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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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06/28/2007

Book Review - Giving Presentations (Pocket Mentor) by Harvard Business School Press

Category Book Review
Being able to present well in front of a group is a vital skill in many areas of life.  There's no shortage of books that will tell you what to do, but for a basic, simple guide to what works, you can try out Giving Presentations (Pocket Mentor) by Harvard Business School Press.  No fluff, no glitz, just basic solid information...

Contents: All About Presentations; First Things First; Decide What To Say; Prepare; Plan For Visuals; When It's A Group Effort; Rehearse; Prepare Yourself; Show Time; Handling Questions; After-Action Review; Tips and Tools; Tools For Giving Presentations; Test Yourself; To Learn More; Sources For Giving Presentations; Notes

When I said "no fluff", I was serious.  The Pocket Mentor series is designed to be short and to the point.  This book is only 83 pages, but the writers do as much as they can to make those pages effective and valuable.  You get the basic information you need in order to structure your presentation to get your point across, what to say, how to prepare, and so on.  They also do a good job in covering how to put together a good group presentation.  It's harder than you might think, as styles should blend, and you should try and play to everyone's strengths so that one person doesn't ruin things for everyone else.  At the end of most of the chapters, there are worksheets that you can use to formally structure and plan your approach.  Rather than just letting things run around in your head, you can make sure you've covered the essentials and that you've given yourself the best chance for success.

I wouldn't want this to be the sole book on my shelves about how to talk in front of a group.  But for someone who's making the effort to try and improve, this is a nice starting point...

06/25/2007

Book Review - The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott

Category Book Review
Perfect timing and a perfect book...  The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott.  I'm due to give a presentation on "social media" to an influential group in the company where I work.  This book is going to be the "you really need to read this" recommendation I'll end up giving.

Contents:
Part 1 - How the Web Has Changed the Rules of Marketing and PR: The Old Rules of Marketing and PR Are Ineffective in an Online World; The New Rules of Marketing and PR; Reaching Your Buyers Directly
Part 2 - Web-Based Communications to Reach Buyers Directly: Blogs - Tapping Millions of Evangelists to Tell Your Story; The New Rules of News Releases; Audio Content Delivery through Podcasting; Forums, Wikis, and Your Targeted Audience; Going Viral - The Web Helps Audiences Catch the Fever; The Content-Rich Web Site
Part 3 - Action Plan for Harnessing the Power of the New Rules: You Are What You Publish - Building Your Marketing and PR Plan; Online Thought Leadership to Brand Your Organization as a Trusted Resource; How to Write for Your Buyers; How Web Content Influences the Buying Process; How to Use News Releases to Reach Buyers Directly; The Online Media Room - Your Front Door for Much More Than the Media; The New Rules for Reaching the Media; Blogging to Reach Your Buyers; Podcasting and Video Made, Well, as Easy as Possible; Social Networking Sites and Marketing; Search Engine Marketing; Make It Happen
Acknowledgments; Index; About the Author

When you're a blogger of many years, tuned into the whole "Web 2.0" thing, it's easy to forget that the vast majority of people aren't living in that same world.  Even worse, you may work at a company that just doesn't "get it".  Scott does an excellent job in bringing both the casual reader and the business person up to speed on the whole social media phenomenon.  Of even more value to the business person, he shows how the old rules just don't cut it any more.  Following the traditional PR rules of the last 20 years will waste your money and cause you to be ignored on a major scale.  But tapping into blogs, podcasting, vcasting, and other avenues can put you in direct contact with the buyers of your product, as well as the people who will talk about you and influence opinions.  And best of all, you can do it yourself for virtually no cost!

I found myself reading this book with my upcoming presentation in mind, and the book ended up splitting into two divisions.  The first, and most pertinent to me, is all the great information about blogs, forums, wikis, etc.  Both the whys and the hows are covered in enough detail to get even the most cynical person interested.  The second division seemed to be more along the lines of how to write for the web audience.  While I might not be covering that as much in my session, it's critical that communication and PR people understand that the web is not just an extension of print, and that it takes a different mindset to be successful with your online presence.  Couple both of these divisions with a large number of reference web sites to back up the points, and you have just about everything you need to shift your view of how the world of communication now works.

I have no doubt that this will end up on the reading list of a few fellow employees by the time I'm done...

06/24/2007

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

Category Book Review
Another episode of being a NY copy in 2060 with Lieutenant Eve Dallas...  Innocent In Death by J. D. Robb.  An excellent installment that does a deep dive into the emotional bond between Roarke and Dallas, as well as solving a crime or two along the way.

Dallas is called out to investigate a death at a private school.  A teacher's been poisoned, and on the surface there's no decent reason as to why.  All of her leads are coming up blank, and the people who would have cause and means aren't causing her radar to activate.  Some deeper digging into rumors leads her towards a fellow teacher that might have a reason to kill off his colleague, but before Dallas can close in on that angle, he is also murdered.  This opens up the "who did it" derby a couple of other people, but again it's all circumstantial.  Only at the end do the actions and events start falling into a unthinkable pattern than no one wants to accept as possible.

And on the personal front, Roarke is visited by an old flame and partner-in-crime.  She's everything Eve is not, and Eve is feeling more than a little threatened.  Regardless of how much Roarke tries to reassure her that she's the only one, Dallas can't let it go.  And like most men, Roarke is totally blind to the manipulation that's putting his marriage to Dallas in jeopardy.  It takes a major crisis, and some unwanted words from Summerset, to finally clue him into the truth.

I liked Innocent more than many of the recent editions of the series, and that's saying a lot (as I've read and loved them all).  The crime plot was truly a mystery, and I had no idea how it was going to play out in the end.  But the personal side was very well done.  It was nice to see some cracks in Roarke's normally unshakable image, and it was also good to see Dallas actually have to express emotions that she normally buries and hides.  As with most of the In Death books, this one didn't last nearly long enough for my tastes.  But knowing the rate at which Nora Roberts is able to crank these out (without losing her edge, either), I shouldn't have to wait too long for the next one.

06/22/2007

Book Review - Dragons At Your Door by Ming Zeng and Peter J. Williamson

Category Book Review
It seems as if there have been a rash of books on China's increasing dominance in the global markets, and for good reason.  Dragons at Your Door: How Chinese Cost Innovation Is Disrupting Global Competition by Ming Zeng and Peter J. Williamson lays out how China uses their cost advantage to get their foot in the door of a market, and then dominate it.  This is a book well worth reading to understand what you may be facing in a few years (if not already)...

