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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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11/28/2008

Book Review - Make: Technology on Your Time Volume 16 by Mark Frauenfelder

Category Book Review Mark Frauenfelder Make: Technology on Your Time Volume 16
A picture named M2

The DIY (Do It Yourself) movement is very much alive and well, and one periodical that carries the DIY banner is Make magazine.  I *really* liked Make: Technology on Your Time Volume 16 this month, as it touched on some projects that cover a subject I've always been fascinated with...  spying.  :)

Contents:
Made on Earth
The First Picture Show
Making Make: Television
Cool Old Chemistry Sets
Junk Pedalers
The Make: Way Race Car
Star Bust
Kalavinka Bike Frames
Sparky 2: No Sellout
DIY-brary
I, Robot
DIY: Outdoors, Circuits, Telephony, Home
Meet TRIZ
Fun Idea Vending Machine
Upload: Digital Arts and Crafts
1+2+3: Alien Head Projector
Toys, Tricks, and Teasers
Toolbox
Workshop: Len Cullum
Maker's Calendar
Howtoons: Wooden Stilts
Aha! Puzzle This
Homebrew

While the theme for this issue was "spy-tech", that doesn't mean that you'll ONLY find DIY spy gadgets here.  Some of the articles, such as Cool Old Chemistry Sets, takes you back to the days when chemistry sets for kids had (gasp!) REAL LIVE CHEMICALS!  Of course, we know better now than to provide actual radioactive elements that they can play with (yes, that was a common feature in some sets).  The Make: Way Car Race was interesting in that it was a challenge to drive a race over two days (14 hours) using a car and parts that are no more expensive than $500.  In that situation, creativity rules.  But for me, the best part were the articles on how to build spy gadgets that are creative and mostly cheap.  For instance, there's the talking booby trap that issues a verbal warning when someone moves an item you have attached to it.  Made from a Radio Shack recording module mounted on a clothes pin, this looks like it'd be a kick to build (not to mention, to also use!)  There's the survival kit that's stored in an Altoids tin (very handy).  I'm planning on taking a shot at the flash drive hidden in a AA battery, as I have a spare flash drive or two I could sacrifice to this cause.  And my favorite...  installing a listening device in a hollowed-out book that can transmit to a receiver approximately 20 feet away.  I think I can find a book or two in my collection that would work...  :)

Make magazine is packed with stuff like this every month.  Some of the projects you'll find interesting but not practical, and some will just not be of any interest at all.  But when you get an issue like this that has a number of projects that pique your interest, it's like a treasure trove of fun and learning.  This was probably one of my favorite issues...

11/28/2008

Book Review - The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield

Category Book Review Steven Pressfield The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle
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I had seen the book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield recommended by quite a few experts in the field of creativity and productivity.  I finally got around to putting it on hold at the library, and I eventually worked my way to the top.  That should tell you something considering the book was released in 2002, and it still had a hold backlog.  After finishing it (it's not very long), I'll be buying my own copy for reference.  I felt as if I was looking at myself on most of the pages.

Contents:
Book One: Resistance - Defining the Enemy
Book Two: Combating Resistance - Turning Pro
Book Three: Beyond Resistance - The Higher Realm

Pressfield's premise is that resistance is our enemy that fights and prevents us from living the life and becoming the person we want to be.  Most observations occupy just a page or two, with titles like Resistance and Trouble and Resistance Never Sleeps.  The style is reminiscent of the book The Art of War (hence, the title...), and the flow progresses from identifying how resistence affects your creativity and progress, to how being a professional means going to war against resistance every day, to accepting the existence of "muses" that will appear and help you create if you put in the time and effort to be professional and fight resistance.  Since Pressfield is a writer, you often see examples centering around that particular creative outlet.  But in reality, these concepts apply to all creative pursuits.  

Since I tend to relate well to the concept of "going to war" with elements in your life that hold you back, The War of Art resonates with me.  Add to that a real problem I have with resistance, and this book felt like it was written explicitly for me.  On top of understanding and relating to the effects of resistance, I also thoroughly understood and accepted the concept of "going pro".  Think of it being a soldier who doesn't whine and complain about how things are.  They simply do their jobs, commit to excellence in their core skills, and know that the creativity muses will show up if they've done their part in the process.

This is another example of a book addressing an area of my life at the exact time I'm struggling with it.  I'll be ordering my own copy of The War of Art and internalizing many of the concepts.  I'll then be able to close the gap between the life I live and the life I could be living, if only I didn't succumb to resistance on a regular basis.

11/28/2008

Book Review - Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End... by Philip Plait

Category Book Review Philip Plait Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End...
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Media seems to love stories that involve some astronomical event that threatens wide-spread devastation.  The problem is, they never really explain the very small odds of the event actually coming to pass.  Philip Plait takes these gloom and doom headlines and humorously (and scientifically) places them in the right context in his book Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End...  If you're interested in phenomena like death by gamma-ray bursts or black holes, you'll really enjoy this book (and learn quite a bit in the process).

Contents:
Target Earth: Asteroid and Comet Impacts
Sunburn
The Stellar Fury of Supernovae
Cosmic Blowtorches: Gamma-Ray Bursts
The Bottomless Pits of Black Holes
Alien Attack!
The Death of the Sun
Bright Lights, Big Galaxy
The End of Everything
What, Me Worry?
Acknowledgments
Appendix
index

Plait starts off with things that could conceivably happen.  The most likely is the impact of an asteroid on Earth.  It's happened before, and it'll happen again.  But rather than just bemoan the inevitability of this event, he examines common (and not so common) ways that we might be able to prevent the impact, given enough forewarning.  The Hollywood-inspired "blow it up with an atomic bomb" not only turns out to be risky, but there's a very good chance that it would have absolutely no effect whatsoever.  On the other hand, it could be very feasible to use a orbiting satellite of a sufficient mass to affect the gravity pull of the asteroid and alter the course just enough that it bypasses earth.  He escalates the doomsday scenarios up to the ultimate death of the entire universe.  Granted, we're dealing with a lot of conjecture and numbers so large as to boggle the mind, but he does a good job in explaining the strange science that comes into play when quantum physics enters the picture.  Of course, by this time, your measly 70 year lifespan wouldn't even register as a nanosecond on the timeline of the universe.

Had this been just raw, hard-core science writing, I don't think it would have much appeal except to other astrophysicists.  But Plait injects humor and images to allow those of us without his technical background to at least begin to grasp the possibilities and realities of red supergiants and black holes.  Don't let the B-movie sci-fi title fool you into thinking this is something less than it is...  a solid scientific (and fun) look at the hostile universe in which we live.

11/26/2008

Book Review - The Rule of Won by Stefan Petrucha

Category Book Review Stefan Petrucha The Rule of Won
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One of the review titles that I opted to accept for a recreational read was the young adult novel The Rule of Won by Stefan Petrucha.  I'm often hesitant to venture into the YA genre, as 1) I'm definitely not a "young adult" any more (at least based on the calendar...  "immature adult" may still apply), and 2) any lessons that are trying to be taught are often no longer applicable.  But the premise tweaked my interest, and the tweak was accurate in this case...  The Rule of Won is an entertaining read, with solid writing and a message that a few more adults should pay attention to...

The main character, Caleb Dunne, is a high school student who has turned slacking into an art form.  Anything worth doing is worth doing as easily as possible, and there's not much worth doing in the first place.  The flip side is his girlfriend, Vicky Bainbridge, who is a classic overachiever...  running for school office, involved in everything, and is pushing Dunne to clean up his act.  This motivation comes to a head when a fellow classmate, Ethan Skinson, starts a club to discuss and live life by the principles in the book The Rule of Won.  Basically, if you want something, you can use mesmories to imanifest your crave.  The group starts out small, and sets a crave to get money to rebuild the school's gym (which Dunne is accused of ruining the first time it was being rebuilt).  When this event actually comes to pass, the group picks up momentum, and sets a crave to have their high school win a basketball game (which they haven't done all year) against the state champions.  Strangely, this too happens.  Vicky is smitten with Ethan, Dunne is on the fence as to whether this is all for real, and in short order nearly the whole school has gotten on the bandwagon.  This "groupthink" bothers Dunne to no end, and he sees how it's quickly becoming a case of "you're either for us or against us".  When a teacher is seriously injured in a car accident due to the crave of everyone needing to pass an algebra test (that he's no longer able to give due to the wreck), Dunne confronts Ethan with some facts, and that leads to a physical showdown between the two, with nearly the entire school body imanifesting Dunne getting the snot beat out of him...

