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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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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide
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03/27/2008

Book Review - Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Category Book Review Lisa Genova Still Alice

Rarely am I emotionally impacted by a novel to the degree I was with this one...  Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  It's a novel about a highly respected Harvard PhD professor and researcher named Alice Howland who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.  It follows her from the first panic attacks of "where am I" and "what's the word I'm looking for" through the diagnosis of the disease to the time when nothing makes sense and she can barely interact with her environment.  You watch her husband's struggle to come to grips with the fact he's losing his wife and fellow researcher, as well as how much he should plan for his future measured against spending time with her knowing she'll not remember any of it.  Her three children are also pulled into the struggle, as two of the three choose to be tested for the mutant gene.  The third child, Lydia, is the one who didn't do things the way mom wanted (she wanted to be an actress rather than a college graduate), and they usually ended up getting in raging fights when they would visit.  But Lydia is the only one who really comes to grips with her mom's illness and makes peace with her towards the end of her lucid times.

The author obviously did her research well, as there are many accolades from people intimately connected with the disease.  The characters are so real, and you could truly exchange places with Alice and experience what it would be like to know you were losing touch with everything you were, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.  And while you may not necessarily agree with her husband's choices, you can't help but wonder how much different you'd be if you were in his position.  And then there's always the "I forgot so-and-so's name today...  Am I going down the road that Alice traveled?"...

I started this book last night, and finished it this afternoon at lunch.  I really couldn't put it down (or wait to get back to it).  With Alzheimer's so prevalent these days, it's likely that you will be impacted by it at some time with someone you know (or yourself).  This book should be your first step towards starting to understand how life is completely changed by EoAD...  

03/26/2008

Getting old, looking old, and *acting* old...

Category Everything Else

So about a year ago I did some physical therapy for a neck issue that started out as a stiff neck after a day of computing and spread to agony down the left arm.  Imagine someone digging around with an ice pick, and you're somewhat close.  There was nothing significantly wrong with the neck...  just a small shift in a vertebra putting pressure on a nerve.  The therapy involved some neck traction to open up the area a bit and relieve the pressure.

Fast forward to now, and I'm dealing with the same issue (yes, I've started to slouch at the keyboard again...  I'm a PROGRAMMER!)  Rather than spend the next three weeks going to therapy, I decided to get one of those soft neck collars you see Jerry Springer-types wear to convince the world they have severe whiplash and should be awarded $3 million in damages for the fender bender...  I refuse to wear it outside the house or at work, but it *does* make a difference.  Picked it up at the pharmacy this afternoon and put it on when I got home.  This is the best my arm's felt in days.  Of course, I look like a total idiot with this big white thing around my neck.  On the other hand, I'm probably two inches taller now.  :)

Surprisingly, Ian didn't give me too much grief for it.  It's only because he's dealing with his own shoulder injury (possible rotator cuff tear), and he understands how important pain relief is (regardless of how ridiculous it may look).  

I can now empathize with how those African women feel...  those ones that wear the rings around their necks.  :)

03/25/2008

Book Review - Taking Your iPhone to the Max by Erica Sadun

Category Book Review Erica Sadun Taking Your iPhone to the Max

So you've taken the plunge and bought an iPhone.  You've read what passes for an instruction manual, and you're amazed that everything just seems to work.  But you *know* there's more that you're missing.  Taking Your iPhone to the Max by Erica Sadun does a very good job in walking you through all the major parts of the iPhone interface, explaining how they work, and giving you plenty of "hidden tips" along the way.  I changed a few ways I do things on my iPhone after reading...

Contents:
Selecting, Buying, and Activating Your iPhone; Interacting with Your New iPhone; Placing Calls with iPhone; iPhone Messaging; iPhone E-mail; Browsing with Safari; Preparing Your Media in iTunes; It's Also an iPod; iPhone Photos; Google Maps and Other Apps; Hacking the iPhone; Index

Since the "instruction manual" included with the iPhone is about eight panels of a fold-out piece of paper, you're not going to get much in the way of instruction when you buy the thing.  You can download the PDF guide from Apple's site, but how often did you ever read the manual of your prior cell phone?  Thought so...  Sadun presents the information in a much more relaxed and understandable format.  Rather than a simple "do this, this, and this", she explains why things work the way they do, as well as some things that aren't common knowledge.  For instance, there are a number of service shortcuts you can use to get information about your AT&T account.  *225# will give you the balance of your bill, *646# will give you the remaining number of minutes on your account, etc.  I'm sure you can dig up that information somewhere, but it's all nicely formatted and presented here in a logical, cohesive manner.  Personally, I hadn't known of (or remembered) about punctuation dragging, where you touch the .?123 key and then drag your finger over to the punctuation character  you want.  Since it's a single character action, the keyboard immediately returns to the alpha setting.  I find myself doing that all the time now.  

While the book is well-suited for the non-techie phone users, there's also coverage of the jailbreak process and how that works.  She references that technique in a number of places, and explains where you can find certain directories and files if you've got command-line access to your iPhone.  As this came out before the official Apple API release, you won't get any coverage of it here.  But when you get down to it, the people who will use the jailbreak method probably won't want to play by the restrictive rules of the official API anyway.  :)

This wasn't the first iPhone book I've read, but it was no less valuable than the first one.  I find myself picking up new tips and tricks that I didn't remember or that didn't stick the first time.  And given the size and style of the book, it hits a nice blend between pure tech and hand-holding newbie.  Nicely done...