Contents:
Introduction - Dragons at Your Door; Disrupting Global Competition - How Did They Get Here So Fast?; Cost Innovation - The Chinese Dragons' Secret Weapon; Loose Bricks - Rethinking Your Vulnerabilities; The Weak Link - Limitations of the Chinese Dragon; Your Response - Winning in the New Global Game; Conclusion - Charting the Future; Notes; Index; About the Authors

Zeng and Williamson show, through numerous examples, how Chinese companies have exploited their cost advantage to become leading global players in markets.  Generally speaking, they get into a field and start with lower pricing due to their lower wage structure.  They then look for a "loose brick" in their competition.  This is a market segment that they can attack and force a competitor to retreat or abandon.  Once that occurs, they are then able to start offering both low cost and high innovation/value solutions to the market.  Often, the competition will give up these lower-margin segments to concentrate on the higher-margin businesses, thinking that the Chinese can't compete in that area.  But more often than not, those high-margin niches will also succumb to the dragons, leaving a company struggling for survival.  It's not a pretty picture...  But rather than just paint a "gloom and despair" picture, the authors also outline where the weaknesses lie in China's capabilities.  Using this information, companies can both protect their established turf as well as compete against Chinese companies in their own markets.  It's not an inevitable conclusion that a company will have to fold under the cost advantages offered by a Chinese competitor.  

I see this book being valuable on a couple of levels.  First off, it raises awareness of an overall plan that is often overlooked when viewed through the daily competitive battles.  Giving up a market segment might not seem like a bad idea, but that's usually not the end of the story.  Second, it can help guide partnerships and access to the Chinese market.  When faced with the potential market share of China, companies are often willing to give up more control than normal just to gain access.  But that short-term view can lead to long-term loss as the Chinese learn from the more established partner, start innovating on cost, and then eventually become direct competition with major advantages.

The effect of China on your company's survival can not be underestimated.  Time spent reading this book might make all the difference in the world...

06/20/2007

Book Review - Visio 2007 Bible by Bonnie Biafore

Category Book Review
Visio is one of those software packages I use just often enough to get by, but end up frustrated as I know I could have done things differently (and easier).  That's why I keep close tabs on my copy of Visio 2007 Bible by Bonnie Biafore.  It makes all the difference between struggling along and actually producing useful documentation...

Contents:
Part 1 - Understanding Visio Fundamentals: Getting Started with Visio; Getting Started with Drawings; Working with Visio Files; Working with Shapes; Connecting Shapes; Working with Text; Enhancing Diagram Appearance with Formatting
Part 2 - Integrating Visio Drawings: Inserting, Linking, and Embedding Objects; Importing, Exporting, and Publishing to the Web; Linking Shapes with Data
Part 3 - Using Visio for Office Productivity: Collaborating with Others; Building Block Diagrams; Constructing Charts and Graphs; Working with Organization Charts; Building Visio Flowcharts; Documenting Processes, Workflows, and Data Flows; Scheduling Projects with Visio; Documenting Brainstorming Sessions; Analyzing Results with PivotDiagrams
Part 4 - Using Visio in Information Technology: Modeling and Documenting Databases; Building UML Models; Building Software Development Diagrams; Mapping Web Sites; Creating Network Diagrams
Part 5 - Using Visio for Architecture and Engineering: Working with Scaled Drawings; Creating and Managing Scaled Drawings; Laying Out Architectural and Engineering Plans; Planning Space and Managing Facilities; Integrating CAD and Visio; Working with Engineering Drawings
Part 6 - Customizing Stencils, Templates, and Shapes: Creating and Customizing Templates; Creating and Customizing Stencils; Creating and Customizing Shapes; Customizing Shapes Using ShapeSheets; Formatting with Styles; Customizing Toolbars and Menus; Automating Visio
Part 7 - Quick Reference: Installing Visio 2007; Visio Help Resources; Additional Resources for Templates and Stencils; Keyboard Shortcuts; Template and Stencil Reference
Index

For me, this book serves a couple of purposes.  First off, Bonnie does a great job documenting the software.  It's easy to find the subject or information you want, and her style of writing is clear and concise.  I've not yet found an instance where I was unable to follow along and learn what it was I was after.  Second, and most important, is that I pick up a number of ideas that I hadn't even considered.  For instance, I learned about mapping web sites in her Visio 2003 Bible title a couple of years ago.  I had no clue that was possible, and it allowed me to offer some very cool solutions to my customers.  This year, I learned about creating customized templates and stencils for my own use.  Again, a very timely feature as I'm spending more time producing certain types of documentation that require the use of Visio.  I usually spend far too much time hunting through templates trying to find just the right shape or symbol I need.  Now I can produce my own custom UML and Flowchart templates, and save all kinds of time.  It's a question I never thought to ask, but I definitely grasped the application of the idea once she spelled it out.  It's rare that I find such a good combination of reference and idea material in a single title...

Unless you're already a Visio guru, you'll benefit greatly from going through this book.  And even if you *are* the resident Visio guru, I'd be willing to bet you'll find something in here that will make you think "I didn't know I could do that..."

06/20/2007

Book Review - Firms of Endearment: : How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose

Category Book Review
There's a difference when you fly Southwest vs. United.  You feel different shopping at Costco than you feel shopping at Wal-mart.  Why?  That question is explored and answered in the book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose by Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth, and David B. Wolfe.  This is one of those books that will cause you to think about why you feel as you do towards certain companies, and how those feelings translate into real profits.

Contents: A Whole New World; It's Not Share of Wallet Anymore - It's Share of Heart; New Age, New Rules, New Capitalism; The Chaotic Interregnum; Employees - The Decline and Fall of Human Resources; Customers - The Power of Love; Investors - Reaping What FoEs Sow; Partners - Elegant Harmonies; Society - The Ultimate Stakeholder; Culture - The Secret Ingredient; Lessons Learned; Crossing Over to the Other Side; Acknowledgements

On Wall Street, companies are usually judged on their profit.  Squeeze as much out of your business as you can, cut costs wherever possible, and make sure you meet your numbers.  To be sure, plenty of companies are successful under those rules (such as Wal-mart).  But when you look at their performance over the last few years on the stock market, returns have been stagnant or have trailed the field.  The alternative way to run a business is as a "firm of endearment" (FoE).  These companies have a passion for what they do/sell, they have a strongly defined purpose for what they want to accomplish, and they look to contribute to society in more ways than just the quarterly dividend to shareholders.  These FoEs, like Costco, Whole Foods, Harley-Davidson, and others, include stakeholders to mean all parts of society that they touch...  shareholders, employees, the community, etc.  The focus isn't on pure profit, but instead on contributing to the well-being of all the stakeholders.  That's why a company like Costco can afford to pay their employees a living wage, have low turnover, and *still* turn a substantial profit.  They have captured the hearts of their customer base, and that base will go out of their way to shop at Costco whenever possible.  That's also why a company like Ikea can propose a new location and have nearly universal acceptance in the community, while a new Wal-mart location brings out protesters in force.  There's obviously a lot more that differentiates FoEs from their counterparts in the marketplace, but once you recognize an FoE, you'll understand why they are successful by *not* following the same formula as everyone else.