Petrucha based the story off of the best-selling book The Secret, which proposes that you can have anything in the universe you want just by imagining it as already belonging to you.  He pokes plenty of holes in the concept, as well as showing what happens when greed, ego, and groupthink start to drive what you crave.  I really enjoyed the wisecracking dialogue of Caleb Dunne, as well as his emotional turmoil over Vicky's infatuation with Ethan, and his own growing attraction to a goth girl he's never really gotten to know that well.  Great characters, and perfect pacing.  The moral of learning to think for oneself really does transcend the YA audience, and I can think of a number of adults who would enjoy this (and a number who should also read it for the lessons).  If you get the opportunity to pick this up for your kid (or yourself), I think you'll be pleased with your selection...

11/26/2008

Book Review - Portland's Rose City Ghosts I by Jefferson Davis

Category Book Review Jefferson Davis Portland's Rose City Ghosts
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I saw Portland's Rose City Ghosts I by Jefferson Davis at the library the other day, and thought it looked interesting (and short).  Living in Portland, I wondered what locations were considered the "most haunted" around here.  The best part about the book is that it *was* short, as the writing and content selection was very uneven.  I would have enjoyed this much more as a series of blog entries...

Contents:
Introduction; Founding Portland and its Ghosts; South Old Town Portland; North Old Town Portland; Outside Downtown Portland Proper; The Willamette and East Portland; Index

Davis has done a number of books about mysterious phenomena in this area, and he also leads walking tours of the downtown Portland area.  History-wise, he knows his stuff about the early days of Portland, when the roads were mud, the shanghai tunnels were in constant use, and pretty much anything was legal so long as you didn't get caught.  In the book, he tells stories about particular buildings that have a history of paranormal activity.  By digging into the past, he attempts to put potential names to the apparitions that appear to unsuspecting occupants.  After reading Rose City Ghosts, you'll come away with a bit of a different view on certain locations you pass by every day.

The problem I had was with the wide variance in the story styles and information.  For instance, he devotes a lot of space to the White Eagle Saloon (with whom I share a very similar phone number).  He talks about the owners and occupants of the upper floors, the untimely demise of a certain individual, and how that could well tie back to the strange things that happen there to this day.  Not bad...  But right before that, we have a story of the Steel Bridge, how it works, and the story of a couple that committed suicide from the bridge by hanging themselves in 1998.  The closest we get to a "ghost" story with this is the final two lines: "No one has reported seeing them reliving their tragic fall.  Fortunately."  Ok, then why is this story even in here?  Much the same with the passage about the Morrison Bridge.  He says there have been unconfirmed reports (no details) in the past.  He says there was a case of a trolley long ago sliding on "one of" Portland's many bridges, but he's not sure anyone died, or that it was even the Morrison Bridge.  This is then followed by a story of how coffins were ferried across the river at that point before the bridge was built.  Again, this is a ghost story why?  

This is a self-published title of 93 pages, with stories that have appeared in other Davis books and publications.  It shows.  If you are interested in the local history of Portland and have an hour to spend at the library reading Portland's Rose City Ghosts I, go for it.  But don't go in thinking that this is going to be a book you just couldn't put down...

11/25/2008

Michael Sampson's Seamless Teamwork book just showed up today!

Category Microsoft
This may be the first time I've been overly excited about reviewing a book on Microsoft technology...  :)

11/22/2008

A tip for converting your PowerPoint presentation to the Symphony format...

Category IBM/Lotus
For Lotusphere 2009, all our presentation files have to be in the .ODP format, which means using Symphony or OpenOffice.org.  For the first time, IBM is only supplying the Lotusphere presentation template in .OTP format.  If you've ever done presentations before, you're probably planning on pulling content from existing slides to make up your session(s) slides for January.  

Veterans know what this means...  the dreaded "conversion".

I'm working with Chris Blatnick on our presentation, and I'm using two existing PowerPoint presentations as the base.  I'll admit to never having worked with the presentation side of Symphony before, so I went digging for that single menu option that would magically transform PPT to ODP with a single click.  

Unfortunately (or because I are stupid), it wasn't that easy.

I could find the existing templates by using the menu command of Layout > Page Design.  But that seems to assume you already have the template(s) you want to use in a template library somewhere.  And "somewhere" did not include the option to find the ls2009.otp file on my Windows XP desktop.  To save someone a few minutes of time, I found it's much easier if you just put the template where Symphony expects to find the rest of them.  And for my default Notes 8.5 beta install, its:

(deep breath)

C:\Program Files\IBM\Lotus\Notes\framework\shared\eclipse\plugins\com.ibm.productivity.tools.template.en_3.5.0.20080815-1740\layout

If you put the template there, then it shows up under the More... option when you use the Layout > Page Design menu function.  From there, you can apply the template to either the existing page or all pages except for the title page.  I did one apply for the title page, and selected the "all pages except for title" to get the rest.  

It's far from ready for prime-time, but at least I'm now working in .ODP format with the correct template.  And at least for me, that was a significant part of the battle.

11/22/2008

Book Review - Curling, Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff About the Roaring Game by Bob Weeks

Category Book Review Bob Weeks Curling Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff About the Roaring Game
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I'm not sure what it is that draws me to semi-obscure sports...  at least sports that are semi-obscure to the average American.  I got hooked on curling during the Olympics a few years back, and now I'll sit and watch a match if it happens to be on (which is rarely).  I saw the book Curling, Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff About the Roaring Game by Bob Weeks and thought it might be a way to learn a bit more about the history and game.  While the book is most useful to those who are heavily into the sport, it was still an entertaining read.

Weeks is a journalist/sportswriter who has covered the game for nearly two decades.  During that time, he's collected a huge storehouse of trivia and facts about the game that go beyond who won and who lost, where the game was played, and other such statistical information.  Rather than continue to sit on all that knowledge, he wrote Curling, Etcetera to get it some of it out on paper.  The results is a fast paced book that sheds plenty of color and light on curling, both the history of the sport and the players who give it life.

Curling has its own version of the NFL's "Heidi game", when the network switched to a different program before the end of the match.  The CBC never did that again, and in fact put in a new policy that said all curling games would be covered from start to end, regardless of time.  When do you retire from curling? Possibly never...  the oldest living curler is 93, and there was once a regular competitor who was a spry 102.  It used to be that curling had no clocks to regulate play.  Matches could take hours (and often did).  An experiment to try "speed curling" based on a chess clock was tried in 1983, and again in 1986 during a nationally televised skins game.  By 1989, many jurisdictions were using the clock to regulate play, and now it's a regular part of every event.  And you know you've made it to the big time when your sport starts to appear in television commercials, sponsored by such companies as Cialis, Labatts, Scotties tissues, and Office Depot...

A fair number of the factoids revolve around legendary names in the sport, but they are not names that would be known much outside of curling circles.  Therefore, I think that actual curlers would get more from the book than I did.  Still, I enjoyed the stories and history, and Curling, Etcetera did nothing to dampen my enjoyment of the game.

11/22/2008

Book Review - Things Forgotten by Thomas N. Tabback

Category Book Review Thomas N. Tabback Things Forgotten
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I was contacted by PearlGate Publishing awhile back, and offered a copy of Things Forgotten, a debut novel by Thomas N. Tabback.  The premise sounded somewhat interesting, but debut novels are normally such that I try and keep my expectations in check.  Turns out that I need not have worried...  Tabback has written an incredible novel, made even more so by it being his first try.  I was mesmerized by the story, and eagerly looked forward to picking it up each night for reading...