03/24/2008

Book Review - Mastering the Seven Decisions by Andy Andrews

Category Book Review Andy Andrews Mastering the Seven Decisions

A short while back, my boss lent me a copy of The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews.  It was one of the best self-improvement books I've ever read, and the seven decisions that were woven into the story were incredibly powerful.  Andrews has a follow-up to that book called Mastering the Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success: An Owner's Manual to The Traveler's Gift.  If you were taken by the power of The Traveler's Gift, Mastering is a must-read book that fleshes out the concepts and helps you to apply them in your own life.

Contents:
Introduction; The Responsible Decision; The Guided Decision; The Active Decision; The Certain Decision; The Joyful Decision; The Compassionate Decision; The Persistent Decision; Conclusions; Bibliography; About the Authors

Each chapter corresponds to one of the seven decisions from the original book.  After a restatement of the key decision, Andrews goes into more explanation and detail about how that particular trait, that decision you need to make, plays out in your life.  Interspersed throughout the chapter are activities to help you determine where you are at and what may need to change in order to get to where the decision can take you.  Much of the activities at the start involve some level of journaling as you spend time thinking about your values and goals.  Perhaps you've never even *thought* about your values and goals before!  Being forced to put these things down on paper is a powerful way to start sorting through your life.  As you progress through the decisions, many of these insights you discover become actions you take to incorporate these seven traits into your everyday life.  I also enjoyed the end of each chapter, where Andrews shares a letter from some well-known person that illustrates how that particular decision has helped them get to where they are today.

What I most appreciate about The Traveler's Gift and Mastering the Seven Decisions is that the concepts are based on solid choices that are completely within your reach.  There's no metaphysical mystery to it all.  If you incorporate and personalize these things, such as taking responsibility, taking action, seeking wisdom, and choosing to be happy, you will separate yourself from the mass of people who live life feeling as if they have no input or direction.  Granted, you have to work at it, but the results are worth it.  Mastering the Seven Decisions should be the absolute next book you read after The Traveler's Gift.  And if you're going to buy one, buy them both.  The changes that lie in store will be dramatic.

03/22/2008

OOXML Stalemate May Lead to Cliff-Hanger Ending

Category Microsoft

From InternetNews: OOXML Stalemate May Lead to Cliff-Hanger Ending

Microsoft's bid to upgrade Office Open XML's (OOXML) status to that of an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard is starting to look like a good old fashioned cliffhanger.

Microsoft confirmed Thursday that India's delegation to the ISO process has voted not to change its vote from 'No' to 'Yes'. That is, in the standards balloting last summer, India voted against OOXML being certified by ISO. This week's decision means that it will maintain its No vote.

Now I haven't been following the internal twists and turns of this whole process very carefully, but it's been hard to miss all the underhanded attempts at Microsoft to stack the deck and manipulate the process.  Microsoft and ethics haven't been two words you'd see together very often in this long, drawn-out process...

But the interesting part of this article is the closing lines...

Meanwhile, whether Microsoft wins or loses in ISO politics, it may still have problems surrounding OOXML. The European Commission is reported to be investigating whether Microsoft broke any European Union laws in its attempts to get as many nations as possible to vote for ISO certification.

If even half the stories are true, then Microsoft better set aside some of that money meant to pay for Yahoo in order to be able to pay off this particular fine that's surely coming.

03/19/2008

Book Review - Zero to One Million by Ryan P. Allis

Category Book Review Ryan P. Allis Zero to One Million

I was offered a copy of the book Zero to One Million: How I Built A Company to $1 Million in Sales . . . and How You Can, Too by Ryan P. Allis, and thought I would give it a look.  What I expected was some "secret program" on how to quickly become a business success (like those ever work!)  What it turned out to be instead was a solid read on what it takes to start and run a business, the trade-offs you need to consider, and just how much work it really is.  There's no "secret" that he's trying to push or sell...  it's just a sharing of reality.

Contents:
Part 1 - My Story - Going from Zero to One Million: Getting Off the Ground; Becoming an Entrepreneur
Part 2 - The 10-Step Process For Building A Company To $1 Million In Sales: Step 1 - Understand the System; Step 2 - Find Your Core Motivation; Step 3 - Evaluate Your Idea; Step 4 - Write Your Plan; Step 5 - Raise Funding or Bootstrap; Step 6 - Develop Your Product; Step 7 - Develop Your Marketing and Sales Strategy; Step 8 - Build Your Online Marketing Strategy; Step 9 - Build Your Team; Step 10 - Build Strong Systems and Scale
Part 3 - Steps for Success
Appendixes: Financial Vocabulary; Recommended Books; Resources for Entrepreneurs; The Mission of the Humanity Campaign; Join the Community at Zeromillion.com
Index

As I mentioned, this sounded like one of those "try my method and you'll always succeed" titles.  These are generally the people who are making most of their money from selling their "methods" and not actually doing what they talk about.  :)  Anyway, Allis starts out by talking about the path he took from repairing PCs as a 12 year old in 1998 to running a software company tallying nearly $7 million in sales in 2007.  Along the way, he dealt with partnerships, hiring, venture capital, marketing, you name it.  Not too many 23 year olds can boast that level of education and experience (not to mention net worth) that early in life.  This leads into Part 2 of the book, which covers the steps he took and the things you need to consider when starting and growing a business.

