd love to turn into your full-time job?  Here are the people who have done just that...  The Escape Artists: True Stories of People Who Turned Their Obsessions Into Professions by Joshua Piven.  On top of good reading entertainment, it may give you the push you need to make changes...

Contents: From Fandom to the Final Frontier; Wall Street Meets Special Ops; Freaks, Flamethrowers, and Phenoms; Extreme Entrepreneurship; Slop Gags and Frozen Pipes; How to Keep a Drug Kingpin from Getting Too Rich; Rebels, Headhunters, Piglets, and Other Adventures Downriver; You're Funny, But Can You Tell A Joke?; Riding Your Obsession; A Harvard Physician Goes Off the Grid; How to Make Your Escape; Notes

Joshua Piven wrote The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series, which is useful and humorous all at the same time.  He continues that style of writing in Escape Artists.  He's taken a number of people who have turned aside from the big-money jobs and "normal" society expectations to pursue their personal dreams and obsessions as their full-time professions.  In some cases, it's a transition that isn't seen often, like Mark Divine going from an auditing career to a slot in the Army Rangers.  In other examples, it's someone going after a full-time career that is off the regular radar screen, like Karen DeSanto becoming a circus clown after auditioning at Clown College.  And there's the person chasing his dream even though time is running out and the chance of success is minute...  Chuck Bechtel trying to become a major-league pitcher after spending so many years in the minors.  These aren't all "feel good" or "happy ending" stories, either.  Bechtel's experience is one where he had all the tools when he was young, but overuse and injuries conspired to prevent the jump from college phenom to major-league pitcher.  But dreams die hard, and even toiling away in minor leagues for little pay is still preferable to giving up hope completely.  But in all the cases, these people have learned that being "normal" or well-paid isn't the path to happiness.  Doing something you love is worth the sacrifices, and it often can turn out to be a career.

This book will both entertain and fire up your imagination.  If you find yourself working just to finance your dreams, then this may be the motivation you need to allow your dreams to *be* your life.

05/12/2007

Book Review - Become Who You Were Born to Be by Brian Souza

Category Book Review
I enjoy reading motivational titles, and this is one that I enjoyed quite a bit...  Become Who You Were Born to Be: We All Have a Gift. . . . Have You Discovered Yours? by Brian Souza.  If you've read more than a couple of titles on life improvement, you will have seen much of what's in here.  But the packaging and style is excellent, and readers new to the genre will benefit tremendously.

Contents:
Part 1 - Discover It: How This Book Can Change Your Life - My Story; Find the Fire Within; Are Your Life Patterns Holding You Hostage?; How to Give Meaning and Purpose to Your Life; Have You Been Listening to the Voice?; Discover the True You You Never Knew; What a Face-Lift Can't Hide; Discover Your Gift
Part 2 - Develop It: What Really Separates Winners from Losers; The Secret of Top Achievers; The Unglamourous Side of Becoming a Celebrity; Are Your Dreams on Life Support?; Avoid the Goal-Setting Trap; Develop Your Gift
Part 3 - Appreciate It: These Are Extraordinary Times; Has America Lost Its Way?; A Little Perspective; Avoid Premature Aging with One Word; Appreciate Your Gift
Part 4 - Use It: Learning to Deal with Change; For Better or For Worse; Confronting Life's Struggles; How to Face Your Fears; How You Can Succeed by Failing; Get Your Groove Back; Use Your Gift
Part 5 - Give It Away: Follow Your Compass; The Essence of Success; The Secret to Happiness, Joy, and Peace of Mind; Are We Here to Serve or to Be Served?; Give Your Gift Away
Bibliography

Souza looks at the "gift" process as a five step approach.  First you discover your gift, then you work at developing it.  Appreciating what you have to offer and actually using it comes next, followed by giving yourself away through the use of your gift.  Each chapter deals with a discrete component of the process, and involves looking at the life story of someone who has excelled in that area.  The chapter wraps up with an applicable quote, the person you should remember for inspiration, and questions to contemplate in relation to what you've just read.  With a clear and engaging writing style, Souza pulls the reader in and the meat of the content becomes something that just makes sense.

