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Duffbert's Random Musings is a blog where I talk about whatever happens to be running through my head at any given moment... I'm Thomas Duff, and you can find out more about me here...

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05/28/2008

Book Review - Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina

Category Book Review John Medina Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work Home and School

When an author and industry expert you hold in high regard says a book is the best one s/he's read in 2008, it's probably a good idea to take notice.  So when Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen fame recommended Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina, I decided that should be something I get sooner rather than later.  After reading, I can see why he recommends the book so highly.  Medina's 12 "brain rules" are based on solid science, but they're presented in such a way that you can actually apply your new-found knowledge.

Contents:
Exercise - Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
Survival - Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
Wiring - Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
Attention - Rule #4: We don't pay attention to boring things.
Short-Term Memory - Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
Long-Term Memory - Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
Sleep - Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
Stress - Rule #8: Stressed brains don't learn the same way.
Sensory Integration - Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
Vision - Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
Gender - Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
Exploration - Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.
Acknowledgements
Index

When Reynolds reviewed the book on his site, he focused on how these rules pertain to the art of making presentations.  Attention, as explained by Medina, means that the brain does not multitask (much to your bosses dismay), we notice patterns and abstract meanings better than recording detail, and you have basically 10 minutes before the audience checks out without a new stimulus.  Vision, the sensory "trump card", is the dominant sense, our brain controls what we see (and it's not totally correct), the processes to "see" something are very complex, and most importantly, we remember and learn best through pictures and not written/spoken words.  That one insight alone should be enough to make you totally rethink the way we attempt to present to people...

Now, even if you're not approaching the book from a presentation angle, the book is still outstanding.  Something like memory, an act we take for granted, is a deep mystery that we still don't understand.  Medina shows by studies and real-life examples how things *might* work, knowing full well we haven't even begun to understand but a fraction of what goes on there.  Sleep, something that boosts brain power, is *not* a time of relaxation for the brain.  In fact, it often kicks into overdrive.  Why?  There are still no definitive answers.  But he does go on to prove how *lack* of sleep can utterly render you incapable of rational thought and physical action.  When you've worked through all 12 of the brain rules, you'll have a more complete understanding of how you can affect the quality of your brain functioning, all the while being entertained and amazed at what lies between your ears.

Every time I got to the end of a chapter, I started to put the book down.  But then I'd think "just one more and then I'll turn out the light."  Needless to say, I was at the end before I knew it.  Like Garr Reynolds, this is one of the best books I've read this year, and one that I'd recommend to others for a number of reasons and purposes.

05/27/2008

Book Review - Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson

Category Book Review Robert Bruce Thompson Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab No Lecture

Are you a frustrated chemist who never outgrew their fascination with the home chemistry kits of the good old days?  Back when people took responsibility for their actions and "product liability" wasn't the fear of every company out there?  This is the EXACT book you need to get in order to rekindle that love or to pass it on to a new generation...  Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson.  You won't get a simple "isn't it cool how this changes color?" approach to science.  Thompson covers serious stuff, complete with best practices, methodologies for recording your experiments, and plenty of safety tips along the way.  After working through this book, you'll be further ahead than most entry-level college students.

Contents:
Introduction; Laboratory Safety; Equipping a Home Chemistry Lab; Chemicals for the Home Chemistry Lab; Mastering Laboratory Skills; Separating Mixtures; Solubility and Solutions; Colligative Properties of Solutions; Introduction to Chemical Reactions and Stoichiometry; Reduction-Oxidation (Redox) Reactions; Acid-Base Chemistry; Chemical Kinetics; Chemical Equilibrium and Le Chatelier's Principle; Gas Chemistry; Thermochemistry and Calorimetry; Electrochemistry; Photochemistry; Colloids and Suspensions; Qualitative Analysis; Quantitative Analysis; Synthesis of Useful Compounds; Forensic Chemistry; Index

I *did* say it was far more than just changing the colors of liquids in a test tube...