The story starts and ends with a cop by the name of Paul Kelly.  He's a New York officer who has seen his share of death and evil.  One night while out with his partner, they venture into an alley to follow what looks to be two individuals dragging a body towards a car.  Everything looks to be under control, until one of the men pulls a gun, kills Kelly's partner, and pulls the trigger on a point-blank shot to Kelly's head.  What should be the end of his life only serves to launch him back in time nearly 3200 years, back to when the nation of Israel was leaving Egypt and was starting to settle the land of Canaan as their own.  Kelly drifts out of the hospital and becomes Nahar, someone who has a past as a veteran warrior but who wants nothing more than to just live in peace.  He's forcibly conscripted by the Canaanites to fight the Hebrew invasion, but gets captured during the first attack on his position.  Taken as a slave, Nahar should be put to death for his killing of one of the Israelites, but Jain (his master) can't shake the feeling that Nahar has something more to offer the Hebrews.  Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, agrees that God has marked Nahar for something special, and permits him to live.  Nahar can't figure out why he's being spared, and tries numerous times to make his escape to head back to  his own land.  These escapes continually fail, and he slowly starts to become somewhat accepting of his new tribe and life.

Throughout all this captivity, Nahar is haunted by vivid nightmares involving the ritualistic slaying of his family by Baal priests when he was young.  Min, an Egyptian leader, is an ever-present evil in Nahar's existence, and is offering Nahar the chance to join him and share in the riches and pleasures of life.  Nahar know however, that giving in to Min is unthinkable, and that constant temptation binds him even closer to his Israelite "family".  Nahar is conflicted as to what his real purpose is in life, and whether or not he truly believes in the God of Israel.  All this leads up to a confrontation between good and evil, where Nahar has to remember his past and do what is right regardless of the outcome.

A 500 page novel by a first-time writer isn't usually a good sign.  In this case, Tabback could have gone 700 and I would have been perfectly happy.  It's not until the end of the book that you start to understand the Paul Kelly character in relation to Nahar, as 95% of the book takes place 3200 years ago.  Still, the ending and merger of the characters back into the present is a nice ending, and sets the stage for additional books (which I *will* be reading).  Tabback paints a detailed and rich picture of life in the land of Canaan, going to war against the inhabitants to claim the land.  In no time at all, the characters become real people that had me caring deeply as to what happened to them.  The love interest between Nahar and Tirzah is also played perfectly, walking the line between customs of the time and the reality of someone who has fallen deeply in love with a very independent woman.  All in all, I loved the book...

Tabback is writing a second book to follow this called Rebellion.  It will be a must-read for me when it comes out.  If it's anything like Things Forgotten, it'll be a memorable read.  

11/21/2008

ACCLAIMED NEW BOOK OFFERS ‘JUST ENOUGH GOVERNANCE’ FOR LOTUS NOTES

Category IBM/Lotus
OK...  I got a kick out of finding this in my Google News Alerts this morning...  ACCLAIMED NEW BOOK OFFERS ‘JUST ENOUGH GOVERNANCE’ FOR LOTUS NOTES

 * Submitted by: 80:20 Communications Limited
 * Friday, 21 November 2008

Ely, England, November 21, 2008 – In many organisations, Lotus Notes and Notes applications are critically important to business. Equally important today, however, is the need to exercise effective governance over all IT processes to protect the health of the enterprise. The forthcoming book ‘Just Enough Governance for Notes’, acclaimed on Amazon by renowned reviewer Thomas ‘Duffbert’ Duff, offers a new way to reconcile these two requirements, with a ‘light touch’ governance approach that preserves the agility that makes Notes so invaluable.

‘Just Enough Governance for Notes’ is written by Lotus Notes veteran Craig Schumann, Senior Vice President for R&D at TeamStudio. According to Duff, it "bridges the gap between the ‘Wild, Wild West’ environment so often seen in Notes shops, and the approval- and documentation-heavy processes you see in other IT areas. Even better, it introduces the topic of governance in such a way that most Notes developers can relate to and accept”.

The book presents an IT governance philosophy for Lotus Notes that can protect the company without stifling developer initiative. It goes on to give IT staff and Notes developers a blueprint to implement IT governance processes and principles in the Lotus Notes environment. Lastly, it takes a clear-sighted look at the future evolution of Notes and of IT governance.

Topics covered in the book’s 174 pages include The Trend Toward IT Governance, Design, Development, Test and Production. With the good practices it presents, readers will be able to create a governance process as agile as Notes itself, so that businesses and Notes applications can prosper together for many years to come.

Duff enthuses, “I would highly recommend getting a copy of Just Enough Governance for Notes to make sure you’re not exposing yourself and your company to unnecessary dangers. Along the way, you may just convince your IT leadership that Notes can be governed just like every other platform."

"renowned"...  "enthuses"...   And that, along with hanging around the right people at Lotusphere, will get you a decent beer.  :)  But seriously, it *is* a good book, and one well worth reading.  And yes, I knew they were going to use quotes for publicity.  No, I did not know about this press release before it went out.  While I don't believe my own press clippings, it is sorta cool to wake up to find something like this in your inbox.  Nice job, Mr. Schumann and company!


If you're interested, you can find it on Amazon...  Just Enough Governance for Notes.

11/18/2008

Microsoft Exchange's challenges: partners, the cloud, and (still) Lotus Notes

Category Microsoft IBM/Lotus
From Computerworld: Microsoft Exchange's challenges: partners, the cloud, and (still) Lotus Notes

A number of things caught my eye in this article, both good and bad...

 But Microsoft hasn't fully answered questions about how Exchange Online won't hurt its loyal army of partners, nor how the service can overcome some of its limitations and aid the war against IBM's Lotus Notes.

"Microsoft may in fact succeed with Exchange Online," said analyst David Ferris of Ferris Research. "But they have aggressively rolled out similar offerings in the past that have failed."

Ferris recognizes that Microsoft doesn't necessarily have a great track record in following through with significant new architectures.  On the other hand, Workplace didn't fare so well, either...

Today, Exchange is used by 65% of workers in developed economies, according to Ferris Research. Lotus Notes is used by 10% of workers.

10%???  I think that's the lowest number I've ever heard for Notes seats percentage.  And Ferris is a bit more reliable than Radicati (who gets quoted later on in the article also).  I'd love to know the methodology behind those numbers.

 That may not be easy. Despite Microsoft's rhetoric, migrations from Notes to Exchange have slowed, said Ferris.

"Every Notes user says their strategic direction is to migrate to Microsoft, but as a practical matter, those who could have easily done it would have already done it," Ferris said. "Migrating is too much hassle, the porting costs are too great."

Another case in point of once the money's been spent, you have...   email.

 And there are limitations in Exchange Online. Mailboxes default to just 1GB. Every additional gigabyte costs $2 per gigabyte per month. The maximum size is 4GB, despite the service being built with Exchange 2007, which supports mailboxes up to 16GB.

The 4GB limit is "to ensure the best performance in Outlook," said Betz. "Customers we talk to tell us that overly large inboxes create many problems for their organizations," which have to comply with rules around compliance and e-mail discovery.

Betz suggests customers with large e-mail accounts should move them to Exchange Hosted Archive or store large attachments on SharePoint Online.

I'm betting THAT little gem isn't mentioned up front...

 In a blog posting last week, Jha said he plans no major strategic changes for Exchange.

Tea leaf readers will view that as implicit confirmation of predictions by Gartner Inc. analyst Matt Cain and others that Microsoft will still use the Jet storage engine in Exchange 14.

Jet is the reason for a hard 16 GB cap on e-mail account sizes in Exchange 2007.

Cain predicts that Microsoft will switch to the more-scalable SQL Server for the subsequent version of Exchange, due about 2012.

So *how* long has Microsoft been saying they'll switch to SQL Server in the "next release"?

