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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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It's amazing how coding one cool hack can make your day...

Category Software Development
So we've been working long and hard to implement a Google Search device that interacts with a number of Notes/Domino applications.  Not to go into much detail, but suffice it to say there have been a number of "challenges", mostly on the Google side.  But tomorrow we go live, and it looks to be something that will greatly improve the search capabilities on these particular applications.

One issue that's been outstanding is the "what if the Google box goes down?"  We have redundancy, but you can always find another level of failure to take out your backup.  The way I coded the JavaScript calls to the search appliance meant that instead of calling "doSearch", I called "doGoogleSearch".  I left the old search routines running against the Domino search engine out there "just in case".  If things were to go drastically bad, I could, in a pinch, go out, change about five areas in the app, and have them back to the Domino search engine to give us time to resolve the Google issue.  But what if I wasn't around?  What if I got hit by the proverbial beer truck?

Thus, "the hack".

I added a form called Search Configuration with a single field...  value of "Google" or "Notes".  Each web form has a computed for display field that does a @DbColumn lookup on the view that contains that document.  Each JavaScript call to the search code now looks at the value of that field to determine if it should call the doGoogleSearch or the doSearch routine.  The default in case of lookup failure is Google, but we can switch back to the Domino search engine in the time it takes to modify that document and select a radio button option.

I realize that's Notes Programming 101 stuff, but we've had so many other things going on that I hadn't really had the chance to eliminate myself from the process of switchover.  No longer will there be plans to get ETA of resolution, time limits on how long I have to get the modifications into production to point to Domino, then the process to get stuff back to Google, etc.  Just "let's switch", and BAM!  It's there...

It's so nice to know that we always have the fallback position available in an instant, and that my presence is not required to make it all work.  Plus it's a huge security blanket to the business side knowing they won't have any search outages where *no* options are available.

Couple that with finally getting a long-running private view/folder issue fixed for someone today, and I'm feeling pretty good about things (nerd score notwithstanding...)


Product Review - ThinkCube by Kes Sampanthar

Category Product Review
I'm familiar with the idea of combining random ideas and concepts to come up with new insights to problems.  But Kes Sampanthar has put that process into a system that makes it much easier to go down that path...  ThinkCube: A Professional Innovation Tool.

The process is easy to follow...  1) Define your goal for your brainstorming session.  2) Stimulate your mind by drawing six random cards from the Idea pack.  3) Think about your problem by combining two or more of the cards you drew in order to come up with new ideas.  4) Evaluate your ideas once you've come up with a number of them.  5) Elaborate on the idea if you think it has merit or is a winner.  6) Incubate those ideas that show potential but have some sticking points.  Incubating is more along the lines of just letting the ideas percolate in the back of your mind while you're going about doing other things.

You may be thinking "well, I can do this on my own without any tools".  That's true, but it might be hard to come up with a number of ideas and words that you can use to randomly combine.  Because you have your own preconceived notions and mindsets, you're limited in your "random" references.  Taking the material from another source like this can force you down mental paths you'd be unable to find on your own.  The packaging of the system is pretty cool, too.  The idea and word cards are packaged in a large orange cube, hence the name "ThinkCube".  The coloring, style, and design all work well together to get your mind into a creative groove.

As a software developer, I'm always on the hunt for new ideas and designs that I can use to build quality software applications.  After using ThinkCube a couple times, I can see how this will be a great aid for my job.  Definitely a great idea and a product well-executed.


Book Review - The Self-Destructive Habits of Good Companies by Jagdish N. Sheth

Category Book Review
In terms of business books, I've always found it interesting how today's hot model corporation can become tomorrow's disgraced icon.  You wonder what went wrong at what point to lead them down the wrong path.  This pattern is covered in the book The Self-Destructive Habits of Good Companies: ...And How to Break Them by Jagdish N. Sheth.  I think a number of the leading companies in today's headlines could take some lessons from these pages.

Contents: Why Do Good Companies Go Bad?; Denial - The Cocoon of Myth, Ritual, and Orthodoxy; Arrogance - Pride Before the Fall; Complacency - Success Breeds Failure; Competency Dependence - The Curse of Incumbency; Competitive Myopia - A Nearsighted View of Competition; Volume Obsession - Rising Costs and Falling Margins; The Territorial Impulse - Culture Conflicts and Turf Wars; The Best Cure is No Cure At All; Endnotes

Each chapter in this book goes into a particular trait that can doom a company's long-term survival.  For instance, denial often manifests itself with a company believing that its success is due to some inherent greatness that will always be there.  In reality, success is often something determined by chance interacting with a good idea.  Once the rest of the world catches up, that idea advantage disappears regardless of how much the company may deny that the environment has changed.  Sheth does an excellent job in providing examples of companies who have fallen prey to each problem.  For denial, it's Xerox ignoring emerging technologies, A&P ignoring the changing tastes of the American shopper, and GM ignoring the growing excellence of foreign autos.  Granted, it's easy to apply hindsight to see how these situations unfolded, while at the time the decision to pursue a particular direction does not come with a guarantee of any particular results.  But still, knowing these different problems beforehand can help to guard against making the same mistakes.

Being in the technology industry, I could relate to many of these situations.  A certain large software company in the Pacific Northwest could easily qualify for a number of them.  Armed with this material, it becomes a bit easier to imagine how endgames might play out.  And if you're a stock investor, this book could easily save you lots of money by allowing you to examine company stock in the light of past industry failures.  Either way, it's an interesting read, one that's sure to have you looking at your own organization and wondering if you're next...


Book Review - Merchant of Death - Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Category Book Review
If you've ever wondered how all these poor impoverished nations waging civil wars can get their hands on seemingly endless supplies of weapons, you'll find some answers here...  Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible by Douglas Farah & Stephen Braun.  It's an interesting look into the murky world of arms merchants, and a big player in that game...  Viktor Bout.