The information is valuable from Step 1 forward.  He starts out by defining the difference between a lifestyle company and a high potential venture.  There's nothing wrong with either, and it's entirely up to you as to what you want to do.  But there are considerable differences in the amount of work, the potential payout, and the eventual exit strategy between the two.  He's obviously gone the venture route, as that's the path that leads to the highest payout with the possibility of becoming independently wealthy.  It also means you can fail big and lose it all.  But that's how it works...  high risk, high reward.  Probably the closest he comes to a "system" is the MAR model for evaluating potential opportunities.  That stands for Market, Advantages, Return.  If you walk your business idea through those questions, you'll be forced to look at it in a way that strips out the emotion and determines the possibilities for success.  Very good questions to ask BEFORE you sink your money into a business.  Everything beyond step 3 is solid, time-tested advice and wisdom on starting and running a business from someone who's "been there, done that".

Reading this book and applying his principles and ideas does not guarantee that your business *will* top a million dollars in sales.  But I can pretty much guarantee that starting a business *without* having this level of information thought out beforehand will dramatically decrease your long-term chances of success.  You could try and make all the mistakes on your own, but why touch the stove when someone already told you it was hot?  A really good read...

03/18/2008

The kaleidoscope schwag...

Category IBM/Lotus

Anyone remember eSuite?

A picture named M2

03/18/2008

Book Review - T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

Category Book Review Sue Grafton T is for Trespass

It seems like it's been forever since I last read a Sue Grafton novel.  I guess I'm getting spoiled with Nora Roberts' frequent In Death series.  So once again I pick up the life of PI Kinsey Millhone in T is for Trespass.  This is an interesting mix of Kinsey being Kinsey, as well as a look at identity theft and elder abuse.

One of Millhone's elderly neighbors falls in his home and eventually attracts the attention of her and Henry during a walk.  After getting him to a hospital, she attempts to run down some living relative in order to get someone to take care of him during the rehab process.  But the nearest relative is a niece on the east coast, and she really can't be bothered to help out much.  Kinsey finally convinces her to fly out, take responsibility for the situation, and find someone.  Kinsey does a quick background check on the nurse who applies, and all seems well for the first few days.  But as time passes, the neighbor continues to deteriorate physically, and the nurse is cutting him off from all outside contact.  Kinsey sees that the nurse is taking advantage of the situation to slowly collect everything of value that he owns.  She tries to intervene, but the nurse is more than a match for Kinsey, and is able to spin the story such that Kinsey comes out the "bad guy".  Once it's determined that the nurse may not be who she appears to be, it becomes a race to see if Kinsey and Henry can rescue the neighbor without ending up in jail (or before he's killed off).  

That main plotline works pretty well, as you can see how someone in a caretaker role can take advantage of the very people they are hired to protect.  The identity theft angle is also very plausible, and it doesn't even have to be a high-tech crime to be effective.  The subplot involving an investigation of accident fraud was also interesting, but the ending angle on that was somewhat strange and unexpected.  It didn't really sync with the rest of the story, in my opinion.

Overall, it's an enjoyable read, and Grafton fans will be happy that she's finally back with the next installment.  If you're new to the series, you'll be missing some of the character background, but not nearly as bad as some of the episodes you could start with (if you don't feel up to going back to A is for Alibi).

03/15/2008

Can anyone name the Lotusphere schwag?

Category IBM/Lotus

A picture named M2
A picture named M3
A picture named M4

03/11/2008

Book Review - iPhone Open Application Development by Jonathan Zdziarski

Category Book Review Jonathan Zdziarski iPhone Open Application Development

I'll be interested to see how this book plays out...  iPhone Open Application Development: Write Native Objective-C Applications for the iPhone by Jonathan Zdziarski.  Don't be misled thinking this covers the official SDK that Apple created.  This is for those of you who don't want to be penned in by someone telling you what you can and can't do on their device.  Truly targeted at the inner hacker...

A picture named M2

Contents:
Breaking into and Setting Up the iPhone; Getting Started with Applications; Introduction to UIKit; Event Handling and Graphics Services; Advanced Graphics Programming with Core Surface and Layer Kit; Making Some Noise; Advanced UIKit Design; Miscellaneous Hacks and Recipes

Your satisfaction with this book will rely heavily on making sure you know what you're getting into.  If you think this is the official approved method for writing applications for the iPhone, think again.  Zdziarski goes the hacker route and shows how to program the iPhone using the Objective C language as well as a number of open source tools best known and understood by those in the Unix/Linux world.  Considering the first step is to jailbreak your iPhone, you should know you're getting into stuff that could "brick" your cool toy if you're not careful.  But since that doesn't stop the true hacker anyway, then you should have no problem continuing on.  The book isn't a tutorial on the C language, so you really do need to know and understand that before you'll be able to follow along and venture outside the lines that Zdziarski lays down for you.  But he does go into the UIKit in good detail, so you can start to grasp what graphical and audio capabilities you can control and use in your application(s).  

I see this book being a great tool for the person who wants to write their own personal applications for the iPhone, and who doesn't want to live with the restrictions that Apple is placing on the use and distribution of "official" applications.  If you're writing for someone other than yourself, your audience probably won't stray far from the hacker group who also was comfortable with jailbreaking their iPhone.  If you're considering developing mainstream applications for the iPhone, this isn't the way you want to go.  You'll want to stick with the SDK so that you are assured of a consistent and reliable release and distribution mechanism.  Even so, spending time here before moving to the SDK will give you a much greater understanding of the iPhone operating system and hardware interface, which will likely come in handy when you go the SDK route.