Overall, there's lots of eye candy with the announcements, but at the same time there's some significant limitations and lack of direction on where you go in the future.  And given the announcement about dropping more Live Services features, I'm not sure that's a safe direction to take.

11/18/2008

Microsoft kills Windows Live OneCare and Equipt subscription services

Category Microsoft
From All About Microsoft from Mary-Jo Foley: Microsoft kills Windows Live OneCare and Equipt subscription services

Microsoft’s Equipt — which Microsoft launched in July of this year — is dead and Microsoft is having to go back and pull copies of Equipt from the channel (Circuit City in the U.S. and DSGI in the U.K.). Microsoft is offering customers a pro-rated refund for the service and allowing purchasers to keep Office Home & Student edition for free forever, Microsoft officials said.

Launched in July, and dead by November?  That's fast even for Microsoft standards!

And in case you forgot the buzzwords:

New Microsoft Office subscription bundle to hit in mid-July   Equipt is the product/service that was formerly codenamed “Albany” (and inside Microsoft, known as “ValueBox”). Equipt, which Microsoft describes as its “essential set of software and services for consumers,” includes a version of Office Home and Student 2007; Windows Live OneCare, Microsoft’s PC management/security bundle; a few Windows Live communication/collaboration services; and Office Live Workspace, Microsoft’s online-collaboration add-on to Office.

Must not have been *too* essential.  :)

Obviously, those who bought Equipt now have free-forever software, which isn't bad when OpenOffice costs the same amount...  nothing.  However, it continues to amaze me how much money Microsoft can burn through with all the mistakes, missteps, and aborted launches.  Whatever they spent to get Equipt out the door is now lost money.  At least half (if not greater) of all the revenue realized from the sale of Equipt is headed back to the customer.  And I bet the people who have the now-free version of Office won't be upgrading for a LONG time.

If Microsoft has that much money to burn, perhaps the auto industry should be talking to them instead...

11/16/2008

Book Review - The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine

Category Book Review Charles Petzold The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine
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This is one of those books that you'll love if you're into mathematics or hard-core computer science, but you'll become somewhat of a skimmer if you don't have the chops to keep up with theory and proofs..  The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine by Charles Petzold.  And in case you're wondering, I fall into the second category.  :)

Contents:
Part 1 - Foundations
This Tomb Holds Diophantus
The Irrational and the Transcendental
Centuries of Progress
Part 2 - Computable Numbers
The Education of Alan Turing
Machines at Work
Addition and Multiplication
Also Known as Subroutines
Everything Is a Number
The Universal Machine
Computers and Computability
Of Machines and Men
Part 3 - Das Entscheidungsproblem
Logic and Computability
Computable Functions
The Major Proof
The Lambda Calculus
Conceiving the Continuum
Part 4 - And Beyond
Is Everything a Turning Machine?
The Long Sleep of Diophantus
Selected Bibliography
Index

In order to give the reader a better understanding of Turing's paper on computing machines, Petzold takes each section of the original paper and adds commentary and background.  The parts of the actual Turing paper are set off in shaded areas with a different font, preserving the line breaks, formatting, and even the typos when possible.  By the time you're done with the book, you have a complete copy of Turing's original work.  Petzold does a very good job in laying the foundations for concepts and conclusions in the paper.  For instance, he provides a concise explanation of rational, irrational, real, and transcendental numbers in a way that most people can follow.  It's important to understand those ideas, as they quickly come into play when the dissection of the paper begins.  He also provides historical background on Turing and his counterparts.  This is important because you should understand that back in the 1930's, the idea and concepts of automated computing were still in their infancy.  If you try and judge his work based on what we know today, you may not get the full implication of how radical this was back in his time.

So is this a book that everyone will enjoy?  In a word, no.  This book deals with some heavy math theory, and to get the most out of it you'd have to either have a solid background in math or be willing to spend a lot of time trying to understand it.  I'll admit that most of the details were far over my head, and as such I missed a significant amount of the impact of this book.  Having said that, I can also see how Petzold did a very good job in breaking down a complex subject and making it attainable to a reader that isn't at the same level of Turing.  In fact, I'd venture to guess that without a book like this, many would not have the opportunity to dig into Turing's work with any degree of depth or success.

11/16/2008

Book Review - Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom

Category Book Review Martin Lindstrom Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy
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Ever wonder why you pick up one brand of soup over another, even if the other one is just as convenient, tastes just as good, and costs less?  Wonder why some commercials are funny or memorable, but have the exact opposite effect than what the advertisers intended?  Martin Lindstrom digs into the subject of marketing and how the mind reacts to it in his book Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.  While you won't be able to run the same types of experiments (anyone have an MRI machine lying around?), you will be able to take a step back and think a bit before you react after reading this.

Contents:
A Rush Of Blood To The Head: The Largest Neuromarketing Study Ever Conducted
This Must Be The Place: Product Placement, American Idol, and Ford's Multimillion-Dollar Mistake
I'll Have What She's Having: Mirror Neurons At Work
I Can't See Clearly Now: Subliminal Messaging, Alive And Well
Do You Believe In Magic? : Ritual, Superstition, and Why We Buy
I Say A Little Prayer: Faith, Religion, and Brands
Why Did I Choose You? : The Power of Somatic Markers
A Sense Of Wonder: Selling To Our Senses
And The Answer Is: Neuromarketing And Predicting The Future
Let's Spend The Night Together: Sex In Advertising
Conclusion: Brand New Day
Appendix
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Most studies related to marketing and the effects on buying habits tend to be "external".  That is, they observe the actions of consumers, ask questions, and then try to correlate and extrapolate meaning from that.  Lindstrom takes a different tack for his research.  He had his study group agree to have magnetic imaging of the brain take place as he asked questions and had the subjects watch different ads, pictures, and shows.  What he found was far different than what was expected.  You could probably borrow a line from the TV show House...  "Everybody lies."  This lying isn't necessarily a conscious decision.  Instead, Lindstrom found that areas of the brain would "light up" with extra blood flow based on the input it was receiving.  Since many parts of the brain are associated with certain functions and emotions (fear, pleasure, etc.), he could see that what people said and how they mentally reacted were two entirely different things.

To take an example...  Cigarette packages all come with health warnings.  In some countries, the warnings include graphic images of diseased lungs and other failing body parts.  This should cause aversion to smoking, right?  Not actually...  What the brain actually did was react to the warnings by triggering the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain known to stimulate cravings.  What this actually meant is that the warning labels were subconsciously *encouraging* people to smoke!  Not quite what the government and medical groups had planned...

I also found the "why did I choose you" chapter interesting.  We have associations built up with certain brands and images, often buried deeply enough that we don't even realize it.  You may pick up a jar of Jiffy peanut butter thinking there's no real reason behind it.  Subconsciously, you're having a mental dialog ruling out Skippy because it's filled with sugar (even if it isn't), Peter Pan because it sounds too childish, generic because you think it can't be very good if it's not branded, and organic because it's twice the price and what does "organic" REALLY mean, anyway?  Marketers try hard to create an image that will cause you to associate positively with their product and brand, and often you won't even know why and when it's happening.

I came away from Buyology with a richer appreciation for what's going on every time we pull something off the shelf for purchase.  It's not always possible for us to analyze why we're picking one thing over another, as wheeling MRI machines through the store aisles isn't terribly practical.  But if you're aware that *every* choice has some element of decision and association happening, you can start to break the cycle that advertisers are trying to build.  This is worth reading if for nothing more than to be aware that your freedom of choice is often more limited than you think.

11/15/2008

Book Review - Thou Shalt Not Whine: The Eleventh Commandment: What We Whine About, Why We Do It and How to Stop

Category Book Review January Jones Thou Shalt Not Whine: The Eleventh Commandment: What We Whine About Why We Do It and How to Stop
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If  you're a parent with kids who know at least two words, you hate whining.  It was absolutely amazing how the kids could push all my buttons with that simple act.  But now, it seems like nearly all of society has picked up on whining as being the preferred form of communication these days.  January Jones takes a humorous look at this phenomenon in her book Thou Shalt Not Whine: The Eleventh Commandment: What We Whine About, Why We Do It and How to Stop.  Along with pointing out the most common whiners and their offenses, she also offers up ways to stop the whiner in their tracks... even if the whiner is you.