It's tempting to think that all the FoEs covered in this book can do no wrong.  That's not the case.  JetBlue was/is an FoE that badly damaged their reputation during the winter when storms caused massive cancellations.  It even led to the resignation of the CEO.  Like other business books of this genre (In Search Of Excellence, From Good To Great), only time will tell how these companies will fare over the long term.  It may well be that a decade from now, the stars of this book will have all fallen to the wayside.  But I would venture to guess that the companies covered here will have a much larger margin of forgiveness than would other companies that are just focused on the next quarter...

This is a book that is highly recommended for anyone running a business.  It should cause you to rethink the factors of success for your company, as well as point you in directions that could lead you to become an FoE in your niche.

06/20/2007

Book Review - Breakpoint by Richard A. Clarke

Category Book Review
Since I work in the technology industry, I'm always happy to find a novel that has a strong "cyber" theme to the plot.  A friend recommended I give Breakpoint by Richard A. Clarke a shot.  Overall, it was an interesting read that makes you wonder about the security of our nation's technology infrastructure.  I personally would have enjoyed it even more without the overt message the author was trying to push...

The basic story is that the nation's computer and technology infrastructure is under attack.  A number of primary nodes for internet traffic are physically destroyed, cutting off the US from a large part of the international traffic.  Next, three major heads of government research departments are assassinated.  High-tech buildings and sites are being targeted for destruction, and someone figures out how to hack and shut down the western power grid.  All of these events seem to tie back to China, and it's thought that the attacks are a way to force the US to abandon Taiwan's bid for independence, as well as stopping the ever-widening technology gap between China and the US.  A small group of investigators are trying to figure out exactly how these attacks are occurring, as well as who is ultimately responsible.  As they dig deeper, the driving force appears to be something more than just nationalistic posturing.  Instead, it could well be a fight against the melding of humans and technology to create a "super-race" of beings.  And if that's indeed the case, then is it really China who's behind it all?

From a pure plot perspective, I enjoyed the book a lot.  Many of the situations and technologies are things that either already exist, or are within a decade of becoming possible.  And of course, there's the whole "how fragile are our connections" theme.  Where I started getting frustrated is when the book strayed into the moralistic "we must stop this from happening" ground.  The villains in all this are conveniently pegged as right-wing religious Luddites, and it was just too convenient of an "out" for the plot.  Granted, it supported the plot as to why all the cutting-edge research has either gone underground or off-shore.  Still, it was stereotyping in the first degree...

But even with those (in my opinion) flaws, it was still an enjoyable read.  I had a hard time putting the book aside for more important things, like sleep...

06/20/2007

Book Review - Hide by Lisa Gardner

Category Book Review
Even though I've been swamped with work and other activities lately, I can't stand not having a recreational read going on in my book piles.  I picked up Lisa Gardner's Hide before I left on a trip, and it was an enjoyable diversion.  It started a bit slow, but the longer I read the less I put it down...

Annabelle Granger is a young woman who has spent all of her life on the run.  From what, she doesn't know.  Her father was convinced that someone was after them, and as such Granger lived in many different places under a variety of names.  Even now, after her family is all gone, she's still secretive and cautious about everything.  She finally decides that she has to figure out what happened in her childhood when a murder case mistakenly identifies her as one of the victims.  The real victim was her best friend growing up, and the only clue to her identity was a locket with Granger's name on it.  Granger turns to the police and Bobby Dodge to start sorting through the meager clues as to who might have killed her friend, and whether that is somehow related to one of her many relocations.  As the investigation continues, Granger starts getting anonymous contacts from a stalker.  That means that her past (which she still doesn't understand) is catching up with her, and she's not sure who can be trusted.  It's a race to see whether the killer(s?) can be found before they carry out their final obsession with Annabelle...

The book started off (for me, at least) a little on the slow side.  You're immediately thrown into one of her childhood relocations where she has to leave nearly everything behind.  Then when you jump to the present, you're somewhat unsure as to how all that relates.  Even once you figure out the basic reasons why they moved so often, it's still unclear as to why the father was so obsessed with the secrecy.  But once the police accept her story as one of the few leads they have, things start picking up nicely.  There's a lot of interplay between Granger, Dodge, and a couple of other characters from a prior novel (Alone).  Hide stands alone fairly well, but knowing the history of the players makes for a deeper level of understanding.  And if you like plot twists and red herrings, then you'll love this story.  You pretty much have to get to the end to figure out everything...

A nice summertime read when you just want to disengage from anything requiring effort or work...  

06/20/2007

Book Review - Smart And Gets Things Done by Joel Spolsky

Category Book Review
After driving cross-country in 49 hours, I returned home to find this book waiting for me...  Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent by (of course) Joel Spolsky. Since I wasn't in the mood to start a large 300+ page novel, I figured this book would bridge the gap between naps quite nicely.  It's a no-nonsense look at how Spolsky thinks hiring in the software industry should be done.  While I may quibble on a few things, I think he's pretty accurate.

Content: Hitting the High Notes; Finding Great Developers; A Field Guide to Developers; Sorting Resumes; The Phone Screen; The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing; Fixing Suboptimal Teams; The Joel Test; Index

Spolsky takes the hard line that you should only be hiring *great* developers.  In his terms, these are the people who are "smart & gets things done."  Using the observation that a great programmer can be 10x as productive as an average programmer, he feels that the additional cost in salary and recruiting to find the gem is more than paid back in the work product produced.  In fact, hiring average programmers (or clueless ones) actually lose you money in the long run due to rework and inferior quality.  Spolsky uses a number of techniques outlined in the book to filter out average developers in order to concentrate on the few that show real potential.  In fact, he maintains that you should be working at getting interns and contacts before you need staff, so that you can have a good idea as to what potential hires can accomplish in the real world.  If an intern shows real talent and is happy with their internship, the hiring process is streamlined and little risk remains.