03/10/2008

Book Review - Stop The Presses (2nd Edition) by Richard S. Levick and Larry Smith

Category Book Review Richard S. Levick Larry Smith Stop The Presses

In today's media-rich world, where everyone's looking for the next "scoop", you can NOT afford to be without this book...  STOP THE PRESSES: The Crisis and Litigation PR Desk Reference (2nd Edition) by Richard S. Levick, Esq. and Larry Smith.  This is the go-to book when your organization is under siege from reporters, bloggers, and scandal-hungry media outlets.  Actually, it's the go-to book *before* you get in that situation...

A picture named M2

Contents:
Bullet-Proofing Your Brand; Things Change, Things Stay the Same; The Life Cycle of a Brand; What's At Stake? Here's the Quick Answer... Maybe Everything; The Quintessential Crisis Team - Two Approaches; The Crisis Plan - From Action Points to Talking Points - and Back to Action; Handling the Print Interview; How to Survive the Broadcast Media Pit Bulls; Secret Weapons, Open War - Optimized Internet Strategies as a Litigation Tool; A Whole New Ballgame - How Blogs Have Taken Crisis Communications to the Next and Unprecedented Level; Food, Drugs, and Money - Communications in an Age of Heightened Regulatory Prosecutorial Activity; The Family Jewels - Media Strategies in Product Liability Crises; Special Agendas...  Gearing Press Relations to Specific Crisis Areas; Another Crucial Complication... How Cultural Differences Affect Media Management Across Borders; Law Firms in Trouble - Unique Media Strategies for a Unique Market; The Immense Significance of Offense in Crisis Communication Today; Conclusion... Sort Of; Appendix A - Litigation Planning Guide; Appendix B - A Crisis Management Primer for In-House Counsel; Appendix C - Crisis Scenarios

Despite the rather formal sounding title, STOP THE PRESSES is concise, compact, and incredibly readable.  Levick and Smith do an excellent job in examining how organizations can be targeted by media following up bad news, product recalls, scandal, or any other nasty thing that will make headlines.  It used to be that you could get away with a "no comment" and control the two or three media outlets that mattered.  Now "no comment" is seen as stonewalling, and media is far more than the newspaper and the 5 pm news.  Blogs, websites, and 24 hour news stations can take a story, break it in hours (if not minutes), and put you in a position where you better have a plan in place before the public opinion is permanently set against you.

The book starts out with making sure you get  your message and image out in the media before a crisis hits.  You want to be seen as a reputable, responsible organization with a consistent story.  That gives you good will and a chance if and when things take a turn for the worse.  A prime example would be Southwest Airlines recently being exposed as flying planes that were past their inspection dates.  While they will take a hit for that, their public image prior to the report gives them a bit of room to respond.  The authors then transition into how to build a team that will respond to any crisis, knows what to do when the news breaks, and has a firm grasp of the message that should be used in any media forum.  

As I'm a blogger, I was most interested in how they viewed blogs in this situation.  As with the rest of the book, I felt they were dead-on.  Blogs can't be ignored, companies should have their blogging voice established well before a crisis hits, and at the very least  you need to be monitoring the blogosphere to see what's being said about your organization.  Often a news story that would be overlooked has been fanned by bloggers into a full-blown lead feature.  As examples, look at Dan Rather's "authentic" memos as well as Senator Trent Lott's resignation over insensitive remarks over race.  Ignoring bloggers is something to do at your own risk and peril.

There is even more information in these pages that corporate communication staff should know and fully understand.  If I were running the PR department of *any* company or organization, I would require this book to be on everyone's desk in my department, and we'd use it as a planning tool for that day when the media turns on you.  And it *will* happen...

03/10/2008

Book Review - The First Patient by Michael Palmer

Category Book Review Michael Palmer The First Patient

Couple a medical mystery with political intrigue at the highest level of government, and you have The First Patient by Michael Palmer.  This book grabbed me pretty quick, and had me reading far past my bedtime to see how it all turned out.  If not for a slightly quirky ending, it would have been perfect.

A picture named M2

Gabe Singleton, a rancher and physician out in Wyoming, is paid a visit by Andrew Stoddard, his former college roommate and now the President of the United States.  The President's personal physician has gone missing, and Drew wants Gabe to take over the job.  With some level of reluctance due to an unpleasant event earlier in his life, he signs on for the job.  But he quickly finds out that a few facts were left out during the "job interview", such as the President is showing signs of mental illness.  This means that Gabe might have to pull the trigger on the 25th amendment, handing over power to the Vice President.  He doesn't want to do this until he can determine exactly why the President is having these psychotic episodes.  But there are apparently some people close to the President who are determined that a change in leadership *will* occur.  And they'll stop at nothing to make sure the psychotic episodes continue and play out to their intended conclusion.

By and large, I really enjoyed this book.  It was hard to figure out who might be (or might not be) a friend or enemy at the start, and there were a fair number of twists to keep me wondering.  I thought the ending was a bit over-the-top when Gabe and the President made their way to the hideaway.  And the final twist as to who was behind it all (and why) seemed totally out of left field.  While it wasn't nearly as bad as some books that just decide to wrap up everything in five pages or less, it seemed as if it could have done better at the end.

Still, an enjoyable read, and one that I would recommend to someone who is into medical or political mysteries.

03/07/2008

SearchDomino... probably not the most opportune timing for this article.

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft

So strolling through Google Reader yesterday, I happen to come upon a story feed by SearchDomino titled Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint Integration.  And yes, I'm not linking to it.