Contents:
Introductory Lesson: Flying without Whining
Top Ten Whines From:
Children
Teenagers
Parents
Couples
Singles
Baby Boomers
Seniors
Women
Men
Best Friends
Grandparents
Post Script: Win, Don't Whine
Appendix: Woe Is Me - I'm a Celebrity
About The Author
Acknowledgments
MORE Thou Shalt Not Whine - Submit Your Own Whining Data

I'm guessing you'll find a match or two in the table of contents list...  :)

Each of the chapters starts out with a brief description of the target audience, along with where the whining tends to be focused for them.  Then you get the top ten list of whines.  Let's take couples for example...  The top ten are money, jobs, each other (stage 1), each other (stage 2), in-laws, sharing chores, entertaining, lack of romance, closet space, and pillows.  For each of those whines, you get a couple examples ("your stuff's on my side" and "how many shoes do you need?") along with why this whine happens and how to cure it.  Since I picked on closets here, the "why" is that there is no closet that can blissfully accommodate both a man and a woman.  It's been like that since Adam and Eve.  No matter how much room she has, she'll need more.  The cure is to try for separate closets if the room will accommodate it.  If not, then try to use the closet at separate times so you don't have to listen to the other person whine.  She hands out this advice with a VERY large helping of humor and sarcasm, which helps to lighten the tone and the tension if this is something you're seriously trying to deal with.

I had a lot of fun reading Thou Shalt Not Whine.  Even though much of it is meant to be laughed at, I was still surprised as how much whining has gotten to be part and parcel of our daily communication.  If awareness is the first step towards dealing with a problem, Whine is most assuredly the first (humorous) step in that journey.

11/13/2008

Interesting Report... Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution - An O'Reilly Radar Report by Sarah Milstein

Category O'Reilly Radar Report Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution Sarah Milstein
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I recently received a copy of the O'Reilly Radar report titled Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution: Communication, Connections, and Immediacy--140 Characters at a Time by Sarah Milstein.  Like a number of my colleagues, it took me awhile before I ventured into the Twitter stream.  Even then, it was primarily due to issues I had with not being able to contact my virtual network via instant messaging while at particular locations that block those sites.  But in a short time frame, I became a believer in Twitter as more than a "I'm having lunch now" diversion.  The concept of "ambient awareness" grows on you quickly, and pretty soon the twitterers I follow started to expand my vision and awareness of cool ideas and concepts in ways other platforms can't touch.

Milstein covers the brief history of Twitter, as well as what it brings to the table for individual users.  The ambient awareness concept is more than just a fluffy meme with no substance.  It's the ability to follow people, events, and unfolding situations (and also cover said people, events, and situations) in an "as they happen" mode without the overhead of blogs or RSS feeds.  The short 140 character limitation makes for concise thought and impressions, and these microbursts offer immediate information long before other more formal avenues.  They also offer up looks at what influential industry leaders are thinking about, leading to the discovery of trends and direction in a near real-time mode.

While most of the "individual" use of Twitter was familiar, it was the chapters on Twitter as a business tool that made this report invaluable to me.  Companies as diverse as Comcast, JetBlue, and Zappos have used Twitter to monitor what people are saying about their company and product in real-time.  By having someone immediately step up and address issues raised via Twitter, they are able to create a perception of exceptional customer service.  Imagine twittering that you've had a horrible time with your Comcast internet connectivity.  Don't be surprised if you receive a return tweet from ComcastCares offering assistance to cut through the red tape and get you a resolution.  In addition to customer service, business are also using Twitter to monitor what's being said about competitors.  All of this virtual chatter is rich with opportunity for business, and it's there for the taking.  All you have to do is plug into it.

Twitter hasn't reached the level of blogging in the business world, nor is it a replacement for blogging.  Instead, it's an opportunity to tap into your customer in ways not possible before.  Reading this report is a good way to get Twitter on your business radar screen and determine if and when its time to pay attention to this technology.

11/11/2008

Great new (FREE!) online graphics tool... SUMO Paint

Category Cool Software
Today one of my bosses at work blogged about a really cool Flash-based graphics program called SUMO Paint...

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I think I'm already addicted!

It takes care of most of the things I do on a regular basis, like cropping for screen prints or emails.  I liked the easy color gradient tool, as that could be useful for button or page backgrounds.  Quite a few of the effects like smudging, erasing, magic wand, and so forth are also there for your use.

I normally use a rather old version of Paint Shop Pro for my graphic needs.  I know I should be using GIMP, but I just haven't taken the time.  It may even take me longer to do that now, as I think SUMO Paint might just end up being my "Go To" option for my day-to-day graphic needs.

I also like the fact that it's web-based with no installation.  Therefore, when I'm trying to explain to someone at work how to create or modify some image, I can direct them here and there's no fuss or hassle with requesting licenses of more robust graphics software of which they'll use maybe .5% of the features.

11/10/2008

Study: SharePoint, Lotus in for Long Collaboration Fight

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft
From PC World: SharePoint, Lotus in for Long Collaboration Fight

Nothing like being in the front row for this battle...  :)

Microsoft and IBM have been duking it out over e-mail and messaging software for years with their respective Outlook/Exchange and Lotus Notes/Domino products. As their product lines have evolved, however, a new fight is brewing between Lotus and Microsoft's SharePoint Server as the platform of choice for enterprise collaboration strategy.

According to a new report by Forrester Research, both companies will be in this battle for the long haul, as there are benefits for enterprise customers to using one, the other or both platforms in their IT networks for the foreseeable future.

The report, by analyst Rob Koplowitz, notes that collaboration software, which allows workers across geographically dispersed offices to work more efficiently together through Web-based programs, is increasingly becoming a priority for enterprises. Nearly 50 percent of the 1,017 IT professionals in Europe and North America that Forrester surveyed for the report called implementing a collaboration strategy a priority or critical priority in 2008, according to the report.

While Lotus has more history in this market and has evolved over the years, SharePoint only in the past 18 months or so has rapidly come into its own as a collaboration platform, according to the report. "SharePoint has finally found its place in the world and is growing up fast," Koplowitz wrote.

11/09/2008

Book Review - The Passerby by Thomas Ray Crowel

Category Book Review Thomas Ray Crowel The Passerby
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NOTE: 11/05/2009 - Due to the overwhelming number of comments this blog entry has drawn over the last year, the blog software is choking on trying to build and serve up the comment display.  I'll have to do some work to fix it.  None of the comments have been lost, but it'll take awhile to dig into it due to having a regular day job.  :)  Rest assured this WILL be back...

NOTE: 01/08/2010 - Yeah, you all broke it again! :)  I'm trimming more comments to try and get things back to a level that doesn't break the lookup...  I've got to come up with a better solution...

I received a copy of the novel The Passerby by Thomas Ray Crowel for review.  The premise of the crime story sounded interesting, so I accepted the offer.  Passerby is a leisurely tale about a writer from a small town who takes an interest in an unsolved murder from 20 years ago.  The killer of Trudie Brice, an 11 year old girl, was never found.  Ray Krouse needs material for a new book, and the Brice case seems to fit the bill.  But the deeper he gets into the case, the more disturbed the residents  of Hampton become.  The basic facts of the case have a passerby calling the police when he sees a fire in the Brice household.  The caller supposedly goes into the house to look for anyone who might need rescuing, and it's there that Trudie's body is found strangled in the bathtub.  At that point the stories and theories start to differ wildly.  The mysterious passerby officially remains unidentified, and the police never bothered to investigate his story.  Trudie's mom knows more than she's telling.  A number of residents in the town have shaky alibis, and pretty much everyone in town would just prefer Krouse leave everything alone...