In some ways, I tend to disagree with a few of his attitudes.  For instance, he feels all developers should have a thorough understanding of how pointers work.  He'll ask those types of questions during interviews.  He believes that having that sort of knowledge shows that a developer has more than just a basic understanding of how a language works.  I would contend that depending on what your software base is, you may pass by excellent developers who have never had to use pointers.  Also, the book is slanted heavily towards companies that create software products, not companies that have an IT department.  While an IT department made up of people who pass Spolsky's tests would be great, the company would also likely be understaffed at all times.  It's hard to find those types of people, and companies have far too many projects going at once to be that selective.

Even with those caveats, I think this is a very good read.  Hiring good development staff is important to a company, and it's not the same as hiring a file clerk.  After reading this book, you'll likely rethink your attitude and process of hiring.

06/19/2007

i'm in ur fizx lab...

Category Humor
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - i'm in ur fizx lab...

AN GREEN IZ THE ANZWER TO LIF!

If you haven't added I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER? to your RSS reader, you must...

06/18/2007

So let's review this incredibly long two days from Orlando to Portland...

Category Everything Else
OK...  I've had a couple hours of sleep, and the fingers are working relatively well again.  No promises about the mind, however.

For the sake of argument, we'll round the trip off at 3000 miles.  The odometer was at 125572 when I got an oil change on Friday, and it reads 128668 right now.  The GPS unit is constantly changing, depending on how far off course you might be at any given time.  :)  I think it stated 3502 at one point *very* early in the trip, but that was an overstatement.  Although it probably looked at the stretch through Nebraska and Wyoming and just freaked out...

Ian and I didn't start out with the plan to try and "see America" in two days or less.  I figured we'd drive through the night on Saturday, get to somewhere around Cheyenne Wyoming by mid-afternoon Sunday, stay overnight, and then get in later on Monday night...  still a long trip in a short period of time, but at least there would be sleep and a shower mixed in.  What we didn't count on was the car packing.  The addition of his hockey bag added a (lack of) space element that was not a factor going down in January.  It went down with Sue under separate cover after he was already down there.  By the time we packed the car on Saturday, the trunk was full, the back seats were very full, and it was not going to be a good idea to leave the car in a hotel parking lot overnight without emptying it out.  And neither of us wanted to do that.  So, we thought that perhaps a three or four hour stop at a rest area would be sufficient to take the edge off after the long drive.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

On Saturday at 11:30 am, we locked his apartment door for the final time and set out.  We set the GPS for destination "home", shortest time.  GPS units are a modern miracle.  It was incredible to think that wherever we were at, we were never lost.  Confused, but not lost.  The route took us through...
  • Florida - flat swampy areas, and hot.
  • Georgia - OK.  That was the only area we hit traffic slowdowns.  Some accident south of Atlanta...
  • Tennessee - dark.  Some "interesting" truck stops.  That was the only place we stopped that was memorable.  One truck stop was "full service", with condoms in the bathroom, a washing machine and dryer outside the bathrooms, a smoky room that contained video poker and slots (and was packed at dark-am in the morning), and truckers all smoking away in the restaurant.  Very strange place.
  • Kentucky - also very dark.
  • Missouri - seemed to go on forever.  At least until we hit Nebraska and Wyoming...  Saw the St. Louis arch in the middle of the night.  Also saw the "last rest area in Missouri" (an actual sign) twice.  And Ian and I were both alert enough to have remembered the sign from a few hours back.  :)
  • Iowa - just clipped a bit of Iowa on the way to Nebraska.
  • Nebraska - a green version of Texas, and just as freaking long to get through.
  • Wyoming - a green version of New Mexico, and just as long as Nebraska.
  • Utah - Saw Utah in the middle of the night, so I guess we can call Utah "dark".
  • Idaho - Nearing the end.  Actually some pretty lights with towns laid out across the horizon when you'd come over some dark hill.  We cleared Idaho sometime right before dawn this morning.
  • Oregon - never so glad to see home.  I-84 took us up through the entire length of the Columbia River Gorge.  Some impressive scenery with the sun rise and stuff.  But that last two hours were painfully slow.

Will I ever do that again?  No.  I'm too old for those types of trips.  Generally speaking, Ian and I would trade off at each gas stop (every 225 to 275 miles).  He can sleep sitting up while Dad drives.  I 1) don't sleep when he's driving (unless I've reached physical exhaustion) and 2) can't sleep sitting up (see #1).  We did pull into a rest area in Idaho Sunday night around 11:30 pm to catch a few hours of sleep.  I couldn't drop off sitting behind the wheel, and after an hour or so, we started back on the road again.  I reached the point of "I can't go any further" around 2:30 am this morning, when I handed it off to Ian in some forgettable truck stop.  While I still only slept for about two or three hours from there until we got home, it was enough to at least allow the eyes to uncross.

Random observations...
  • I find it interesting that the West is considered liberal, the South conservative, but yet it's the South that has the billboards advertising "adult stores" for 50 miles before you even get there.
  • Would it be too much to ask to put those little reflective thingies on at least every *second* center line on a freeway?  When you're traveling down the road at 75 miles per hour, at 2 am in the morning, in the middle of "we-just-got-electricity-last-year" small-town America, I really don't like having my reflective reference point being the right edge of the road separating you and the ditch.  
  • And to all those Utah Department of Transportation workers who place the barrel dividers cutting you down to one *very small, narrow* lane marked for 65 miles per hour in the middle of the night...  Do you place every 10th barrel or so further out in the traffic flow just for laughs?
  • Senior tour busses that pull into a rest area at the same time you do, when you are desperate for relief, are a very scary thing.
  • There *is* such a thing as too much Red Bull and No-Doz tablets...
  • I can go for about 44 hours until caffeine ceases to have the desired effect.  Unfortunately, the trip lasted 49 hours...
  • I probably have more insect samples on front of the Saturn than does the entire Ireland Museum of Natural History...  although they aren't as old.  :)
  • Best radio station we found on the trip...  A Celtic fusion/jazz/modern sound show in the middle of...  NEBRASKA!

And the best thing that can be said for a trip like this...
  • Not having a "memorable" trip is the best you can hope for in something like this.  :)

06/18/2007

Why Microsoft's argument to support two Office XML standards for freedom of "choice" rings hollow to me...