My first thought was "I thought I turned all those feeds off from there!".  Apparently not, but that's now corrected.

But what I found interesting is that they'd run this so soon after all the bad press they took in the Domino community over their advertising fiasco with Unify and migration from Domino to Microsoft platforms.  

I'm currently reading a book (really?  a book?) called Stop The Presses.  It's about dealing with media crisis when you're under attack for bad news, accusations, etc.  Reading the information here and comparing it to SearchDomino's handling of the offensive advertising has been interesting, to say the least.  Needless to say, there was plenty of room for improvement on how to respond, where to respond, and how not to continue to badger and irritate your audience and readership.

One of the lines that was drawn by SearchDomino is that advertising and editorial copy are two entirely separate areas.  Generally, that's the way it's supposed to be.  But if I had been put in that position (and I was sitting on the editorial side), I would have tried VERY hard to not give the appearance of letting sponsors drive content.  Instead, we get a co-existence article written by one of their main editors.  

The argument will be that co-existence is different than migration, and information is different than provocative ad copy.  I'm sure there'll also be the contention that Lotus/SharePoint integration is a fact of life, and that the readership has a need for that information.  Separated from prior events, I would agree.  Colored by those same prior events, it looks really bad.

If I were an editor, I think I would have shelved this type of content for at least six months...

03/07/2008

The March 2008 LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips Newsletter is now available...

Category IBM/Lotus LUG.org

Go read it, or even better...  subscribe!

Jess and I would REALLY appreciate it.  :)

03/07/2008

Warren Elsmore offers "Guru Guidance"...

Category Clippings IBM/Lotus

In the March CLiPpings newsletter, Warren Elsmore offers "Guru Guidance" on the subject of An Introduction To Domino Front-End Servers.

It's about time he gets some print space for something more than his LEGO fetish.  :)

03/04/2008

Book Review - Pax Athenica by Geoffrey Greer

Category Book Review Geoffrey Greer Pax Athenica

Sometimes when I get requests from authors to read their books (especially first-time novelists), I end up rethinking if I ever want to do that again.  Having a good story concept and executing it well can be if-fy.  But then you occasionally run into a real gem that makes it worth it.  Pax Athenica by Geoffrey Greer is an excellent sci-fi story that lends itself to plenty of analysis and parallels in today's world.  And if Mr. "I don't do subtle" can figure it out (and actually find more than just one), then it *has* to be done well...

A picture named M2

Earth is dead, as in "no life".  Humans did something that wiped out all of civilization, animals, plants, you name it.  The only thing that survived were AI robots who have become sentient.  Maximilian, the leader of the Athenians, has successfully subdued all the other AI civilizations and brought "peace" to the land.  But a warrior with no more wars to fight is a dangerous thing.  Justin, a university professor, is secretly studying something that is unthinkable to the Athenians...  that Earth may be attempting to regenerate life in the form of water, plants, and small lifeforms.  Isaac is his confidante, and is torn between Justin's thinking and the official stance that biological diversity is unnecessary and is a threat to their way of life.  When he tries to convince Maximilian that life is valuable, he starts down a path that involves espionage, rebellion, and finally a major choice between what is right and wrong.

Greer does an excellent job of "humanizing" the robots and capturing the philosophy of superiority that the Athenians have.  As Isaac gets drawn deeper into the diversity argument, you see how society and the leadership changes to "protect" their way of life.  Benevolence gives way to reluctant discipline, which leads to curtailment of freedoms, which finally leads to a society where totalitarian authority is the norm.  Those who have differing opinions are tolerated, then frowned upon, then punished, leading to either death or "reform".  There were three or four different messages you could take from the story, and those who are more contemplative could probably find even more.  But I loved how the story wasn't a thin covering for the author's soapbox.  You could read the book for the story alone and it would have been just as good...

I really hope this isn't Greer's first, last, and only foray into the science fiction novel world.  I would pick up his next book without a moment's hesitation...

03/04/2008

IBM launches "Microsoft-free" PC initiative

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft

From PC Pro: IBM launches "Microsoft-free" PC initiative

IBM is teaming up with partners in Austria and Poland to offer Microsoft-free PCs for the eastern European market.

IBM says it is offering the Linux-based PCs together with Red Hat software distributor VDEL of Austria and Polish distributor and services firm LX Polska, in response to demand from Russian IT chiefs.

The PCs will include IBM's Lotus Symphony software based on the Open Document Format...

Interesting that IBM is positioning Lotus Symphony as the productivity suite for these Linux offerings.  Given that Microsoft obviously doesn't play AT ALL in the Linux space with Office, that pretty much gives IBM a head start for that platform.  And if they continue to work at the SDK model for Symphony, the feature parity between Office and Symphony will continue to narrow.  And it's already pretty narrow when you consider the pricing and the feature set that most users actually utilize in Office.  Then as that SDK model is brought into the Windows arena, you have an interesting battle if OOXML is not ratified as a standard...

Microsoft is active in IT education campaigns in Russia and last month signed a deal with MTS, Russia's largest mobile operator, to offer services and cut-price laptops installed with its Vista operating system for small businesses.

IBM says the Linux PC line, called Open Referent, will cut desktop computing costs by up to half.

This seems to be a textbook case of a product entering the "maturity" phase of it's life (also known as "death of the cash cow").  With price cuts on Vista, special deals like the one listed above, and everything else Microsoft is doing to push their software onto as many PCs as possible, it appears that they are spending more to receive less margin.  