This was an entertaining read, but I felt like I was coming into the middle of something.  Krouse's backstory, along with that of his publicist and assistant, are never covered in detail, so I kept wondering what his motivation was, along with why he left and returned to Hampton.  His investigation also takes place over two years, and the time jumps from one chapter to another are not always clear.  The ending was definitely unique, however.  The story is said to be "inspired by true events", and I can't help wondering if Crowel wrote a lot of himself into the Krouse character.  

If you're looking for a crime investigation that gets into the psychology of a small town looking to protect their own, The Passerby will give you a few hours of interesting reading...

11/09/2008

Book Review - Jack's Notebook: A business novel about creative problem solving by Gregg Fraley

Category Book Review Gregg Fraley Jack's Notebook: A business novel about creative problem solving
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There's a reason why storytelling is such a powerful concept.  You can embed concepts and truth in the narrative, and they offer much more impact than a dry recitation of a method or facts.  Gregg Fraley does that with his book Jack's Notebook: A business novel about creative problem solving.  Fraley frames his problem solving technique around the story of a young man who wants to do something exciting in his life, but finds himself locked into survival mode, just struggling to work two jobs and make ends meet.  This uninspiring life comes to an abrupt halt when he's befriended by a guy who offers him a lift home in the middle of a storm...

Contents:
Introduction
The Ride
Turn Over Every Stone
As the Stone Turns
A Fresh Perspective
A Smashing Night for Ideas
100 Ideas Inside Jeannie's Bottle
Razor's Edge
Tony, Tony, Tony
Face Down, Just Like Elvis
Southern Riddles
Tuesday heartache
Road Trip
Seeking Perspective Shift
Ideas on Ice
Sorting Out the Options
New Day in Milwaukee
A Cloistered Convent in Wauwatosa
Lake Mills
Smokin'
Reunion
Conclusion: Up on the Roof
CPS Quick Reference Guide
Jack's Notebook with Author Tips
Acknowledgments
About the Author

Jack Huber wants to be a photographer, but right now he's just a person working two unfulfilling part-time jobs.  Coming home from one of the jobs after nearly getting struck by lightening, Manny Gibran pulls over and offers Jack a ride home.  Manny starts to probe a bit into Jack's life, and starts asking pointed questions about setting goals and getting motivated to pursue a big idea.  For reasons unknown to Jack at the time, Manny takes a real interest in Jack and promises to follow up to see how things are going.  For Jack, he starts seeing a glimmer of hope that things could be different.  In relatively short order, he starts to pursue his dream to become a professional photographer.  He also meets a woman, Molly, at the local internet cafe who is well-versed in the problem solving technique that Manny laid out.  The meeting turns into a friendship where they are both helping each other pursue some goals, but it quickly turns much deeper on Jack's part.  Molly has a rather dark and secretive past, and it takes awhile before she's willing to let Jack in on it.  This past of hers rudely intrudes on their lives when she abruptly leaves for a trip to visit her sister.  This trip turns into a kidnapping situation involving her deranged father.  Jack isn't willing to let Molly leave his life, and Manny decides to help him form a resource team to determine the best way to find Molly and rescue her.  Throughout the whole story, Fraley's system of Creative Problem Solving, or CPS, guides the characters in their choices and decisions.

Personally, I really liked this book.  I could feel for Jack's situation, and the characters had an air of reality to them.  It also helped to cement down the CPS concepts when you could see them in a "real life" application.  Each chapter starts off with an explanation of where the characters are in the CPS process so that you can relate the action back to the technique.  The only minor nit I had with the book is that I would have preferred see a bit more comprehensive discussion of CPS before the author launched into the story.  I was having a hard time keeping the process in context based on the brief intro for each chapter.  My recommendation would be to read the introduction first, then spend some time with the CPS Quick Reference Guide before starting the story.  I think I would have gotten a bit more out of it that way.  But even with that, I still gained some invaluable skills for applying to problems I'm currently working through now.  

Definitely a worthwhile read...

11/08/2008

Book Review - The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents' Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff by Julie Hall

Category Book Review Julie Hall The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents' Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff
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I'm at that age where sometime in the foreseeable future, I'm going to have to deal with the passing of one or more parents in our family.  In addition to the grieving process, there's something that often doesn't get discussed until it's too late...  what do you do with all the "stuff" your parents have accumulated over their lifetime?  Julie Hall has made a career of working through that process with people, and she's written a book called The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents' Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff.  Even though it may not be a subject you want to think about, time spent reading The Boomer Burden now can lead to infinitely fewer headaches and fractured relationships when that time comes.  And if you're the parent, reading and acting on the information here is one of the best gifts you can give to your children.

Contents:
Introduction: Leaving Behind More Than Memories
First Signs
Planning for the Inevitable
Where's the Will?
When Reality Sinks In
The Hearse Doesn't Have a Trailer Hitch
Relatively Speaking
Scammers, Schemers, and Other Scoundrels
The Nitty-Gritty of Dividing Your Parents' Estate
But What Is It Really Worth?
Where Do I Begin?
How to Clean Out Your Parents' Estate
Right, Wrong, and In Between
I Will Never Do This to My Kids!
Be Good to Yourself
Mission Accomplished!
Appendix A: Your Complete Parent Care Checklist
Appendix B: Helpful Resources
Appendix C: Documents and Information to Locate
Appendix D: Sample Wish List Spreadsheet
Notes
About the Author

Hall has a business called The Estate Lady, and she brings 17 years of experience to this often ignored (but inevitable) part of life.  She documents in painful detail how normal families can turn into dishonest, contentious enemies over the process of clearing out and dividing up the contents of the parents' estate.  It's also quite normal for "friends" to want to help out with the process, but those friends often help themselves to items when no one is looking.  Add antique dealers and consignment agents on top of that, and valuable keepsakes can wander out the door for pennies on the dollar, often before you even know what happened.  Hall has a process which helps you make difficult decisions beforehand (when emotions aren't running high), as well as steps to follow which makes the process of emptying the house something which doesn't have to be completely overwhelming.  She also counsels parents to take the time beforehand to make a will, record where all the important papers are, and to list out any items of value and who they would want them to go to when they die.  These simple acts can make all the difference in the world to the survivors who have to sort it all out.

It's tempting to think that your family will be one of the 20% (yes, it's that low) that smoothly handles this unfortunate event.  Odds are, you won't be.  While I'm not in the position of having Depression-era parents who saved EVERYTHING, there's still "stuff" that will have to be handled when that time comes for me.  Based on the information in this book, I know I'll be in a much better position to do the right things than I would have been without it.  I would recommend this book be standard reading material for anyone over the age of 35.  Trust me, you'll need it at some point...

11/08/2008

Book Review - Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Mask by Jim Hynes and Gary Smith

Category Book Review Jim Hynes Gary Smith Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Mask
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Being a long-time hockey fan (and having a certain affinity for goalies), I knew I had to get this book when I saw it appear on my RSS feed...  Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Mask by Jim Hynes and Gary Smith.  If you're not a hockey fan, you might wonder how on earth you could write a book about a single piece of sporting gear, and not even a actual part of the game at that!  Ah, if you *are* a fan of the game, you know that the goalie mask has a rich and storied history.  Jim Hynes and Gary Smith do an excellent job in telling that story, complete with great photographs from the first leather padding to the "mage" works of art that are used these days.