Contents: The Delivery Man; Planes, Guns, and Money; A Dangerous Business; Continental Collapse; At a Crossroads; The Chase Begins; The Taliban Connection; Black Charters; Gunships and Titanium; "Get Me a Warrant"; Now or Never; "We Are Very Limited in What We Can Do"; Welcome to Baghdad; Blacklisted and Still Flying; Epilogue; Notes; Index

Farah and Braun dig into the history and background of one Viktor Bout, a Russian who has built an empire in transporting cargo.  Using old Soviet-era planes, often barely airworthy, he flies anything and everything into global hotspots related to war and combat.  While many of the loads do involve legal items like appliances and food, quite often the trips are much more clandestine and involve massive amounts of weapons.  This can be anything from crates of AK-47s to full attack helicopters.  And he's not terribly selective in who he sides with.  On a number of occasions, he's actually supplied the weapons for both sides of the conflict.  So long as someone will pay, he'll deliver the goods.  Using global shell companies and partnerships, he can change plane registrations, launder money, and operate in violation of numerous UN sanctions and restrictions.  Based on the research here, it doesn't look like any of the resolutions and embargoes have had much effect on his operations.  He's well-known to many governments that pay lip service to stopping him, but few have actually done anything other than posture and talk.

The interesting part of the book is towards the end, when the authors start dealing with the Iraq war and the supply of US troops.  A number of the contractors who fly in supplies will subcontract with others who actually own and fly the planes.  And guess who owns a number of the subcontractors?  Bout.  Again, it's a matter of the government knowing that this is going on, but not wanting to do anything about it as it would limit the supply line into Iraq.  The US government also will not put pressure on the Russian government to shut him down, as they don't want to create waves in other areas.  This is a classic example of where right and wrong is clear, but expediency and politics turn it all grey.

The only issue I have with the book is that it becomes a bit repetitive at times.  The research is thorough, but after awhile it seems like an endless litany of companies, corrupt leaders, and operations in various countries.  Still, it's hard not to be dismayed that people and operations like this are allowed to exist, and that it's nearly impossible for international sanctions to be effective...


Book Review - The Ultimate Guide To Purchasing Website, Video, Print and Other Services by Bobbi Balderman

Category Book Review
Have you ever wondered why it takes so long to do something when it comes to creating a video or brochure for your organization?  That's because there are a lot of steps involved in making sure it comes out right.  Bobbi Balderman outlines those actions in her book The Ultimate Guide To Purchasing Website, Video, Print & Other Services.  I have a much more healthy respect for the process now...

Contents: The Name of the Game; Getting Started; Defining the Project; Scheduling; Betting a Budget; Selecting the Right Supplier; Working with Your Creative Resources; Creating an In-House Department - The Pros and Cons; Making the Project Go; Bringing Ideas to Life - The Process of Art Production; Getting Ready for the Printer - Pre-press Production; Selecting and Working with Printers; Probing the Printing Process; The World of the Internet; Handling Video Productions; Producing the Video - From Script to Finished Product; Putting it All Together; Glossary; Index

Balderman does this sort of work for a living, and she knows the process well.  She quickly destroys the myth of "anyone can produce quality work on their own", then proceeds to show you how things work in the real world.  There are reasons why people specialize in this area, so you should take advantage of the skills they bring to the table.  From composition to design to printing, there are hundreds of decisions to be made that affect the outcome of the product.  Between spending time reading this book and following her forms and checklists, you'd greatly improve your chances of ending up with something that you can be proud of...  high quality professional creative material, error-free.  

I'll be the first to admit that I've found the whole "creative design" process somewhat overblown and tedious at times.  In meetings where I've been with the artistic groups, I tend to zone out during debates about discussions, fonts, paper weights, etc.  But I can now see where all that fits in, and how it really needs to happen in order for a quality result to emerge.  If everyone settled for "just do something", that's what you'd end up with...  a brochure or site that looks like you just did something.

I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who is involved in or is responsible for media creation.  It's time and money well-spent.


Does anyone else have a problem with Microsoft's attitude here?

Category Microsoft
From Reseller News:  Monetise our innovation: Turner

OK... starts out with the subheading of “I see monetisation. I can smell it and hear it," says Microsoft COO

That already doesn't set well with me...  Where's the money coming from?  Customers needing Microsoft and partners.

Billions of dollars of opportunities await partners through the products Microsoft has released in the past year and those it plans to launch in the next 12 months, says COO Kevin Turner.

According to Turner, a “frenzy of opportunities” await partners who “monetise” the company’s latest innovations such as Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007, as well as Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008, due out next February.

Microsoft put more than US$20 billion of previous years’ research and development into products released in the last year, says Turner, adding “this is the year that we’re going to monetise that innovation.

“I see monetisation. I can smell it and hear it.”

Vista alone represents a US$300 billion partner opportunity over the next year, says Turner, citing a report by IDC.

Let me understand...  Microsoft (rather, IDC) expects customer spending related to Vista alone to be $300 BILLION in the next year?  And what exactly is the customer getting for all that money?

Turner meanwhile said that Microsoft partners helped attract more than 2.5 million email users from IBM’s Lotus Notes software to Exchange Server, adding the company aims is to take out another four million Notes seats this year.

Turner also promised Microsoft will continue to increase its $7 billion annual investment on software research and development, and that it will make available a “clear software road map”.

OK...  not terribly fond of the Notes quote, but that's business.  But it's nice to hear that they'll get a clearer road map for $7 BILLION a year...


I was pretty sure I'd bomb out on the NerdTests.com exam...

Category Humor
Image:Duffbert's Random Musings - I was pretty sure I'd bomb out on the NerdTests.com exam...

And people wonder why I'm intimidated by most of my Notes colleagues that I hang around with...  :)


Is there an email circulating that is affecting Domino servers? (UPDATE)

Category IBM/Lotus
I just got pinged by an admin stating that they've had two IBM support personnel warn them about an email circulating that is playing havoc with Domino mail servers.  It has Oprah and "green tea" in the title, and comes from the domain beaudette.info.

Anyone know anything more about this?

UPDATE - 2007/07/29 - Julian chimed in with the IBM tech note, and Ted shares his experience with the issue.  Check in on the IBM tech note for the most current updates, but here's the general issue:

Fix being developed for Domino SMTP Server and/or client crashes due to corrupt e-mail sent from 'Power Tea Weight Loss Sample'
Flash (Alert)
A fix is under development for the Lotus Domino SMTP Server and/or client crashes experienced when an e-mail containing "Grean Tea" and "Oprah" is received. A temporary workaround may also avoid the crashes.
Lotus Domino® SMTP Server and/or client crashes have been reported when an e-mail with a subject similar to "Grean Tea Endorsed by Oprah" (note that the word "Grean" may be spelled "Green") is received. The sender is "Power Tea Weight Loss Sample".