This is very common in manufacturing and sales.  Company A (usually a western company of some sort) has a solid hold on a market.  Company B (often a lower-wage country) starts to nibble at the fringes.  Company A isn't worried, since their core market is not affected.  They'll concede those low-margin, low-volume markets.  Pretty soon (and it seems to be sooner than later any more), company B starts to improve quality, match features, and cost less.  Company A takes notice, retrenches for their high-margin markets, and puts up some resistance at the lower-mid-market level.  Company B is now joined by companies C, D, and E, and also buys into Company A's main western competitor.  The low-end market is completely lost, the mid-market is also lost (company A is now just another player, and not all that attractive any more), and the high-margin market is now under a full attack.  Quality is equivalent, function is equivalent, branding is now established in favor of the competitors, and price is a losing proposition for company A.  It's time to either find a new market, fold up the tents, or decide that  you are going to be a mere shell of your former self (or a subsidiary of company B).

Apple...  iPhones...  iPods...  Linux...  Google...  OpenOffice...  Open Source...  ODF...  Nintendo...  

03/03/2008

Book Review - Self-Massage for Athletes by Rich Poley

Category Book Review Rich Poley Self-Massage for Athletes

So while it'd be nice to have your own personal masseuse like Lance Armstrong, realistically it's not gonna happen.  Self-Massage for Atheletes by Rich Poley shows how you can effectively be your own massage therapist to get rid of those nagging aches and pains before, during, and after training...

A picture named M2

Contents:
Part 1 - Why Every Athlete Needs Massage: Your Introduction to Self-Massage; Advantages of Self-Massage; Benefits of Massage; Why Your Body Needs Massage; Sports Massage; Endorphins; Massaging Your Muscles
Part 2 - Learning Self-Massage: Seven Simple Massage Strokes; Rules, Tips, and Pain; A Sample Massage; When To Use Self-Massage; Improv Massage
Part 3 - Going Deeper - Getting More from Your Massage: Acupressure; Trigger Points; Shower Massage; Massage Tools; Feeling Even Better; When Not to Self-Massage; Coaches and Personal Trainers; The Last Word on Feeling Great
Notes; References; Index; Afterword

Therapeutic self-massage is one of those things you probably don't give much thought to, even though you do it unconsciously.  When your neck is stiff and you reach up to rub it, that's self-massage.  Aching hands from spending too much time on the keyboard?  You start to rub them to make them feel better.  Poley brings all that to your attention and allows you to focus on what's really going on when you start massaging a body part for pain relief.  He starts out with a good explanation of the benefits without getting into a lot of technical and medical jargon.  From there, you learn seven basic massage techniques (glide, squeeze, squeeze and roll, press, press and roll, drum, and rock & roll) as well as when each is most effective.  Add to that the sample massage routines, and you're pretty well ready to go in terms of trying out your newly-learned skills.  He also gets into some of the more unconventional practices like acupressure.  This is not a definitive guide on those techniques, but it's a good introduction if you're ready to explore the subject further...

If this is an area of interest to you as a weekend warrior or a serious athlete, you'd do well with this book.  On top of good information, it's esthetically pleasant to read with the layout of pictures and text.  Nicely done...

03/02/2008

Product Review - Logitech Harmony One Advanced Universal Remote

Category Product Review Logitech Logitech Harmony One Advanced Universal Remote

My Logitech Harmony One Advanced Universal Remote that I got through the Amazon Vine program actually showed up about a month ago, but I've been a bit distracted with life to give it a proper review.  So this evening, I decided to sit down and work through the setup process so I could try it out.  

A picture named M2

Bottom line for me, it's a very nice remote to have if you have two or more remotes sitting in front of you when you are watching TV or watching DVDs.  Or, if you want a single remote you can take with you from room to room, this is definitely one to consider.  But if you're just replacing a single remote because your original one is broken, you probably won't get the full effect that this remote offers.

After opening up the various boxes, bags, and disks, I gathered everything up and took it downstairs to my computer to get the setup started.  You actually log into the Logitech site and set up an account for the remote.  This allows Logitech to download updates and load just the specific information you need for your devices.  My first trip upstairs was to write down all the device manufacturer and model numbers of my HDTV, DVD, and digital cable box.  The next trip upstairs was to get the remotes so I could automatically train the new one based on IR communication with each of the old ones.  It's a bit time-consuming, but based on other "programmable" remotes I've had in the past, it was FAR more intuitive.  After I got the three devices upstairs programmed in, I also decided to program in my TV downstairs.  Much to my amazement, all four devices actually worked the first time!  Will wonders never cease...

Ergonomically, the remote rests nicely in my hand.  The LCD touch screen takes a lot of the guesswork out of the remote, so you're not fumbling around trying to find the right buttons.  In fact, you can program in "activities" that will, with a single click, turn on multiple devices at once and start up the correct sequence of events.  So instead of hunting for the TV and DVD remotes, turning each one on, switching input channels on the TV, then starting the DVD player, etc., you can just click the Play DVD activity and everything happens automagically.  Very nice...

I mentioned that this remote seems less confusing than the others I have.  I base this on the fact that I generally tend to go down the wrong path on the digital cable box when it comes to the menuing, and then have a hard time getting back out.  My first foray into the menu structure using the Logitech remote was flawless.  Between a keypad layout that is labeled well and the LCD touch screen, I find I'm not "guessing" on what button I should be clicking next.  And when you don't have the proverbial 12 year old to teach you these things any more, that's appreciated.  :)

Very nice device, and far better than others that try and do the same thing.  I think I'm going to like having this one around...