Contents:
Forward by Gerry Cheevers
Introduction
The Innovators
The Golden Age
Paint Jobs and Metal Bars
The Freedom of Expression
Index
Picture Credits
Acknowledgments

When the game of hockey first started, goalies played just as everyone else did...  no helmet, no mask.  It wasn't as deadly as it might sound now, as the sticks at that time almost guaranteed that the puck never left the ice surface.  Besides, goalies were forbidden by rule to go to the ice to block a shot.  It was all standup goaltending.  But as the game progressed, the sticks got lighter, the shots started leaving the ice, and goalies were allowed to do just about anything to block a puck.  As you might imagine, this resulted in a number of rather graphic injuries.  One of the first goaltenders to try out facial protection in the NHL was Clint Benedict in 1930.  His mask was made of leather, and covered the forehead, nose, and cheeks.  In hindsight, it seems to be a no-brainer decision to wear masks, but back then it was a major controversy.  Your courage was questioned, coaches forbid the practice, and fans couldn't see the faces of their favorite players.  But as the number of injuries declined and the mask technology advanced, more high-end goalies started to adopt them.  1958 led to the introduction of the fiberglass molded mask (think Freddie Krueger style), and not too soon after that, the tradition of decorating the mask took off.  What started off as a joke by Cheevers painting stitches whenever he got hit with a puck, progressed to the incredible paint jobs you see in the league today.  These custom paint jobs often cost thousands of dollars and can take well over a week to complete.  Hynes and Smith complete their history by showing how the fiberglass mask gave way to the "birdcage" style popularized by USSR goalie Vladislav Tretiak during the 1992 Summit Series.  And from there, we go to the most familiar style these days, the combination mask that combines the mask and cage into a sleek, wrap-around design that offers the goalie an incredible amount of safety from slapshots traveling at 100 miles per hour.

There's no other single piece of sporting gear that can reflect the personality of the wearer as much as the goalie mask.  Between their concise but complete history and the detailed photographs of masks over the years, Hynes and Smith have created a book that most hockey will enjoy, and all goalies will want to own.  Even though I knew some of the history before I started this, the story took on a whole new level of color and flavor with Saving Face.  I'm sure both of my sons who play hockey (one of which is a goalie), will enjoy reading this book immensely.  I just have to convince him that his pure black combination helmet is perfectly acceptable, and that dad doesn't have that kind of money for a custom paint job.  :)

11/04/2008

An incredible night in America...

Category Everything Else
In past elections, I watched with a certain feeling of detachment...  a feeling that it really didn't matter one way or another who won, because nothing would change anyway.

Tonight's the first time I actually teared up for an election result.

Obama won't be perfect.  The honeymoon will be short, I have no doubt.  But for the first time in years, I have hope that things will be different.  

And for once, I was there to listen to a speech that will become a classic...  one that will not be forgotten with the passage of time.

Perhaps there's a chance that we really can move past our differences, and join together to improve America.

11/02/2008

Book Review - Head First Software Development by Dan Pilone and Russ Miles

Category Book Review Dan Pilone Russ Miles Head First Software Development
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When I first looked at Head First Software Development by Dan Pilone and Russ Miles, I was thinking that it would be best targeted at people who had never formally written software before.  It definitely fits that bill.  But I can see a use for experienced developers who have never been exposed to agile development techniques.  Either way, it's a very good book.

Contents:
Intro
Great Software Development: Pleasing Your Customer
Gathering Requirements: Knowing What The Customer Wants
Project Planning: Planning For Success
User Stories and Tasks: Getting To The Real Work
Good-Enough Design: Getting It Done With Great Design
Version Control: Defensive Development
Building Your Code: Insert Tab A Into Slot B...
Testing and Continuous Integration: Things Fall Apart
Test-Driven Development: Holding Your Code Accountable
Ending An Iteration: It's All Coming Together...
The Next Iteration: If It Ain't Broke... You Still Better Fix It
Bugs: Squashing Bugs Like A Pro
The Real World: Having A Process In Life
Appendix 1 - Leftovers: The Top 5 Things (We Didn't Cover)
Appendix 2 - Techniques and Principles: Tools For The Experienced Software Developer

The authors do a great job of covering the entire software development process, from getting requirements to debugging code.  But instead of going back to the older and more traditional waterfall method of software development, they chose to expose the reader to the agile methodology.  Personally, I think that's a great decision, as it gets across important techniques such as story cards, iterations, and test-driven development.  Learning those skills as the primary way to build software goes a long way towards prepping the new developer for the marketplace.

But as I contemplated this approach, I realized that the content would work for more than just new software developers.  There are still a large number of long-time developers who have been raised in the waterfall method.  When you start talking about agile techniques, there's a hesitancy to try something so radically different than what they've always done.  HF Software Development can serve as that "first exposure" to the agile methods for them.  It's no secret that I love the Head First method of teaching, so I'm convinced that the style of writing would also be perfect for absorbing the new information.  

It's not often that I find a book that can effectively address two audiences at entirely different ends of the spectrum.  But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it's a Head First book that pulls it off.  If you're a new software developer, this will get you started off on the right foot.  And if you're an experienced (read: long-time) developer, don't be so quick to dismiss this...

11/01/2008

Book Review - High Altitude Leadership: What the World's Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success by Chris Warner and Don Schmincke

Category Book Review Chris Warner Don Schmincke High Altitude Leadership: What the World's Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success

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This ended up being one of the few business books that I couldn't put down...  High Altitude Leadership: What the World's Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success by Chris Warner and Don Schmincke.  The positioning of leadership skills compared to mountain climbing made a lot of sense, and the stories of what happened during the expeditions were riveting.

Contents:
Preface; Acknowledgments; Introduction; Danger #1 - Fear of Death; Danger #2 - Selfishness; Danger #3 - Tool Seduction; Danger #4 - Arrogance; Danger #5 - Lone Heroism; Danger #6 - Cowardice; Danger #7 - Comfort; Danger #8 - Gravity; Danger #9 - The Journey Begins; Resources; Notes

This combination of authors is what makes the book work as well as it does. Don Schmincke is the management consultant, someone who teaches leadership concepts to thousands each year.  While on a climbing expedition, he met up with Chris Warner, the leader of the climb. Warner runs a company called Earth Treks, which is known for its expertise in leading climbs up the most dangerous peaks each year.  When Schmincke and Warner started comparing notes on how leadership plays out while climbing, Schmincke realized that these concepts played out both in the boardroom and at 25000 feet.  This book is their collaboration.

The format of the chapters follows a general pattern.  You start with a story about one of Chris's expeditions.  The story continues to weave its way through the chapter, as the leadership skills are highlighted and discussed in terms of both the organization and the climb itself.  Within each chapter you have a survival tip that applies to your position as leader, a summary of the key learnings, and concrete steps you can take to make this learning part of your reality.  It's hard *not* to internalize this information, as the climbing stories involve life-or-death situations.  Distilling leadership skills from these stories may not be something you'd naturally do if you were just reading a book on climbing, but Schmincke does an excellent job in making the correlations.  

While all the chapters were compelling, the chapter on selfishness struck home with me.  The climbing story involves a group of Italian climbers who abandon a fellow team member on their descent without concern as to whether he made it back to camp.  Warner's group has to alter their plans to mount a rescue.  To make matters even worse, the Italian climbers bypass an injured Czech climber, take a pair of crampons not belonging to them, and refuse to help transport the Czech climber to safety (among only a few of their selfish actions).  This DUD behavior (dangerous, unproductive, and dysfunctional) drains energy and motivation from the entire team, and can jeopardize the existence of the group.  Schmincke recommends this behavior be fought by creating a compelling saga.  There needs to be something that can drive the group to a common goal, and something that will transcend individual differences and behaviors in order to reach a particular outcome.  It wasn't difficult to see examples like that around me, and also motivated me to not become part of the problem.

I'll be the first to admit that there's no lack of business and leadership books that offer countless ways to make your mark.  I personally think High Altitude Leadership does a far better job than most.  The climbing stories will keep you turning pages, and the leadership applications will slow you down to contemplate your own actions.

11/01/2008

Book Review - Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware by Andy Hunt

Category Book Review Andy Hunt Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware

A picture named M2

I tend to gravitate towards books that explore how the mind works, and how you might be able to manipulate it into better performance.  Naturally, when I saw that Andy Hunt's Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware had been released, it went up on my to-be-reviewed list.  Hunt does a great job in exploring your "wetware", and there were some chapters that squarely addressed certain issues I'm currently dealing with.