What I appreciated most about the style of his book was the biographies of the particular individuals.  Granted, in all the examples the outcomes are what you'd expect with hard work and perseverance.  But I didn't get the feeling that I was reading "revisionist history" that so often happens when you read the life stories of well-known individuals.  Souza makes it clear that many "overnight sensations" and people who have everything had plenty of hard times where it would have been very easy to give up (and I'm sure many others have).  Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Warner are but two of many that overcame stacked odds and still succeeded.  Seeing how others have struggled helps put your own situation in perspective.

This is one of those books that I'll be re-reading a number of times.  No matter how many times you see this material, you are always adding new experiences to your application of it.  A very enjoyable read, and one that pays dividends...

05/10/2007

Book Review - 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn

Category Book Review
Based on a recommendation from my niece (who's just an avid of a reader as I am, *and* she works in a book store!), I got a copy of 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.  This is a moving story of the 9/11 tragedy told from the point of view of those who were inside the buildings when it happened.  It only took 102 minutes from the time of the first impact until the collapse of the second tower...

Dwyer and Flynn interviewed hundreds of people and pored over transcripts and records related to that fateful day.  From that, they were able to piece together stories of those who survived and those who perished.  A number of the people that are followed were able to find that slim escape path that led them past the devastation of the affected floors and out to the street level.  Far too many others were trapped above the wreckage with no way out.  Their phone calls and pleas for help leave you no choice but to feel the desperation and confusion they faced over what happened.  What's sad is that many who died in the South Tower had the opportunity to evacuate the building and get away from potential danger.  But the messages that were conveyed by officials were that *something* happened in the North Tower, but there was no danger to it's twin.  The lack of caution and the feeling that business was more important meant that many ended up directly in the path of the second plane when it crashed into the South Tower.  The authors also analyze the building code issues that contributed to the failure of the escape routes, as well as the mass confusion and lack of communication that caused the death of many firefighters and aid workers who weren't able to evacuate in time (even after the first South Tower collapse).

Reading a book like this caused me to look at my surroundings in a whole new light.  Do I know where escape routes are in the building where I work?  Do I know where *alternative* routes are if the main one is blocked?  And more important, am I fit enough to be able to survive an escape attempt?  If you work on the 3rd floor of a building, it's one thing.  But to be on the 90th floor of a skyscraper, with no elevator access, and the likelihood of descending (and reascending) dozens of flights of stairs might be enough to put your life in jeopardy.  Even more so if you're called upon to assist someone else during an evacuation.  Makes you think about whether you should commit to using the stairs more rather than taking the lazy one-floor elevator trip.

This isn't an easy emotional read, as the people are real and many of them died.  But it's important to understand what happened during their survival efforts.  Building codes are there for a reason, and it's not to make more rentable space on each floor.  Reading a book like this could mean the difference between living and dying should you find yourself in a similar and equally unexpected disaster scenario such as this.

05/09/2007

To squelch an ugly rumor being spread by a certain blogger...

Category Everything Else
I did *not* turn 60 today...  Although one of those number *is* part of the truth.  :)

And thanks to all who sent me birthday greetings via email/snailmail.  I was a bit stunned that anyone remembered!  I know I'm horrible about those things...

05/08/2007

I can't even do simple home repair in my *dreams*!

Category Everything Else
So last night, things are going along just fine.  I decide to cut up some treats I'm taking into work on Wednesday, and I notice there's a puddle of water on the floor in front of the sink.  Since Sue was just there, I figured it was just spill over.  I wipe it up, step back to the counter, and it's wet again.  Being the swift person I am, I decide that something must not be right.  I open up the cabinet under the sink to find out that the drain is leaking.  This was *so* not on my agenda for the evening...

I tighten all the connections, but the leak looks like it's coming from the actual drain connection to the pipe.  After struggling to get the drain OUT of the sink (hammers cure everything), I had to make a trip to the store to buy stuff to replace it (hoping that I choose the right size and stuff).  I come back, replace the drain, tighten everything, and no leaks!  For my track record with home repairs, this is a good thing...

So last night, what do I dream about?  Sue and I are on some long road trip, and we stay at this house (don't know if they were friends or not).  Their sink is leaking, so I decide to fix it (IDIOT!).  Then another part of the sink leaks...  and another...  and another.  Pretty soon, I have the entire sink structure out of the cabinet.  I go to a nearby store to find parts, but of course I'm over my head.  We have to call some repair place to make an emergency visit to put things back together...

It's not bad enough that I'm inept when it comes to real-life repairs...  Now I have to suck at them in my dreams, too!

05/07/2007

I think I'm nearing the end of my shoulder saga...