03/02/2008

The blog you should be watching if you're interested in IBM's documentation and redbooks...

Category IBM/Lotus

Lotus Technical Information and Education Team Blog

I know there's been plenty of controversy over redbooks, wiki "residencies", and so forth.  The team involved in that area has their own blog, and it's one you should be watching for information and direction of where the documentation projects are going.  And of course, leaving feedback there will definitely get the attention of the people who make the decisions...

03/01/2008

Book Review - Web Design for ROI by Lance Loveday and Sandra Niehaus

Category Book Review Lance Loveday Sandra Niehaus Web Design for ROI

Too many people who run commerce websites are unaware that they are leaving significant dollars on the table by abandoned shopping carts and people leaving prior to order completion.  Web Design for ROI: Turning Browsers into Buyers & Prospects into Leads by Lance Loveday and Sandra Niehaus examines that problem and leads you towards site changes that can stop the bleeding and turn more clicks into leads and actual dollars.

Contents:
The Big Picture: Web Design for ROI - A Novel Concept; Business Case; Managing for ROI
Design Guidelines: Landing Pages; Home Pages; Category Pages; Detail Pages; Forms; Checkout Process
Resources: Digging Deeper; Index

The analogy that Loveday and Niehaus use for sites not performing at their maximum potential is very applicable.  Imagine you walked into a supermarket and there were dozens of half-full shopping carts sitting in the aisles, abandoned.  Management of the store would be frantic to figure out why people were stopping their shopping experience half-way through and then leaving.  Yet in the web world, little concern is given to the rates that people "walk inside" your site, look around, maybe even pick up a few things, but then leave without buying.  The authors use both conceptual and practical ideas to help you reverse that situation.  Part of the work is understanding who your site is serving.  If you're targeting an older audience, do you want to have technical navigation and a "hip" look?  Or if your audience is technical in nature, do you want your site to look like it was a fill-in-the-blank template?  Neither of those will get the type of response from the audience you're after.  On the practical side, there's plenty of information on using better graphics, making effective use of white space, and not overwhelming your visitor by trying to stick absolutely everything on the front page.  When that happens, important things get lost in the clutter, and no one knows what opportunities they might be missing.

Even though I don't run a site that culminates with a purchase, there are still things I can do to make sure users find my sites appealing, usable, and compelling.  I'll probably end up taking advantage of some of the "Design A or Design B" experiments they propose as a way to see what works best.  I'll also be using the resources they have in the back of the book to expand my knowledge in this whole area of usability.  If you have access to this book, it's worth reading.

03/01/2008

Book Review - Wikipedia: The Missing Manual by John Broughton

Category Book Review John Broughton Wikipedia: The Missing Manual

I'll admit I was tempted think "why do you need a manual for Wikipedia?".  I mean, you go in, you edit an article, you save it, and you're done, right?  Not so fast...  Wikipedia: The Missing Manual by John Broughton goes into great depth about how Wikipedia works, how to get the most out of it, and (in my opinion) how best to become part of the trusted Wikipedia contributors group.  There's a lot more to Wikipedia than you might expect...

Contents:
Part 1 - Editing, Creating, and Maintaining Articles: Editing for the First Time; Documenting Your Sources; Setting Up Your Account and Personal Workspace; Creating a New Article; Who Did What - Page Histories and Reverting; Monitoring Changes; Dealing with Vandalism and Spam
Part 2 - Collaborating with Other Editors: Communicating with your Fellow Editors; WikiProjects and Other Group Efforts; Resolving Content Disputes; Handling Incivility and Personal Attacks; Lending Other Editors a Hand
Part 3 - Formatting and Illustrating Articles: Article Sections and Tables of Contents; Creating Lists and Tables; Adding Images
Part 4 - Building A Stronger Encyclopedia: Getting Readers to the Right Article - Naming, Redirects, and Disambiguation; Categorizing Articles; Better Articles - A Systematic Approach; Deleting Existing Articles
Part 5 - Customizing Wikipedia: Customizing with Preferences; Easier Editing with JavaScript
Part 6 - Appendixes: A Tour of the Wikipedia Page; Reader's Guide to Wikipedia; Learning More; Index

Broughton doesn't spend much time with a fluffy introduction to Wikipedia and all the benefits and drawbacks of the site.  He just dives right in to how to use it.  You learn the markup language, as well as the formal way a Wikipedia article is laid out in terms of headers, footnotes, etc.  Meanwhile, he's also introducing you to the "rules" of Wikipedia that you'll need to know in order to be an effective contributor.  Concepts such as "neutral point of view", "conflict of interest", "notability", and many others are essential to understand so that you don't end up getting locked out of the site before you even get started.  One thing I didn't know about were all the shortcut paths to get to certain topics.  For instance, typing WP:COI takes you automatically to the Conflict of Interest page so that you can find out how to handle that situation.  Couple all his technical "how to" information with his knowledge of the Wikipedia culture, and you have a book that is an essential read for someone planning on adding content.

Another element you get out of this book is the understanding of how wikis work (or how they *should* work).  If you're starting a wiki of your own, it's best to learn from someone who has been there and done that.  Since Wikipedia is the best known example of a large-scale wiki implementation, you can use this book to understand what features you'll need as well as what controls you'll have to have in place to make it all work properly.  After I finish this review, I'm mailing my copy off to someone who is in charge of a community wiki effort for a software firm.  I have no doubt that this will help them gain a better understanding of what and where things are going...