Category Microsoft
From ZDNet:  Microsoft fails Aussie maths compatibility test

Microsoft's decision to dump compatibility with Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) in favour of its own Office MathML (OMML) in Office 2007 is unlikely to win any support in Australia, where software tools like TeX, MathType and Mathematica predominate.

According to a blog entry posted by Microsoft Office software development engineer, Murray Sargent, the rationale behind the decision, is the desire to have an XML that corresponds closely to the internal Microsoft format.

"The main problem is that Word needs to allow users to embed arbitrary span-level material (basically anything you can put into a Word paragraph) in math zones and MathML is geared toward allowing only math in math zones," Sargent wrote in the post.

So it sounds really nice to talk about compatibility and interoperatibility, until people are already using your base "standard".  Then you can drop "compatible standards" that aren't as "compatible" as what you offer...

06/18/2007

So is it possible to go from Orlando Florida to Portland Oregon via car in less than 50 hours?

Category Everything Else
Specifically, 49 hours and 10 minutes?

Yes, you can do it, but it's not recommended.

We left Ian's place in Orlando at 11:30 am on Saturday morning.  We pulled into our driveway this morning at 9:40 am.  Add in three hours for the time difference, and there you have it.  In between, we had Florida, Georgia, Tennesee, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.  We are such idiots...

I'll recap later, but right now I just want to brush my teeth, take a shower, and catch up on some sleep in my bed.

All this because, to borrow a phrase from my favorite AV Bloke...

"I'm broken..."

06/15/2007

Made it to Orlando (*very* early this morning)...

Category Everything Else
No more free food or anything like that...  :)  The plane boarded early for our 9 pm departure to Orlando.  And then we sat...  and sat...  and sat...  A combination of weather and some sort of computer malfunction in the control tower led to a delay of about an hour before we pushed back from the gate.  At one point I called my wife to look up the airline site and give me an update.  According to her and the site, we were "taxiing down the runway".  Funny, but it still looked like the same gate to me.  :)

Anyway, got in around 1:30 am.  Ian picked me up, we headed home, and got some much needed sleep.  Today is his last day.  While he's doing the work routine, I'll do some stuff with the car to get it ready for the trip back.  Then I'll just bounce around a bit until he's ready to get off of work.  We'll pick up some sandwiches and other groceries on the way home, and then try and get a full night of sleep before we start "the adventure" tomorrow.

I'll have to see who I can "charm" today.  :)

06/14/2007

Must be the "cute and huggable thing" again...

Category Everything Else
So I'm on my trip to Orlando to pick up Ian.  The layover is in Houston, and I'm thinking a vanilla frozen yogurt with M&M topping sounds good.  The one place I could find stuff like that in the Houston airport was out of toppings, so I ended up over at a fast-food place for some dinner-like food.  I place my order and she asks me what kind of dipping sauce I wanted.  Of course, the one I choose is out, so she has to go back into the back to get my other choice.  Meanwhile, there's someone else who is still waiting for their order...

She comes back with the chicken nuggets, the dipping sauce, and the drink.  I haven't paid yet, so I'm waiting for her to ring it up.  She's "interacting" with the other people in the back over something with the other guy's order.  She looks over her shoulder at me, and mouths something along the lines of "just take it and go".  Knowing that I must have misunderstood, I just stood there.  It took two more times of her doing that before I quietly said "just go?", and she nodded...

I don't have a *clue* as to what that was all about, but I guess there is such a thing as a free meal...  :)

06/13/2007

Happy birthday, Rocky...

Category Everything Else
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - Happy birthday, Rocky...

AN ITZ SMEELZ LIK CAKE!  :)

06/12/2007

OK, Dr. Dobb's Journal... Get a clue!

Category Humor
I received this email from the publishers of Dr. Dobb's Journal today...

Dear Thomas,

Don't let your Complimentary subscription to Dr. Dobb's Journal end!

Renew today and we won't ask you again for another year.

We value you as a subscriber and don't want to waste your time. As you
probably know, to continue your Complimentary subscription, you must
complete an updated subscription form each year.  This is the time of
year when we update our subscriber file.

And the subject of this email?

7th Renewal Notice

Wouldn't you sort of think that if I didn't respond to emails 1 through 6, that maybe I wasn't interested in renewing?  And yes, there *were* emails 1 through 6...

06/11/2007

Book Review - Pension Revolution by Keith P. Ambachtsheer

Category Book Review
When you look at the way that companies are folding their pension plans (or leaving them severely underfunded), it's not hard to come to the conclusion that the pension system in America is broken.  I didn't quite understand just *how* broken it was until I read Pension Revolution: A Solution to the Pensions Crisis by Keith P. Ambachtsheer.  While it is a bit eye-opening, the book would be best appreciated by someone with an economics or financial background due to the level of terminology used.