Content:

Journey from Novice to Expert: Novices vs. Experts; The Five Dreyfus Model Stages; Dreyfus at Work - Herding Racehorses and Racing Sheep; Using the Dreyfus Model Effectively; Beware the Tool Trap; Consider the Context, Again; Day-to-Day Dreyfus

This Is Your Brain: Your Dual-CPU Modes; Capture Insight 24x7; Linear and Rich Characteristics; Rise of the R-mode; R-mode Sees Forest, L-mode Sees Trees; DIY Brain Surgery and Neuroplasticity; How Do You Get There?

Get in Your Right Mind: Turn Up the Sensory Input; Draw on the Right Side; Engage an R-mode to L-mode Flow; Harvest R-mode Cues; Harvesting Patterns; Get It Right

Debug Your Mind: Meet Your Cognitive Biases; Recognize Your Generational Affinity; Codifying Your Personality Tendencies; Exposing Hardware Bugs; Now I Don't Know What to Think

Learn Deliberatively: What Learning Is... and Isn't; Target SMART Objectives; Create a Pragmatic Investment Plan; Use Your Primary Learning Mode; Work Together, Study Together; Used Enhanced Learning Techniques; Read Deliberately with SQ3R; Visualize Insight with Mind Maps; Harness the Real Power of Documenting; Learn by Teaching; Take It to the Streets

Gain Experience: Play in Order to Learn; Leverage Existing Knowledge; Embed Failing in Practice; Learn About the Inner Game; Pressure Kills Cognition; Imagination Overrides Senses; Learn It like an Expert

Manage Focus: Increase Focus and Attention; Defocus to Focus; Manage Your Knowledge; Optimize Your Current Context; Manage Interruptions Deliberately; Keep a Big Enough Context; How to Stay Sharp

Beyond Expertise: Effective Change; What to Do Tomorrow Morning; Beyond Expertise

Photo Credits; Bibliography; Index

Hunt starts with something called the Dreyfus model, which is a way to look at how people learn and acquire new skills.  You start as a Novice, someone who has little to no experience.  You can follow a "recipe" to get a result, but you don't know the reasons behind much of what is being done.  You're just accomplishing a task.  Next comes Advanced Beginner.  You can break out of the step-by-step mode a bit, but troubleshooting is still a major obstacle.  Think of it as having no "big picture" of the overall subject.  Stage 3 is Competent.  You can start to apply your knowledge to problems you haven't encountered before, and you can figure out the context behind what you're facing.  This is where the largest group of people end up. Stage 4 is Proficient, which means you need the details AND the overall picture.  You can learn from the mistakes of others, and anticipate what may go wrong down the road.  At the final stage, you have the Expert.  These people are the ones others seek out for answers.  They can "feel" whether an answer or solution will work or not, although they might not be able to tell you how they got to that point.  These are the people who write books like this...

This made a lot of sense to me, and helps as I start to learn a new set of technical skills at my place of employment.  It's hard to go from being proficient in one area to stepping clear back to novice again.  But it's ok, and everyone has to start there.  That gives me a level of comfort knowing that my confusion is normal, and is to be expected...

Throughout the rest of the book, Hunt covers various areas of the mind, how it works (or doesn't), and how it can be manipulated to be more efficient.  For instance, the R-mode/L-mode discussion covers how your right and left sides of the brain process information differently.  It also explains how you can inadvertently "shut down" the right side by being too analytical about something.  The simple act of walking away from the problem and thinking about nothing in particular can be enough to let the right side of the brain gain access to the forefront of your attention.  And quite often, the answer appears almost immediately.  These chapters are heavy on practical tips and "try the following" advice, so it's not merely an exercise in acquiring knowledge.  Even a handful of these ideas, properly implemented, can boost your ability to learn and perform.  In my case, they already have started paying off.

The "drawback" to books like this is that everyone has a different idea about how things actually happen in the brain.  Others might read this and feel that their ideas and mental frameworks are more accurate.  But for the vast majority of us, we don't even stop to consider if there even *is* a framework in action.  Refactoring Your Wetware is an excellent read, and will motivate you to start "thinking about thinking".

10/31/2008

Book Review - The Unseen by T. L. Hines

Category Book Review T. L. Hines The Unseen

A picture named M2

I needed some diversionary reading while away at a conference this week, so I took along my latest library acquisition...  The Unseen by T. L. Hines.  Between the flight and the first night at the hotel, this one didn't last very long.  But it was an enjoyable read with some different angles usually not encountered in novels...

Lucas doesn't have much of a past that he can remember.  All he knows is that he was raised in an orphanage, was very much a loner, and enjoys observing people from hidden locations.  Lucas is an "urban explorer", a person who goes into buildings and areas normally off-limits (or even considered uninhabitable).  He's perfectly happy squeezing into a closet cubbyhole or the top of an elevator and watching people for hours at a time.  Blending into after-hours office space, he's able to eat lunch room stuff for free and sleep in tucked-away underground niches.  With his part-time job as a dishwasher, he's got more than enough to be happy.  But all that's about to change...

Lucas encounters another creeper who's closing in on his living quarters.  He's able to deflect the guy away from his area, but he's intrigued about a "club" this guy mentions.  The Creep Club is made up of other people who like to explore, but more specifically like to spy and record others.  Lucas follows the guy to his own home and eventually gets into the club.  But he's repulsed when he finds out that this group is really more interested in recording violence and mayhem, all without stepping in to stop it.  He thinks he can just leave the group and not get involved, until a government agent intercepts him on the subway home and asks for his help in breaking up The Creep Club.  Lucas is torn between wanting to fade back into the night and not wanting to see anyone get hurt if he can prevent it.  Using his stealth and skills, he does his own reconnaissance on the agent and others, only to find out that his choices are extremely limited, and most of them end with his permanent disappearance.  As events pick up speed, he's not sure who is working for whom, and whether anyone is really who they say they are.

I liked the story and plot quite a bit.  The "urban explorer" idea is one that strikes a cord in me, exploring areas that have been abandoned or are off-limits for no good reason.  And it really is difficult to guess the next twist in the story, as there are a few different ways that things could play out.  I wasn't completely thrilled with the ending, as I don't think part of the story delivered on the build-up.  But still, it took me twice as long to finish the last 50 pages as it normally would, as I couldn't keep my eyes open.  But I was also not going to put the book down until I finished!  Worth a read if you're into some slightly off-beat mystery thrillers.

10/31/2008

Book Review - The Happiest Days of Our Lives by Wil Wheaton

Category Book Review Wil Wheaton The Happiest Days of Our Lives

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A friend and colleague recently pinged me and asked if I had read Wil Wheaton's latest book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives.  That one somehow got past my radar, as I enjoyed his first two books.  To my pleasant surprise, I had an autographed copy waiting for me when I checked into a hotel at a conference I attended this last week.  The Happiest Days is not a long book, but it's filled with the same type of writing that had me hooked with his earlier works.  Wheaton is able to tell stories about his life that reach in and touch the reader in ways that very few writers can.

If you've been following his blog for an extended period of time, you might have read some of these stories already.  But it's always a joy to have everything in one place where you can savor it all at once.  Some of the stories, like The Big Goodbye, revolve around his life as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He goes back to the studio to do a host wrap for a documentary, and shows how hard it is to revisit a place and time that doesn't exist any more.  Other vignettes, like Blue Light Special, travel back to those childhood days when making decisions over Star Wars figures (or a Millennium Falcon!) are life-altering and fraught with indecision.  And if  you've ever lost a pet to illness and had to have them put down, I dare you to keep a dry eye while reading Let Go - A Requiem For Felix The Bear.  Can't be done...

If you've read Wil's other two books, you know the writing style and eclectic selection of material you'll encounter.  And nothing's changed...  you'll feel right at home.  If you haven't had the pleasure of reading Just A Geek or Dancing Barefoot, just relax and go where he takes you.  When you're finished, you'll know him as more than just an actor, but as a real human being.

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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