I think the Versus network Tour de France commentators should give up the gushing accolades...

Category Everything Else
... about any particular rider this year.  It's been rather funny...

Because of the time difference, I don't watch the Tour broadcasts live.  But the last couple of afternoons, I've caught one of the rebroadcasts.  And on both days, they've ended the telecast with glowing descriptions of the "brave rides" of the stage winners.  And *right* after each stage, both riders were disqualified and sent home for doping or suspious behavior.  Sorta makes your accolades ring hollow...

Today was especially funny, as they were wrapping up talking about how Rasmussen had a fabulous ride, how he showed the spirit of a true winner, and how inspiring it was after Vinokourov left a black mark on the sport and event after yesterday's disqualification for doping.




Book Review - Smart World by Richard Ogle

Category Book Review
When I ran across the book Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity And the New Science of Ideas by Richard Ogle, I was intrigued.  The "extended mind" concept, the idea that creativity is more than just what's in your head, is something that would change the way I think about how new concepts are formed.  Generally speaking, the book delivers on the premise.  Although there are places where it seems to get more conceptual than practical...

Contents: The Mystery of Breakthrough Creativity; Outing the Mind; Spaces to Think With; Genius, Imagination, and the Nature of Mind; The Fools on the Hill; Darwinian Networks, or Why the Fit Get Fitter; The Mathematical Ecology of Creativity; Sex and the Single Doll; Think Different; The Networked Dynamics of Risk; The Triumph of the Imagination; Robots, Poets, and the Law of Minimal Effort; Leadership, Imagination, and the Art of the Long Bet; Notes; Bibliography; Index; About the Author

The core concept (at least in my mind) of this book is the power of networks, of "idea-spaces" that allow seemingly disconnected patterns to form new realities.  Ogle uses various examples, such as Crick and Watson figuring out the structure of DNA and Picasso's cubism in his paintings, to show how different idea-spaces influenced the discovery and direction of these individuals.  The particular items that became the driving force for these people were there for anyone to see, and in fact many others viewed the same things.  But no one else made the combinations and leaps that linked these various concepts in ways that changed the landscape.  The story of Crick and Watson is especially revealing for Ogle's premise.  Neither Crick or Watson were exceptional in their own research.  What they did better than anyone else was to view what others had done, and then synthesize it into a new supposition, going beyond what anyone else had done on their own.  So instead of creativity being confined to the focused work of one person, it instead becomes a result of casting a wide net to bring in and merge concepts that may not cross the boundaries on their own.

As I tend to be more pragmatic than theoretical, there were parts of this book that were a bit much for me.  Many of the discussions of modern art and what the artists were trying to express seemed to be beyond me.  Looking at a fuzzy painting and reading in vast amounts of emotions and meanings doesn't work in this mind.  But understanding the rise of the personal computer, as well as how Barbie became a cultural icon were interesting and useful.  And seeing my world as a network of idea-spaces is a different twist on how I perceive my environment.  I have no doubt that Ogle's ideas will continue to influence the way I think for quite some time...


Book Review - Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

Category Book Review
I *finally* got to the top of the hold list for the latest Lee Child novel, Bad Luck and Trouble.  While I enjoyed the further adventures of Jack Reacher, this one didn't quite grab me as much as the earlier ones...

As usual, Reacher is drifting from place to place, carrying nothing more than his passport and a toothbrush.  When he goes to an ATM to get some cash, he notices that the balance is $1030 higher than it should be.  Reacher deduces that it's not a fluke, and that it is really a request for assistance, a 10-30 in police call code.  He tracks the deposit down to a former special investigator team member, and thus starts on a mission that reunites him with his former colleagues.  But not all of the team is represented, as four of the original eight have been murdered and/or are missing.  As the team reassembles, others are waiting and watching the group, for reasons not clear in the beginning.  As the fates of the missing team members are discovered, Reacher has to figure out what they might have known that cost them their lives.  All they have to go on are seven pages of a spreadsheet with seemingly random ratios.  When they actually *do* figure out the meaning of the numbers, avenging the deaths of their friends becomes secondary to what really needs to be done.

This installment of the Reacher story has more background and color about Jack than any other previous novel.  From that standpoint, it was great to learn a bit more about what drives and motivates him to live the lifestyle he does.  I think the initial "gathering of the team" took a bit longer than I expected, and as such the story seemed to stall out a bit early on.  Once they connected the dots and figured out what was up, then I was hooked and had to finish it up before I did anything else.  But I didn't have the normal "must keep reading" feeling from page 1.

Regardless, it's still a good novel, and Reacher fans will enjoy it.  And it's good to know that Child is already hard at work on the next one...


Had the chance to give my "Web 2.0 & Social Media" presentation today to a smaller audience...

Category Everything Else
Our eLearning group at work caught wind of what I was going to be doing for the Strategic Communications group later on, and wanted to have me cover the same material.  So using Sametime and a conference call, I got to present to them, albeit with a bit more of a technical slant.  But the core presentation was the same, and I got good feedback on it.  The live presentation on August 1st will be more focused on the effects of social media on a company, so I plan on having some fun with that angle.  Plus, presenting live is a lot easier than presenting at your desk, on a call, with *no* visual feedback from the group.

Little did I know that when I started this blog over four years ago, it would lead me in the directions it has.  As I mentioned on the call, most of the really cool professional things I've done over the last three years (writing, speaking, etc.) can either be traced back directly or indirectly to this blog.

And to think I started it merely to keep up with Mr. Litton.  :)


A tough act to follow...

Category Humor
So I was asked by the Strategic Communications department of the company I work for to give a presentation at their two day retreat.  The subject is "social media", as in blogs, wikis, etc.  No problem, as I can talk about that stuff for hours...

I get the schedule today, and what do I find?

That I'm scheduled right after the talk by our CEO...

No pressure...  no pressure at all...


Book Review - Work Like You're Showing Off! by Joe Calloway

Category Book Review
I admire people who do their jobs with flair and class, and who appear to be having a great time in the process.  Joe Calloway talks about those people and the underlying traits involved in the book Work Like You're Showing Off: The Joy, Jazz, and Kick of Being Better Tomorrow Than You Were Today.  It's the type of book that you should be reading a chapter from every day...