Contents:
Introduction - Why a Pension Revolution Now?
Part 1 - The Pension Revolution - Touchstones: Are Pension Funds "Irrelevant"?; The Pension Revolution - Are You a Believer Yet?; After the Perfect Pension Storm - What Now?; Beyond Portfolio Theory - The Next Frontier; The United Airlines Case - Tipping Point for U.S. Pension System?; Peter Drucker's Pension Revolution After 30 Years - Not Over Yet; Winning the Pension Revolution - Why the Dutch Are Leading the Way; Pension Reform - Evolution or Revolution?
Part 2 - Building Better Pension Plans: Can Game Theory Help Build Better Pension Plans?; If DB and DC Plans Are Not the Answers, What Are the Questions?; Human Foibles and Agency Dysfunction - Building Pension Plans for the Real World; DB Plans and Bad Science; Peter Drucker's Pension Legacy - A Vision of What Could Be
Part 3 - Pension Fund Governance: Reinventing Pension Fund Management - Easier Said Than Done; Should (Could) You Manage Your Fund Like Harvard or Ontario Teachers'?; "Beauty Contest" Investing - Not Dead Yet; Eradicating "Beauty Contest" Investing - What It Will Take; High-Performance Cultures - Impossible Dream for Pension Funds?; How Much Is Good Governance Worth?
Part 4 - Investment Beliefs: The 10 Percent Equity Return Illusion - Possible Consequences; Stocks for the Long Run?... or Not?; "Persistent Investment Regimes" or "Random Walk"? Even Shakespeare Knew the Answer; The Fuss about Policy Portfolios - Adrift in Institutional Wonderland; Shifting the Investment Paradigm - A Progress Report; Whose "Investment Beliefs" Do You Believe?; Our 60-40 Asset Mix Policy Advice in 1987 - Wise or Foolish?; "But What Does the Turtle Rest On?" - A Further Exploration of Investment Beliefs; Professor Malkiel and the New Investment Paradigm - Raining on the Parade?; The "Post-Bubble Blues Decade" - A Progress Report
Part 5 - Risk in Pension Plans: Rethinking Funding Policy and Regulation - How Should Pension Plans Be Financed?; Funding Policy and Investment Policy - How Should They Be Integrated in DB Pension Plans?; Resurrecting Ranva - Adjusting Investment Returns for Risk; Adjusting Investment Returns for Risk - What's the Best Way?
Part 6 - Measuring Results: Pension Plan Organizations - Measuring "Competitiveness"; Measuring DC Plans as "Value Propositions" - The New Imperative for Plan Sponsors; Measuring Pension Fund Behavior (1992 to 2004) - What Can We Learn?
Part 7 - Pensions, Politics, and the Investment Industry: Wither Security Analysis?; Pension Funds and Investment Firms - Redefining the Relationship; The New Pension Fund Management Paradigm - Feedback from Financial Analysts; Reconnecting GAAP and Common Sense - The Cases of Stock Options and Pensions; Is Sri Bunk?; Alpha, Beta, Bafflegab - Investment Theory as Marketing Strategy; The Turner Pensions Commission Report - A Blueprint for Global Pension Reform; More Pension Wisdom from Europe - The Geneva Report on Pension Reform
Part 8 - The Case of PERS: PERS and the Pension Revolution - Active Participant... or Passive Bystander?; Advice for Alyson Green - How PERS Can Join the Pension Revolution
In Conclusion - A Call to Arms

As you can tell from the table of contents, there's no lack of material here...  :)

Ambachtsheer makes the case (and quite convincingly) that the current state of pensions in the U.S. is not a sustainable model.  There are too many parties with conflicting interests who want the other side to take on more of the long-term risk associated with returns and payouts.  And of course, those same parties want to keep any of the short-term benefits that come with an investment time period that was more successful than most.  Instead, he advocates for a system he calls TOPS, which stands for The Optimal Pension System.  It's designed to eliminate the conflicts of interest, control costs, and look towards producing realistic returns through systematic behavior.  He points out that there is a large gap between what people think they do (rational actions) and what they really do (bet the farm).  Furthermore, the generally accepted wisdom that the market will return 10% over time ignores the needs of those who are expecting payout during times when the investments are *not* paying out anything close to that.  If nothing else, you'll come away from this book with all your rote investment sayings challenged and shaken.

For a subject that he digs into pretty technically, the book is surprisingly readable in style.  The major fault that I found is that economic concepts and theories are often thrown out without much explanation, as if the reader should already be familiar with them.  As such, it makes it hard to follow the exact details of where he goes in many of the chapters unless you already live in that particular world.  Still there's more than enough that *is* followable by the average layman to make it clear that counting on pensions as they are currently structured is betting on some pretty long odds.  

06/11/2007

Book Review - Practical Packet Analysis by Chris Sanders

Category Book Review
As an application developer, I don't spend a lot of time wondering about what goes down the wire (but perhaps I should).  But the little hacking geek in me does have more than a passing interest in being able to see things that aren't obvious.  This is probably the first book that's explained packet analysis in words and terms I could understand...  Practical Packet Analysis: Using Wireshark to Solve Real-World Network Problems by Chris Sanders.  Not only is it a good intro to the Wireshark (formerly Ethereal) product, but he applies it to real-world troubleshooting situations.

Contents: Packet Analysis and Network Basics; Tapping into the Wire; Introduction to Wireshark; Working with Captured Packets; Advanced Wireshark Features; Common Protocols; Basic Case Scenarios; Fighting a Slow Network; Security-based Analysis; Sniffing into Thin Air; Further Reading; Afterword; Index

I find that many networking books get heavy into the protocols and terminology, and before long a beginner like myself is completely lost.  This book differs from the norm in that it covers the basics in everyday language that a relatively competent IT person (who's not a network geek) can understand.  Then from there, Sanders dives into the Wireshark product and shows how it can be used to see what's actually going across the line from your computer to the network.  It's not a detailed guide to the product, but there's more than enough there to allow anyone to get started and to see results.  Where things really get valuable (in my opinion) is when you get to Basic Case Scenarios.  There, Sanders starts walking through true-to-life situations that every IT shop will recognize.  Then using Wireshark, he shows how the problem could be examined and fixed by understanding what sort of packet traffic is occurring.  This bridge from book knowledge to practical experience allowed me to see why I need to have Wireshark installed, and gave me the framework for understanding how important a packet sniffer can be.  By the time I was done, I was out on the website downloading the software.  I may not need to "fix" anything right away, but I'm now confident that I can start to understand what's happening between my box and the rest of the world.

Hard-core network admins will probably already know most of this (and already use Wireshark).  For those who dabble a bit in packet analysis as part of their job, this book will take you past the bare essentials to a more complete understanding of just what you can do.  And for newbies like me, it opens a whole new world that was somewhat incomprehensible before...  A very nice job on this book.

06/10/2007

Book Review - The Woods by Harlan Coben

Category Book Review
This is another one of those books I was eagerly awaiting from the library...  The Woods by Harlan Coben.  This one had me guessing the outcome until the last couple of pages, and it was definitely not what I expected....

Paul Copeland (aka "Cope") is a county prosecutor with a dark past.  He was a camp counselor back in his youth, and he was on nightly guard duty to keep an eye on the campers.  But he and his girlfriend (Lucy Gold) snuck into the woods for a little nighttime romance.  Unfortunately, that was the same night that four campers were murdered after they all snuck into the same woods.  The bodies of two campers were found, but the two others, including Paul's sister Camille, were never discovered.  Decades have passed, but Paul still struggles with that night.  The whole episode comes back to the present when a dead body is found...  one that resembles the other missing camper, Gil Perez.  Perez apparently had a stash of articles on Cope, and an acquaintance of his told Cope that Perez kept saying "Cope lied".  Cope would like to get to the bottom of all this, but he has a number of other issues, such as a smear campaign by the parents of two defendants that he's prosecuting for rape.  Even his reunion with Lucy is full of peril, as it's her father who was the owner of the camp, and he's never been quite the same since that night.  Paul is finding out far too many things about his past and his present than he wants to know, and there's no guarantee that he'll find the answers that he's looking for...