If you are at all involved in the world of wikis, this book should be on your short list of titles to get.

02/29/2008

OK... are the Windows games REALLY necessary to run Windows?

Category Microsoft

Over the last few weeks, I've deleted some of the Windows games that tend to suck time away from things I really *should* be doing.  So Hearts, Spider Solitare, and regular Solitare have been deleted from my hard drive.

But I just LOVE how when I delete those, Windows XP comes up with a message telling me that essential files necessary for running Windows have been deleted, and I should restore them from my backup CDs.  

Yeah, right...

02/29/2008

Book Review - Damien the Man: The Son of Perdition by Ralph D. Nybakken

Category Book Review Ralph D. Nybakken Damien the Man

In the mail the other day, a copy of Damien the Man: The Son of Perdition by Ralph D. Nybakken showed up.  The best way to describe it would be that it's similar to the Left Behind series if all those volumes were to be condensed down to about 350 pages.  And being how tedious some of those volumes became, Nybakken's work is in many ways much more enjoyable to read.

The basic plot revolves around Christian end-time prophecies involving the Rapture, the Tribulation, and Armageddon.  Michael Nelson has designed a system that will gather massive amounts of data on every person in the world.  While at first he is pleased with his creation, he slowly starts to question the motives and direction of the United Nations leader who is implementing it.  This foreboding grows after a couple of friends disappear in front of his eyes, and they leave behind a Bible and an explanation of end-time prophecy.  Michael and his wife start to understand and anticipate the events that are putting the entire world under the leadership and domination of a single ruler and his ever-present assistant.  Nelson draws the line at receiving the identification mark that has been mandated by the leadership, and becomes an international fugitive as he tries to disappear and hold out until the anticipated final war in the Middle East.

If you've read any Tribulation novels, you pretty much know the general plot, events, and timing.  The only real difference is in the quality of the writer in terms of how he brings those events to pass with his characters.  Nybakken does a good job in covering a seven year timespan in a relatively condensed number of pages.  At first, the time jumps seemed to be rather large and unexpected.  But the longer I read, the more I realized that these gaps were necessary to tell the whole story without becoming bogged down in details.  And as mentioned in the opening few lines, this approach worked FAR better than the uneven pacing of many of the Left Behind books.  

Damien is a solid read given the self-published nature of the book.  Given how some of those turn out, I wasn't expecting a whole lot up front.  In this case, I was pleasantly surprised.

02/29/2008

I wondered if we'd finally get to this particular slant on the Microsoft Vista/Intel chipset controversy...

Category Microsoft Intel

From Microsoft Watch:  Intel-Microsoft Graphicsgate, Part 1

News Analysis. How serious could be Intel's and Microsoft's mutually beneficial, apparent collusion over Windows Vista and integrated graphics chip sets? Criminal.

This morning, I asked Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, if there might be violations under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, Justice Department or Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Yes, to all of the above," he answered. "Maybe, we haven't exhausted the universe of possible problems here."

Quick recap of this week's events: As part of the discovery process for the Windows Vista Capable lawsuit, on Wednesday the court publicly disclosed 158 pages of internal Microsoft documents. On page 30, unidentified Microsoft employee John Kalkman writes in an e-mail about Vista certification for an Intel chip set: "We lowered the requirement to help Intel make their quarterly earnings so they could continue to sell motherboards with the 915 graphics embedded." Later, after explaining some of the negative market results, he admits: "It was a mistake on our part to change the original graphics requirements."

Goldman hadn't yet reviewed all the released documents, when we first spoke. Clearly stunned, he asked me to reread the Kalkman quote about Microsoft helping Intel earnings.

The statement is "very serious" if straightforward as it appears, "with life-changing consequences for the individuals involved," he emphasized.

Later, after becoming more familiar with the case, he e-mailed and expressed how news stories "shockingly haven't been getting into the legal consequences.

Having been part of Enron Broadband during the hyped years, I understand a bit about how things can be made to "fit" for Wall Street.  Turns out that many of those "deals" that were closed right before quarterly earnings reports were done primarily to juice the reported earnings, when in reality they were washes or cover-ups with little real substance behind them.  They all looked and sounded great to us employees at the lower levels, but little did we know the amount of smoke and mirrors that were really being used.

Fast forward to Microsoft and Intel...  We apparently have Microsoft making false statements (the Vista-capable certification) in order to sell their software on Intel chipsets that were not up to the task.  And if it's proved that Microsoft did this in order to help Intel make quarterly earnings numbers, then I don't see how the feds *can't* get involved in terms of potential criminal violations of financial security laws.  One of the charges that seemed to be part and parcel of the indictments of Enron executives was the intent to defraud the market in terms of earnings based on written financial reports and quarterly conference calls.  While not a pure apples-to-apples comparison, it's not a huge leap to see either Intel or Microsoft (or *both*) executives having to answer for this apparent collusion in a court of criminal justice, not just a class-action civil case.

The monopoly aspect of Microsoft has been well-established over the years.  Their financial reports have always shown an incredible amount of free cash-flow.  But I've always wondered what might happen if somehow it was proved that the statements were not all they appeared to be, and that the financial results were somehow manipulated in some way, shape, or form.  They wouldn't be the first company to do so, and they wouldn't be the last.  But an event like that would definitely send tremors through the tech industry, and would rock the very foundations of the company...

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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