Contents: Showing Off; Grand Stupidity and Absurd Bravery; All Hat and No Cattle; Let It Go; The Gold Standard; Get in the Damn Boat and Go; As Good as You're Going to Be; We See Things as We Are; Stupid Promises; Let's Be Too Much; Imagination Will Take You Everywhere; Get Back Inside the Box; Expect to Connect; Going All In; Joe and Muhammad; We Haven't Seen That; The Pursuit of Happiness; The Enemy of Future Success; What You Think of Me Is None of My Business; Whatever Happens Is Normal; Guess What I Want and Other Stupid Mind Games; I Said I Don't Know; The Golden Circle of Ignorance; What Have You Done For Me Next?; The Power Strategy; Your Next Best Idea Is Everywhere; What Matters Most

At 27 small chapters, you could easily work through this book once a month, with a few days left over to plan and contemplate the upcoming month.  What a deal!

Much of what Calloway writes about is becoming completely sold out to whatever you're doing.  Learn as much as you can, decide you're going to be good at it, and then act.  Many of the people I look up to in my personal and professional life are like that.  It's as if they do their work and "show off" in the process.  They bring their best to the table and use every bit of it without hesitation.  When you think of "showing off" in that sense, you realize that it's not the negative that everyone normally connects with the phrase.  It's the type of person I want to be when I show up each day.

I especially enjoyed the writing style the book.  Calloway doesn't pull punches and doesn't apologize for anything.  I especially liked the chapter titled Whatever Happens Is Normal.  Don't be surprised when your flight is delayed by snow in Chicago in January.  That's what happens in Chicago in January!  Instead, take a step back and alter your expectations.  Maybe you can explore some shops in the airport, get caught up on some reading, or just be amused by all the other stressed out people.  Yelling and screaming at the ticket agent isn't going to change the weather or alter your situation.  If you learn to accept your situation as "normal", you can get past the emotions and experience something new and different...

This is one of those books that will likely contain one or more ideas that will resonate and change your way of thinking about life.  It definitely did with me, and I plan on carving out the two to five minutes each day to reinforce the material here.  I think I'll be a much better person for doing so.


Ajax views in Domino...

Category IBM/Lotus
I received a very nice email a couple of days ago that I thought I'd share...

        I'm one of the attendees at ILUG 2007 that enjoyed your session on Ajax.

Before ILUG I've been developing domino web apps for years but still no ajax. With your session you showed the path and now I want to take something back.

In the last few weeks I've been working on a "solution" for web 2.0 views in domino.. Nothing new you may say... well just take a look at my "different" approach and let me know what you think.


Once again ... thanks for ILUG 2007

Nice work, Daniele!  And thanks for giving back to the community...


Book Review - Managing Humans by Michael Lopp

Category Book Review
Managing people is difficult.  Managing software engineers is something completely different.  Michael Lopp brings his experience to bear in the book Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager.  Wickedly funny, and dangerously accurate...

Part 1 - Management Quiver: Don't Be A Prick; Managers Are Not Evil; The Monday Freakout; Agenda Detection; Mandate Dissection; Information Starvation; Subtlety, Subterfuge, And Silence; Managementese; Technicality; Avoiding The Fez; Your Resignation Checklist; Saying No
Part 2 - The Process Is The Product: 1.0, Taking Time To Think; The Soak; Malcolm Events; Capturing Context; Status Reports 2.0; Trickle Theory
Part 3 - Versions Of You: A Glimpse And A Hook; Nailing The Phone Screen; Ninety Days; Bellwethers; NADD; A Nerd In A Cave; Meeting Creatures; Incrementalists And Completionists; Organics And Mechanics; Inwards, Outwards, And Holistics; Free Electrons; Rules For The Reorg; Offshore Risk Factor; Joe; Secret Titles
Glossary; Index

Although the title would lead you to believe that the book is targeted for managers, that's not really the case.  Yes, software managers will get a *lot* from these pages, but so will any other software professional being managed (that should cover everyone).  Lopp, aka "Rands", has spent many years on the front lines of management, from larger companies to startups.  In a "cut to the chase" fashion (with words you likely won't see in any other management book), he shares his insights and knowledge when it comes to dealing with the strange and often bizarre world of software development.  You'll learn the underlying cause of the Monday morning "freakout", and what's really being said behind the emotional outburst.  You'll understand what happens when your staff is starved for information (not a good thing).  And something I've already used...  figuring out the players in a meeting, and what the real agenda is.

Much of part 1 is devoted to the management side, but parts 2 and 3 are more general in nature, and apply to your own well-being.  The Soak is something that we often don't allow ourselves the luxury of, but it's critical to sorting through your thoughts and ideas.  A Nerd In A Cave does a great job explaining why we set up our work area as we do.  And if you've ever had an argument with someone over the merits of a particular solution to a problem, you'll immediately relate to Incrementalists and Completionists.  I know that explains a lot about my approach to problem resolution...

This is one of those reads that is both enjoyable and valuable.  You'll either learn to manage better, or learn how to be managed better.  You may even learn how to manage yourself while you're at it.


Introducing... lotusviralmarketing.com

Category IBM/Lotus
Gregg Eldred and I are happy to announce the start of a new blog...


This is something I've thought about doing for a long time, and Gregg and I both have a passion for learning how to "market" Notes within an organization.  Over time, we want to share some of our tips with you, as well as get feedback on what works and doesn't work for you.  The site is meant to be a community resource, so feel free to join in the discussion.


Book Review - Change To Strange by Daniel M. Cable

Category Book Review
The correct platitude often offered up by a company is that their people are their most important asset and competitive advantage.  But in reality, most staff is like electricity...  you can't run your company without them, and it's the entry level cost of doing business.  In Change To Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce, Daniel M. Cable examines how to create a "strange" workforce that actually *is* a competitive advantage over your rivals.  It all comes down to your definition of "strange"...