This book was a real emotional rollercoaster.  Paul desperately wants to find out the true story of what happened that night, and imagining his pain with his personal relationships was not at all difficult.  And just about every time I thought we were at the pivotal part of the story, it'd take another twist that caused you to have to rethink everything that had just happened.  I spent far too much time past my normal bedtime reading just "one more chapter".  This was a very entertaining read, and right up there with the best of Coben's work...

06/08/2007

"Normal" is like the "good old days"...

Category Everything Else
It's just a figment of your imagination...  selective "rememory".

Or as a quote in a book I read the other day stated:

"I've learned that 'normal' is just a setting on my washing machine."

I thought I had divided my life into pre-ILUG and post-ILUG, and that life would slow down in the post-ILUG phase.  Yeah, right...  I'm now looking at pre-Orlando and post-Orlando, with FAR too much that needs to get done on the work, professional, and personal front in the pre-Orlando phase.  As such, that's why you haven't seen much of me here lately (and why Fluffy's MySpace page isn't being updated much).

I leave to go get Ian from Orlando next week.  I fly out of Portland around noon, get to Houston around 6, hang around until 9, and then get into Orlando around 1 in the morning on Friday.  Ian works his last day on Friday, we'll pack on Saturday, and then start driving early Sunday morning.  I'm due to be back at work on Thursday, so we'll be pushing hard.  For those who offered places to stay on our return trip, thanks.  But I really don't know where we're going to stop and how long we'll drive on each leg.  I plan on plugging in the GPS unit, saying "Destination Home", selecting "Shortest Trip By Time", and then driving off into the sunset.

The laptop will be packed, but I'm unsure as to how much (if any) blogging will be done on the road.  I thought I'd make a real production out of the trip down there, but that didn't transpire.  Now with one less driver coming back (just Ian and I) and one less day (but we're going direct this time), who knows if the laptop will even see the light of day...

06/03/2007

Book Review - Catalyst Code - The Strategies Behind the World's Most Dynamic Companies

Category Book Review
Companies like Google and eBay have business models that are touted as "revolutionary".  But the same concepts allowed businesses like Diners Club and Sotheby's to change the business landscape many years ago.  That "something" is explored in Catalyst Code: The Strategies Behind the World's Most Dynamic Companies by David S. Evans and Richard Schmalensee.  Once I had the concept of a two-sided business explained to me, a lot of things started to click...

Contents:
What Is a Catalyst; Build a Catalyst Strategy; Identify the Catalyst Community; Establish a Pricing Structure; Focus on Profitability; Compete Strategically with Other Catalysts; Experiment and Evolve; Cracking the Catalyst Code; Additional Readings; Notes; Index; About the Authors

The catalyst spoken of in the book involves bringing together two groups of people who have complementary needs but no way to meet those needs without a common ground.  For instance, Diners Club allowed customers to dine out now and pay later.  Restaurants who took Diners Club knew they would attract cardholders and have a guarantee of payment.  The trick was that Diners Club had to convince cardholders that there were enough outlets in which to use the card, while convincing outlets that there were enough customers to make it worth their time.  The companies that can create and grow these catalysts stand to capture a large market following.  A more modern example is eBay.  They were the most successful at providing an electronic marketplace bringing together buyers and sellers without the confines of geography or quantity of product.  By making the service free for buyers, eBay was able to attract potential customers for sellers.  Sellers are willing to pay the transaction fees in order to get access to that buyer group.  Evans and Schmalensee do an excellent job in examining this type of business model, and they open your eyes to a different way of looking at companies.

Once you understand the concept of two-sided businesses, it's tempting to start labeling *all* businesses as two-sided.  For instance, stores are bringing together producers and customers.  But there are market forces that come into play, and the authors do help you differentiate between traditional one-sided businesses and actual two-sided models.  I also had a bit of trouble at first accepting software companies as two-sided businesses.  But after some thought, I can see how a company like Microsoft would be a two-sided business with their Windows operating system.  The platform provides a way for developers to build software that conforms to a agreed-upon standard, and for customers to buy software that will run on their computers.  It also explains how a newer two-sided model (Linux) can threaten Microsoft and render their current advantage obsolete.

I enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone studying how businesses work.  I'd also recommend it to anyone looking to replicate the success of stories like MySpace.  You'll be able to avoid some common errors and increase your chances of succeeding.

06/03/2007

Book Review - Unstoppable - Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable Growth by Chris Zook

Category Book Review
Nothing stays the same in the business world, and even successful businesses will face their own demise if they are not thinking ahead to their next "core" business.  Chris Zook examines this redefinition of business in the book Unstoppable: Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable Growth.  This is an important book for all businesses, especially those who think they're on top of the curve right now...

Contents:
Unsustainable to Unstoppable; When to Redefine the Core; Undervalued Business Platforms; Untapped Customer Insights; Underutilized Capabilities; Managing Through the Growth Cycle; Appendix; Notes; Bibliography; Index; About the Author

When a company is trying to redefine their core, often they'll do one of three things.  They'll either commit ever more deeply to what they currently do, they'll move into an area where they have no experience, or they'll merge with some other group to form a new mega-power.  But Zook shows through research that each of those moves has a very small chance of success over the long term.  The odds are much better when companies examine what they already have, and then map out how to leverage those hidden assets.  They often fall into the categories of undervalued business platforms, unexploited customer assets, or underutilized capabilities.  By moving in these areas where you already have traction, the company can be redefined to meet the next growth period.  Zook has plenty of case study examples to back up his premise.  PerkinElmer went from precision optics to genetic research using a small niche subsidiary they had.  American Express took their massive data assets and redefined how they catered to customers.  These and many other stories help to flesh out an important message...  Change is inevitable, and it's best to be out in front of it, rather than playing catch-up in survival mode.

I can't think of too many businesses that wouldn't benefit from a structured examination of what they do and where things are going.  Even if you don't feel you need to change right now, it's important to be thinking along those lines.  That time *will* come, regardless of whether you want it to or not...

06/03/2007

Book Review - Devices of the Soul - Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines by Steve Talbott

Category Book Review
I was a little surprised when I ended up with a review copy of Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines by Steve Talbott.  Back in January, I attempted to read the galley manuscript, and wasn't able to make it past chapter 2.  But with a promise that it would get better, I decided to give it one more chance.  Looking at it from an overall standpoint, it *did* improve enough for me to understand the message that Talbott was attempting to convey.  But I personally think that only certain types of readers will get the most out of it.  Unfortunately, I'm not one of them.