Category Everything Else
What shoulder saga, you ask?  Well, I haven't said much about it...

A little over a month ago, I spent a fair amount of time over a weekend banging away on my laptop.  Like *that's* anything new...  By the end of the day, my neck was a bit stiff, but nothing that a night or two of sleep wouldn't cure, or so I thought.  Over the next two weeks, the pain moved into the left trapezius area and down into the left deltoid.  By the end of each day, I was in agony.  Over-the-counter pain-killers didn't even begin to address the pain.  Figuring that I couldn't continue to "let it work its way out", I went to the doctor.  X-rays showed no structural issues, so they recommended physical therapy.  Isn't that something you do after surgery or after an accident?  Admit it, Tom...  You're getting old.  :)

I'm now down to the last two (out of six) sessions, and I must say it's helped a lot.  This last weekend was the first one I've had where I would almost consider my shoulder pain-free.  I've had to give up my "geek slouch" posture as I sit at a keyboard, but that's probably a good thing.  The PT sessions have been enjoyable, as my therapists have been very good at what they do.  And considering much of the treatment was massage-based, it's not as if I was pushing myself across some pain threshold.  :)

So as I approach the end of year 46 this week, I'm not doing so feeling like I'm 70.  And with ILUG travel in a couple of weeks, followed by the cross-country drive next month to get Ian home from Orlando, the timing couldn't be better.

It's good to know that I've stopped considering amputation as a viable pain relief option.  :)

05/02/2007

Book Review - Changing The U.S. Health Care System

Category Book Review
As I work for a health insurance company, I felt that I would benefit from reading Changing the U.S. Health Care System: Key Issues in Health Services Policy and Management by Ronald M. Andersen, Thomas H. Rice, and Gerald F. Kominski.  Unfortunately, it was not what I was expecting.  I was hoping for opinions and options on reforming health care.  What I found was numerous stats, a lot of issues, and not too many answers.

Contents:
Part 1 - Access To Health Care: Improving Access to Care in America - Individual and Contextual Indicators; Ethnic Disparities in Health Status; Disparities in Health Care; Public Policies to Extend Health Care Coverage
Part 2 - Costs of Health Care: Measuring Health Care Costs and Trends; Containing Health Care Costs; Controlling Pharmaceutical Prices and Expenditures
Part 3 - Quality Of Health Care: Measuring Outcomes and Health-Related Quality of Life; Evaluating the Quality of Care; Public Release of Information on Quality; Health Care Information Systems; Performance Measurement of Nursing Care
Part 4 - Special Populations: Long-Term Care and the Elderly Population; AIDS in the Twenty-First Century - Challenges for Health Services and Public Health; Health Reform for Children and Families; Mental Health Services and Policy Issues; Women's Health - Key Issues in Access to Health Insurance Coverage and to Services Among Nonelderly Women; Homeless Persons
Part 5 - Directions for Change: Managed Care and the Growth of Competition; Medicare Reform; Public Health and Personal Health Services; The Continuing Issue of Medical Malpractice Liability; Ethical Issues in Public Health and Health Services
Index

I believe that most people would agree that the health care system in America is broken.  Changes have to be made, as rising rates are making it harder for people to find affordable health care coverage.  What I was hoping for in this book was a number of serious discussions on different approaches such as universal care, single-payer systems, etc.  The chapters in the book are all written by a number of different people, making it a compilation of sorts.  Nearly all the chapters go deeply into statistics and numbers, showing how population group x is affected by disease y in z percentages.  From the standpoint of policymakers or actuarials, these numbers are necessary to know the extent of the problem.  But I felt as if most of the discussion stopped there.  Many issues were raised, and nearly any hint of a solution was watered down with all the reasons why it might not work or have the opposite effect of what was intended.  Some of the sections were more informational than others, such as the chapter on Medicare reform.  Learning the history of how Medicare came about, as well as under what assumptions, makes it easier to understand why the system functions as it does.  But again, everything ended on a note of "things need to change", but not much was offered as an alternative...

Readers who need a heavy statistical or academic look at health care issues will find it here.  People like myself who are more practical in nature will find the material rather plodding and dry.  My overall conclusion after reading this was that there are no easy answers, and any solution will significantly hurt some portion of the current system.  There's not enough money and resources for everyone to have unlimited access to the best health care available.  And for a society that's used to immediate gratification, that'll be a hard sell...

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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