Preface; Be Strange.  Be Very Strange.; Shine a Flashlight into the Black Box That Exists Between Your Workforce and Beating Your Competition; Organizational Outcomes - How Do I Know I Am Winning in the Way I Want to Win?; Performance Drivers - What Must Customers Notice About Us So That We Win?; Strange Workforce Deliverables - What Our Workforce Does to Make Customers Notice and Love Us; Job Specific Strangeness - Different Deliverables from Different Jobs; Strange Workforce Architecture - What Systems Will Produce the Deliverables I Need From My Workforce?; Strange Workforce Architecture - Breaking Out From the Pack; Strange Workforce Architecture - Taking the Next Step; The Magic of Metrics - Creating and Implementing Measurement Systems;Conclusion; Index

The "strange" that Cable talks about here is a workforce that obsesses about one or two key items that make a difference to the customer.  For example, Whole Foods has a workforce that is obsessive about their product and presentation.  These people can tell you just about anything you want to know about what they sell, because they believe in it completely.  Their hiring systems are geared around making sure that new people coming into the system share that same obsessiveness, and the group is rewarded based on how well each person does.  If you're not pulling your weight or if you're not obsessed like everyone else, you'll wash out.  It doesn't mean you're not a hard worker or aren't cut out for working in food retail.  It just means that you're not "strange" in the way you need to be to work at Whole Foods.  This differentiator often is considered crazy or uncopyable by the competition.  But since the customer loves it, Whole Foods has a niche all to themselves.  And their people truly *are* a competitive advantage for them.

The other issue that makes this difficult is the measuring and metrics.  Getting information from your customers about the few things you want to be strange about is hard work.  The numbers often aren't easily obtainable without putting some effort into it.  Which is another reason competitors don't want to follow that direction, and why changing your workforce to a strange workforce isn't easy.  But if you want your company to stand out and be different/strange, it's a requirement to be able to track those factors and measure your people against them.  Otherwise you may end up with good solid people, but just not ones that are strange in the areas in which you want to be viewed as unique.

This book also struck me as something you can do for yourself and your skills.  Perhaps you want to be known as someone with an obsessive attention to deadlines, design, or quality.  You could use this same technique to find your own strange quality/qualities, figure out how to measure it, and them shape yourself into a competitive advantage over others...

While I don't expect an overwhelming majority of companies to run right out and change their HR departments to match this model, reading Change To Strange will at least open up that small window of doubt about whether you really are hiring people who are a competitive advantage for you and your company.


I learned a new Notes term from an end-user today...

Category IBM/Lotus
The last couple of weeks have been rather harried, and today was no exception.  Around 11:15 or so, I got a call from a user about a Notes application I inherited during a staff shuffle.  Since I haven't had a whole lot of experience with that particular app, I started a Sametime session so she could show me how she was getting this particular error.  So far, so good...

She goes into the application, calls up a particular view, and then clicks on the view line that has the document she's processing.  That's when I got the lesson in Notes terminology.  She hadn't "selected" a document in the view, nor had she "highlighted" a document in the view...

She had used the "Where's Waldo?" to highlight and select the document to process.  :)

It made my attempts to use the term "twistie" look rather lame.


Book Review - A Year Without "Made In China" by Sara Bongiorni

Category Book Review
So do you know where the vast majority of the stuff in your house and life is made?  Have you ever given it much thought?  Try reading A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni for an entertaining and eye-opening look at just how much we have come to depend on China for everyday life.  Besides being a laugh-out-loud read, it will cause you to start looking a bit more carefully at that "Made In" tag...

Contents: Introduction; Farewell, My Concubine; Red Shoes; Rise and China; Manufacturing Dissent; A Modest Proposal; Mothers of Invention; Summer of Discontent; Red Tide; China Dreams; Meltdown; The China Season; Road's End; Epilogue; About the Author; Index

Sara Bongiorni, the author, decided on January 1, 2005, that her and her family would spend a year without buying anything made in China.  This wasn't a radical "WE MUST BUY AMERICAN!" reaction, rather an experiment to see if it was possible to live without feeding the growing economic tiger across the Pacific.  Factor in the elements of a husband and two young children, and it becomes a task far beyond what she had imagined.  With her journalistic background, she set off on an adventure that taxed her will, her patience, and her sanity.  And you, the reader, get to come along for the ride and the laughs.

The rules were simple.  Nothing could be purchased that had a "Made In China" sticker on it.  Gifts received by others could be made in China, but there would be no family purchases that fell in that category.  What she and her husband quickly found is that there are vast consumer areas that are nearly all Chinese-dominated.  Toys?  Nearly all made in China.  Lamps?  Made in China.  Shoes for the kids?  China.  Electronics?  Yup, China.  It was possible to find exceptions to these rules, but it usually meant hours (or days) of searching, in addition to spending far more money than they were used to.  Birthday candles for cakes?  China.  Holiday decorations?  China.  That one special toy that your child just HAS to have at Christmas because Santa will come through?  Count on it being made in China.  The interplay of emotions and dialogue between her and everyone else had me reading passages to my wife (and both of us laughing).  And I could relate to her schemes to get around the boycott by mentioning to her mother-in-law what exactly so-and-so wanted for their birthday, knowing it could come in as a gift but not as a purchase.  Desperation makes cowards of us all.  While there were a few mistaken buys (as well as a few knowing "mistakes" by "the Weaker Link"), overall the boycott was pretty closely adhered to.  Not that there weren't some times when giving in would have been easier on everyone, however...

The underlying message in all this is that we've abandoned large areas of industry and commerce to others who will manufacture it for far less money than American and European workers.  While we might be able to get the $49 DVD player and the $10 red sneakers for the kids at Wal-Mart, the question is... what happens when all the decent jobs are shipped off and we can't afford even the basics?  Manufacturing in China might keep prices much lower, but it also eliminates the jobs that offer wages to pay for those goods.  Bongiorni does a great job of making those points without turning the book into a diatribe against global trade.  The average person is much more likely to read a book like this, enjoy the story, and start to grasp the important points.  A business book about the same subject with stats and theories would probably never get opened...

I read this book in about one day, as I couldn't put it down.  And when I went to work today, I started flipping over a few things on my desk.  China, China, China...  While I'm not ready to take the same drastic actions of the author, I will be much more aware of just what I'm doing when I pick up that household item that I absolutely *need*.  Maybe, just maybe, I'll flip over a few more options before I decide.  


Book Review - Why Talking Is Not Enough by Susan Page

Category Book Review
Why Talking Is Not Enough: 8 Loving Actions That Will Transform Your Marriage by Susan Page is one of those books that flies against the conventional advice that's often given when it comes to marriage counseling.  But after you get over the "but that can't be right" feeling, there's a lot to be said for her approach.