Contents
(I'd normally list the TOC here so you could see the chapter headings, but somewhere between home and Ireland the book went missing.  I'm guessing I put it in the plane seat pocket when I was done, and forgot to grab it on the way off.)

The main message, as I understood it, is that we as a society are giving up too much of our humanity to technology.  In many cases, we bend our view of the world to fit the technology that we want or need, and as such we ourselves become more machine-like in how we frame our outlook on life.  Just because we could have our refrigerator track our food and order staples for us, doesn't mean that we should be giving up the control and ability to make those decisions ourselves.  Or take our ability to communicate worldwide with people via instant messaging.  Talbott would contend that by doing so, we've actually isolated ourselves from regular human interaction that used to take place face-to-face.  That's the general theme that runs throughout the book.

I don't necessarily disagree with his basic premise.  Geeks automate things because they can, and they build to the mindset that *they* have (which is often quirky and strange to begin with).  I also recognize that to make a point, sometimes you have to be a bit extreme to catch someone's attention.  But personally I found the message obscured in far too many words and analogies to mythology.  If I were more introspective, I might have found this thought-provoking.  I know some people who would think this was an outstanding title.  Personally, I wanted something far more practical.  I don't do "subtle" well, and I likely missed many of the nuances that he was trying to convey.  

If you're a contemplative reader who wonders why machines are taking over, you might really like this read.  If you're more of a "can we move on and *do* something now?" type, you may well be frustrated as I was.

06/02/2007

Book Review - Life@Work: Marketplace Success for People of Faith

Category Book Review
John Maxwell has written a number of outstanding books on leadership and personal improvement.  In Life@Work: Marketplace Success for People of Faith (with co-authors Stephen R. Graves and Thomas G. Addington), he tackles the question of where the matter of your personal faith fits in to what you do at work.  It's a book that should make every Christian think hard about their personal "calling"...

Contents:
Reforging Our Fragmented Life@Work; Working in Paradise
Section 1 - Skill@Work: Skill Is Important to God; God Is Important to Skill; Discovering Your Greatness
Section 2 - Calling@Work: Called by Whom, and for What?; Called By Name; Called by Desire; Called by a Path; Which Calling Plan Am I On?
Section 3 - Serving@Work: Serving Nine to Five; It's Not About Me; Everyday Samaritan
Section 4 - Character@Work: The Art of Etching Character; No Overnight Delivery on Character; Constructing a Moral Warehouse
Conclusion - The Church@Work
Notes; About the Authors

For far too long, the matters of your work life and personal calling have been treated as separate and distinct entities.  Unless you're a pastor or monk, the issue of serving God with your gifts in the workplace isn't something that gets the attention it should.  The authors examine a number of Scripture passages in light of serving in the secular workplace.  The conclusion is that you can indeed be called to serve in your daily job without being secluded in a monastery away from society.  The book will challenge you to exercise your skills to the highest level possible...

06/02/2007

Book Review - Dry Ice by Stephen White

Category Book Review
Seems like all my "fun" books came in to the library all at once.  I was looking forward to Dry Ice by Stephen White, a continuation of the Alan Gregory series.  It's quite a bit different than the others, and I don't think I liked it as much...

In the latest episode, Gregory is a prime suspect in the disappearance of a star witness in a grand jury case being worked by his wife.  When one of his newer patients commits suicide in a manner linked with the first case, Gregory finds himself under the scrutiny of people he once considered friends.  He suspects that the mastermind behind all these events is a deranged killer that he helped put behind bars.  The guy has escaped, and now the killer is leaving calling cards for Gregory.  Compounding all the legal stressors is a growing estrangement from his wife.  She suspects him of carrying on an affair, and her work for the district attorney's office is jeopardized by Gregory's legal issues.  He has no choice but to try and find the killer himself, primarily to clear his name and stop the assault on his personal and emotional life.

The story has a fair amount of intrigue and suspense in it.  But the deterioration of his marriage and his "secret" that the killer threatens to reveal is not very well defined throughout the plot.  It's such a radical departure from the normal character roles that you have to step back and readjust your expectations.  In every series, you're going to have some titles that are better than others.  And occasionally you need to do something very different in order to advance the overall plot and character development.  This one might have been a bit *too* far for fans of Alan Gregory.  But having said that, it's still worth reading if you've kept up with the series over the years...

06/02/2007

Book Review - Memorial Day by Vince Flynn

Category Book Review
Whenever I'm flying home from a conference or vacation, I usually go looking for something recreational to read...  no demands, not much thought, just action and entertainment.  Coming back from Ireland last week, I picked up the novel Memorial Day by Vince Flynn.  All things considered, it fit the bill perfectly.  And it didn't hurt that I was actually *reading* it on Memorial Day, too...

Mitch Rapp is a trained operative who is very effective in getting information from those who have it.  The results may not be pretty, but he realizes that there are few rules when dealing with terrorists.  The CIA catches wind of a meeting involving high-level al Qaeda leaders, and they send Rapp in on a commando raid to try and bring back the terrorists for further questioning.  For the most part, they succeed, but they find plans that point to a nuclear attack against certain cities in the United States.  The facts are all verifiable, so now it's a search for the bomb material that might already be on US soil.  Even worse, there may be more than one bomb.  Any success in finding one has to be tempered against the real possibility of others still floating around.  Rapp has to walk a fine line between legal rights and potential nuclear holocaust, and he's convinced that terrorists forfeited their rights some time back...  But if he makes a mistake, literally hundreds of thousands of people will end up dying.

From an action and plausibility standpoint, the book was executed perfectly.  Pacing was constant, and you didn't have to make any enormous "suspensions of reality" to follow the plot.  I thought the ending was exceptionally well-done, also.  The only quibble I had was with some of the secondary characters.  A few of the early characters in the book seemed to be set up for significant roles in the plot, but in the end they weren't much of a factor.  Or maybe by hour 14 on a plane, I was too numb to catch it.  :)

If you're looking for something with action and reality, you'd probably enjoy this one.  I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another one of his novels down the road.

06/02/2007

My presentation and database from the Focused Ajax 101 session I gave at ILUG2007...

Category ILUG2007
The PDF version of the slides...

The .nsf file of the demo...

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Thanks!

Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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