Part 1 - What Is Spiritual Partnership?: Introducing Spiritual Partnership; Loving Action 1 - Adopt a Spirit of Good Will; LA 2 - Give Up Problem Solving; LA 3 - Act as If; LA 4 - Practice Restraint; LA 5 - Balance Giving and Taking; LA 6 - Act on Your Own; LA 7 - Practice Acceptance; LA 8 - Practice Compassion
Part 2 - Putting Spiritual Partnership to Work in Your Relationship: Exactly How to Use the Eight Loving Actions; Frequently Asked Questions; Communication Within Spiritual Partnership; Making Mature Judgments
Part 3 - Spiritual Partnership in a Broader Context: Defining the "Spiritual" in Spiritual Partnership; The Future of Spiritual Partnership
References and Further Reading; About the Author

Most self-help books related to marriage dwell on communication...  the give and take of negotiation.  Page contends that the approach is more adversarial in nature, and basically tries to change something you have no control over: the other person.  Instead, she suggests that taking responsibility for yourself and your own actions is much more effective in the long run, as you *can* control yourself.  The actions are centered around what's referred to as a "spiritual practice", or the act of looking at your day-to-day interactions as an exercise of your spiritual nature.  If you are focusing on making yourself into the best person you can be, then changes in the other person will also flow.  These actions, also called experiments, are designed to help you learn what works and what doesn't in your relationship.  If you try something and it doesn't work, that's good as you've learned something you didn't know before.  It's a different approach to what you normally think of as marriage or relationship counseling, but I can see where it would have benefits over the standard "talk it out" approach.

Where I tend to have issues is with the focus on "if it's authentic for you, it's right" ethic.  In this book, she feels that learning you're not right for your mate and splitting is as good an outcome as becoming closer.  If you feel that there *are* moral and ethical absolutes, then some of the underlying foundations of what's in here won't resonate with you.  Still, looking at the actions and the mindset of "change yourself before trying to change others" has some real value.  I've personally always felt that trying to elicit change in others to suit your own self is chancy at best, and futile in most cases...

Definitely worth a read and consideration if the "I gave up something, now why won't they do the same" path isn't working for you...


Book Review - Ignited by Vince Thompson

Category Book Review
Middle management is one of the toughest positions in corporate America.  You're expected to run things successfully, while often not having enough sway and power to implement your plans.  A book that aims to remedy that is Ignited: Managers! Light Up Your Company and Career for More Power More Purpose and More Success by Vince Thompson.  An excellent book that should be on the shelf of every manager...

Introduction - Living in Quake Country; Base Camp - The Ignited Quiz
Part 1 - Get More Power: Action with Traction; The Manager's Universe; Leadership in Limited Space; Managing Your Emotions; The Deadly Lack of Empowerment Trap
Part 2 - Get More Purpose: Ignition Point 1 - The Process; Ignition Point 2 - The People; Ignition Point 3 - The Message; Ignition Point 4 - The Landscape; Ignition Point 5 - The Strategy; Ignition Point 6 - The Story; Ignition Point 7 - The Spirit
Part 3 - Get More Success: Selling From The Fulcrum; Your Own Sense of Balance

The reason why people put themselves into "the middle" is to make a difference in the lives of their coworkers and the company in general.  But it's not an easy road.  Ignited starts with a quick quiz that will give you a general idea as to how your attitude plays out in relation to your job.  Then the three parts of the book help you find your path to a more effective role in the company.  Part 1 talks about general principles of management that might sound like common sense, but that often get lost in the midst of the battles.  I really was struck by the effectiveness of the "universe mapping" exercise.  It shows you who you are linked to in terms of your success.  Following that up with an attempt at mapping your boss's universe can then give you the insight as to what you need to do to make them successful (and yourself in the process).  Part 2 then gives you the tools you need to effectively run the areas that are uniquely yours as a manager... your people, your message, and so forth.  The final part of the book then sums up the newfound power and opportunities you have as an ignited manager, and gives you the roadmap on how that new position and knowledge can be leveraged for your success and balance in life.  By the time you've worked through the book and focused on the changes outlined, you should be infinitely more involved and effective in your position.

Rather than read yet another book on how a CEO leads, focus instead on reading something targeted to your specific situation and circumstances.  This is that book.


Book Review - TerrO.R. by Joseph J. Neuschatz, M.D.

Category Book Review
I was contacted by Joseph J. Neuschatz, M.D. to see if I would be interested in reviewing his novel TerrO.R..  Medical thrillers are always of interest to me, so I accepted.  After a quick read (it's not very long), I can say that the premise of the novel is interesting, but it suffers the same problem as many other self-published/print-on-demand books...  the lack of a good editor to clean up the writing and shape the story.

To avoid giving away too much of the plot, I won't go into much of it here.  Suffice it to say that an anesthesiologist is involved in a case where an apparently healthy young man is undergoing a tattoo removal procedure.  While under anesthesia, the patient goes into cardiac arrest and dies.  The family sues almost immediately, and the anesthesiologist is devastated as it's his first lawsuit.  After some investigation, he discovers a number of other cases that seem to have the same scenario and outcome.  He takes it upon himself to try and get to the root of the problem... assuming the deaths were not accidental.

Normally medical thrillers involve surgeons or general practitioners, not anesthesiologists.  Neuschatz is himself an anesthesiologist, and you learn quite a bit about the specialty during the story.  The plot twist at the end was unusual, and isn't something I've seen or considered before.  The major issue with the story is the writing.  The conversation between the characters was pretty stilted, and I just couldn't see dialogue between two people playing out as it was written.  In addition, many of the surgery scenes, while interesting, didn't have anything to do with the story.  Given the book is only 150 pages to begin with, it felt as if a short story was trying to be padded out to novella size for stand-alone publishing.  If it had been published by a major publishing house under the guidance of an experienced editor, I think the outcome would have been much better.  

If you have the chance to read TerrO.R. and need something to fill a couple of hours, go for it.  Just make sure you're not expecting something along the lines of Palmer or Cook.


Book Review - Eyeball Wars by David Meerman Scott

Category Book Review
OK...  time for a "retro flash-back"...  Back to those heady days of dot.coms with no revenue, few business plans, and dreams of striking it rich with an IPO.  The novel is called Eyeball Wars : a novel of dot-com intrigue by David Meerman Scott, and I had a ball reading it.  What's best is that it was published in January 2001 when all this stuff *was* reality.

The story-line is familiar for those who followed the Internet craze, the rush to make your fortune in the brave new dot.com world.  Richard Williams is the son of a newspaper magnate, one who is as ruthless as they come.  Richard is more inclined to want to party than take over for his dad, and his work ethic reflects it.  Pierce (the father) decides to put him into a sink-or-swim position of heading up an internet division of the company, while also hiring a hotshot Net leader (Jason Carpenter) to make it successful.  Richard and Jason clash immediately, and Richard has to decide what he wants most in life...  the trappings of wealth, or the chance to make it on his own without the money and influence of his father.  He chooses the latter, and sets up the conflict between old and new media.  Meanwhile, a second story-line involving a Japanese company looking to invest in an Internet firm starts to merge into the plot.  Richard needs the venture capital for his site, Freshspot.com, to survive, and it's a down-to-the-wire situation which could mean life or death for his popular newssite.

The term "eyeball wars" refers to the notion that it wasn't so important to make money as it was to get people to visit and return to your site.  If you build it and people come, then profits would somehow magically appear "later".  In retrospect, very few dot.com sites were able to pull off this magical act.  Written in 2000/2001, this novel was created in the midst of the excitement, and the story of concept-to-IPO-to-riches was accepted as fact.  I think that's why I enjoyed the book so much.  The search for the next big idea and someone to fund it was a big deal, and everyone wanted in on it.  I enjoyed watching Richard change from a party animal with no responsibilities to someone who finally believed in something and had dreams.  And it also took me back to my own work environment during those crazy years.  Expectations to be retired by 40...  :)

For those who were caught up in the Internet mania of the time, this is a fun way to scroll back a few years and kill an afternoon or two.  Just don't ask yourself too often...  "Were we really that naive?"


Book Review - xUnit Test Patterns: Refactoring Test Code by Gerard Meszaros

Category Book Review
By now, the concept of "patterns" in program design is pretty well accepted.  And the concept of test-driven development has a solid foundation also.  But are there certain "patterns" to building and running those tests?  The answer is yes, and the book that covers it is xUnit Test Patterns: Refactoring Test Code by Gerard Meszaros.  If you use any of the xUnit software in your development efforts, you need to have this book...

Part 1 - The Narratives: A Brief Tour; Test Smells; Goals of Test Automation; Philosophy of Test Automation; Principles of Test Automation; Test Automation Strategy; xUnit Basics; Transient Fixture Management; Persistent Fixture Management; Result Verification; Using Test Doubles; Organizing Our Tests; Testing with Databases; A Roadmap to Effective Test Automation
Part 2 - The Test Smells: Code Smells; Behavior Smells; Project Smells
Part 3 - The Patterns: Test Strategy Patterns; xUnit Basics Patterns; Fixture Setup Patterns; Result Verification Patterns; Fixture Teardown Patterns; Test Double Patterns; Test Organization Patterns; Database Patterns; Design-for-Testability Patterns; Value Patterns
Part 4 - Appendixes: Test Refactorings; xUnit Terminology; xUnit Family Members; Tools; Goals and Principles; Smells, Aliases, and Causes; Patterns, Aliases, and Variations
Glossary; References; Index

Most of the books that cover xUnit software do so from the perspective of a technical manual.  Everything is geared to writing the actual code for the test.  Meszaros takes a different tack.  He covers more of the "why" behind test writing in xUnit, as well as the basic patterns and principles you should be aware of when you're putting together your tests.  People new to xUnit will throw together tests without much thought as to the structure and robustness of that script.  Meszaros maintains that much of the same care that goes into writing and designing programs should also go into the test scripts.  Patterns such as In-line Setup, Chained Tests, State Verification, and many others can adjust your whole mindset towards what makes a solid and maintainable test script that will serve you well both now and down the road when you have to make changes to the program (and add more scripts to your test suite).  The book is set up such that you can scan for basic ideas, and then go back to specific patterns for more information as the situations and needs arise.  With the use of both actual code and UML diagrams, it's very easy to catch the gist of each pattern, as well as seeing how it would actually be implemented.  Very good stuff here...

If you practice test-driven development (and you should), you have no doubt worked with your particular xUnit variant.  This book is the next step in your learning, and it will make you a much better developer and tester...


Book Review - The Blue Cheer by Ed Lynskey

Category Book Review
Hard-edged, dark, well-written detective novel...  The Blue Cheer by Ed Lynskey.  I'm not sure where I got the idea to pick up this book, but whoever/whatever gave me the tip, thanks...

Frank Johnson is a private investigator who is running from his past and looking for some down time.  He ends up in a small West Virginia town, and all appears to be going well until he witnesses the firing of a Stinger missile on his property.  When he goes to investigate, someone cold-cocks him from behind and removes the evidence.  His nearest neighbor and friend "Old Man" Maddox comes over to help him figure things out.  But apparently someone (or someones) want the matter dropped, and they brutally murder Maddox's wife.  The small-town sheriff doesn't appear to be putting much effort into the investigation, and in fact may be part of the whole conspiracy.  Throw in a corrupt police department, a town distrusting of strangers, and a shadowy group called The Blue Cheer, and Johnson has his hands full avenging deaths and staying alive...

This is one of the grittiest novels I've read in a long time.  The writing is dark, reminiscent of those 50's style police pulp novels.  Lynskey paints detailed pictures of the surroundings and actions, without getting overly caught up in his writing.  The only problem I had is that this is part of a series, and I haven't read the earlier books.  I'm sure that would explain more about the demons in Johnson's life, as well as his relationship with Maddox.  But I can't fault the writer when I come in to the middle of a story.  I'll definitely be going back and catching up with the adventures of Frank Johnson...


Book Review - The Grid - A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World by Phillip F. Schewe

Category Book Review
Browsing through a bookstore the other day, I ran across this title...  The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World by Phillip F. Schewe.  I got a copy of it at the library, and was expecting a decent education on how our power systems work.  What I ended up with was something a bit different, and it wasn't as good as I had hoped for...

Contents: The Gridness of the Grid; Grid Genesis; Most Electrified City; Imperial Grid; Worst Day in Grid History; Thirty Million Powerless; Overhauling the Grid; Energizing the Grid; Grid on the Moon; Notes; Acknowledgments; Index

With a title like this, I expected the writer to start at the beginning, in the days of Westinghouse and Edison.  From there, I had hoped for a relatively comprehensive history of how our nation has become electrified, along with some details as to how it all works.  And to some degree, that's in there.  But it's ladled out with a heavy dose of philosophy and comparisons to people like Thoreau and his simplistic lifestyle at Walden Pond.  These forays into the contemplation of our electric lifestyle seemed to distract from what could have been a rather compelling read.  I was also a bit frustrated by all the time that was spent on the 1965 power outage that plunged 30 million people on the east coast into darkness.  Yes, it's a telling story of how intertwined our systems have become, as well as how much we rely on electricity.  But it seemed that he could have covered that in less space, leaving more room for other directions where I hoped we would be going.

I don't consider the book all bad.  The writing style was somewhat unique, in that it was written in that "yes, I'm talking to you, Mr. Reader" tone.  And for the material that was covered, the story was interesting.  It's something we take for granted (flip a switch, and there's the power), but it's also something that can be disrupted by many different unforeseen forces.  But at least in my view, the book could have done more with facts and stories, and less with philosophizing and navel-gazing...


Book Review - Toxic Emotions At Work by Peter J. Frost

Category Book Review
Have you ever read a book that caused you to view your work environment in a whole new light?  This book did it for me...  Toxic Emotions at Work and What You Can Do About Them by Peter J. Frost.  I now understand a bit more about the role I play, as well as how to support others who play that role to a far greater degree than I do...

Contents: Emotional Pain in Organizations; Sources of Toxicity in Organizations; The Work of the Toxic Handler; The Toll on Toxin Handlers; Healing the Healers; At the Interface - What Handlers and Their Organizations Can Do; Leaders Handling Pain; The Compassionate Company - Architecting Responses to Pain; Looking through the Lens of Pain; Notes; Index; About the Author

The premise of this book is that every organization has toxicity in it when it comes to emotions and interactions between employees and management.  While that's to be expected, the real problem comes in with the people who unofficially deal with that toxicity.  Frost calls them "toxic handlers", and they are critical to the functioning of a company.  These people are the ones that soak up the irrational and emotional behavior of those above them, and then filter out the toxins in order to pass along the message to those who need to do the work.  Likewise, they are also the "go-to" people when others are having emotional difficulties and need someone to talk to.  The problem lies in how the handlers deal with the constant barrage of garbage that comes at them.  If they internalize and take on the pain of others, there's a very good chance that they will end up frustrated and burnt-out.  Then when they leave, everything crumbles down as there's no one to absorb that pain any longer, as their function was not recognized.  But by following many of the steps and suggestions offered here, it's possible to successfully play that role and still not end up as a victim yourself.  Frost also covers how organizations need to recognize the people who play these roles, understand the stress and pressure they're under, and give them the assistance they need to not become a casualty.

Having worked at Enron nearly up to the end, I can readily identify with everything in this book.  And in a number of areas, I tend to be a minor toxic handler, in that I'm concerned about the well-being of others in any particular structure I'm part of.  I also can now see a number of people who I've worked for who are major toxic handlers, and I think I have a better idea on how best to help them do their job better...

An excellent read, and one that could change the way you view your official (and unofficial) org chart...


Book Review - An American Hedge Fund by Timothy Sykes

Category Book Review
I was recently contacted by Timothy Sykes (of Wall Street Warriors fame) asking if I was interested in receiving an advance copy of his book An American Hedge Fund.  Always interested in something a bit different than what I'd normally read, I took him up on the offer.  What I found was an entertaining read of the stock market boom and bust through the eyes of someone who was turning a small amount of money into a million dollar hedge fund.  There's also plenty of insight and commentary on the world of stock trading and equity markets, as well as how they are regulated...

Sykes is basically a day trader who was able to use stock charts and such to move in and out of positions on a very short-term basis.  After four years (1999-2002) of doing this (and turning himself into a millionaire), he decided to start his own hedge fun called the Cilantro Fund.  While still a one-man-band, he traded during the day and tried to make contacts and get investors by night.  Much of his phenomenal success came during the dot.bomb era, when he took up shorting microcaps.  But trying to interest significant investors while still staying within the laws of the SEC isn't easy.  It was a catch-22...  You need large investors to build your fund asset base, but you need a large fund asset base to attract large investors.  The story of his fund's performance and trials take place from 2003 to the current, and isn't nearly as rosy as the first four years of managing his own money.  But it's there that he learned a lot about himself, the market, and the Byzantine laws that nearly lock out a newcomer to the world of hedge funds.

The last chapter of the book (chapter 15) is where you get the wrap-up of why he feels there's the need for significant changes in the SEC when it comes to investing in hedge funds.  The chapters leading up to that are a first-person narrative of his ups and downs, his high moments and low points during the ride.  While I was reading through the book, I kept seeing a person who was trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted.  Part of Sykes wanted to be "normal", to have a social life and interact like regular people.  But the other part was addicted to the score, the opportunity to make thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, often in a matter in minutes.  It was also revealing that knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.  His stated strategy, which was generally successful, was often overridden by his ego or greed, usually leading to larger losses and bigger gambles to make it up.  It wasn't hard to see how someone could become addicted to that lifestyle, much like gambling at Las Vegas based on your own charts and systems (neither of which are fool-proof).

This is definitely worth reading if you've ever dabbled in day trading, or wondered about the motivation behind those who do.  At the same time, you'll get a glimpse of a part of the market that most of us are not even aware exists...

NOTE:  As of 11/09/2007, comments have been shut off on this post.  A few individuals crossed the line in my opinion, and I don't care to cater to them.  I gave warning on an earlier comment...


Just got back from seeing Ratatouille this evening...

Category Everything Else
My wife and sister-in-law didn't go this afternoon like I thought they were going to, so after I got home from a BBQ at Bruce Elgort's place, we all trooped off to the theatre.

Bottom line...  Ratatouille is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.  The animation is superb, the story line is engaging, and many moments are laugh-out-loud funny.  It's one of the few movies I could see myself watching a number of times.  While a Pixar animation, it's more (in my mind) targeted for adults than kids.  I can't see that there will be many "rat" merchandising opportunities for kids.  :)

Feel free to take your kids along if you have them, but don't worry if it's just you sans children.  Well worth the money...

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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