You can tell that Thompson has a real love of this field.  He starts off with his story of how he got interested in chemistry, as well as how this book would map to a first or second year chemistry course.  He explains the value of keeping a laboratory notebook in a way that will meticulously track your results and offer a chain of evidence should you stumble upon the next great compound.  Safety and supplies follow that, and he does an excellent job in balancing risk and reward, cost and budget.  Instead of just saying that you should avoid anything that can possibly injure you, he advises you on how to protect yourself, how to safely handle chemicals that could react in a dangerous fashion, and generally do what you need to do without fearing every little step.  After the supplies, you get a course in the chemicals you'll need to obtain to do many of these experiments.  Some are fairly easy to get, while others have become more controlled and restricted over the years.  Still, he points you to sources and alternatives that will keep this from becoming an overly expensive habit.  After a final chapter on laboratory skills, you start getting into the good stuff...  mixing chemicals to observe reactions!

The lab exercises are laid out in a straight-forward, easy to follow fashion.  Your prep work is covered, along with the supplies and chemicals you need.  The procedures follow, along with pictures to show appropriate information.  Finally, there are areas to record your observations, answer questions, and try variations on the exercises.  All in all, a complete package to learn the particular subject matter being covered.  While some of the lab exercises might seem somewhat esoteric in terms of what you're learning, others are extremely practical (like the entire chapter on forensic chemistry).  But in all cases, Thompson is laying the groundwork for a complete and solid understanding of chemistry, while having some fun along the way.

Obviously by reading the table of contents, you're not going to give this book to your eight year old and turn them loose in your garage.  However, a teenager with solid leanings to chemistry will get a lot of value from this book.  Likewise, the adult who somehow lost his or her way to the lab in the course of growing up can rediscover their passion.  Teachers can get some new ideas and freshen up their classes...  All in all, a great book that brings life to a subject that far too many students and adults fear and dread...

Just one word of advice...  packing this book as reading material on a plane may *not* be the best idea...  it'd be easy for someone to get the wrong idea as to what you're up to...  :)

05/27/2008

OK... I know that spam titles are designed to get your attention...

Category Humor

And I'm not under any misconceptions that my face is anything worth waxing eloquent about...

But this title sorta hurt...

"what a stupid face you have here duffbert"

05/26/2008

ILUG 2008 - Going from Plumber to Painter...

Category ILUG2008

A picture named M2

Powerpoint template?  *WHAT* PowerPoint template?

05/26/2008

Book Review - The ThoughtWorks Anthology: Essays on Software Technology and Innovation

Category Book Review ThoughtWorks Inc The ThoughtWorks Anthology: Essays on Software Technology and Innovation

I feel that every techie should take a step back once in a while and reflect on their profession.  The ThoughtWorks Anthology: Essays on Software Technology and Innovation by ThoughtWorks, Inc. is one of those books that helps lead you down that path.  While there are some good reads in here, the "level of resonance" will likely depend on your language of choice and development methodology...

Contents:
Solving the Business Software "Last Mile" by Rog Singham and Michael Robinson
One Lair and Twenty Ruby DSLs by Martin Fowler
The Lush Landscape of Languages by Rebecca J. Parsons
Polyglot Programming by Neal Ford
Object Calistentics by Jeff Bay
What Is an Iteration Manager Anyway? by Tiffany Lentz
Project Vital Signs by Stelios Pantazopoulos
Consumer-Driven Contracts: A Service Evolution Pattern by Ian Robinson
Domain Annotations by Erik Doernenburg
Refactoring Ant Build Files by Julian Simpson
Single-Click Software Release by Dave Farley
Agile vs. Waterfall Testing for Enterprise Web Apps by Kristan Vingrys
Pragmatic Performance Testing by James Bull

Based on the type of work that ThoughtWorks does and their development methodology, you'll understand and relate a lot more to the material if you're into things like agile development, Ruby, Ant, and other various open source software offerings.  Granted, the argument could be made that *everyone* should be using those things, but the reality is that there are plenty of developers who don't or can't for various reasons.  But once you get past that point, there's plenty of material here that should get you to think a bit...  Lush Languages does a great job in turning the Java vs Ruby argument into one where you're considering multiple language options based on the problem domain.  Polyglot Programming is also very insightful, as it addresses the use of multiple languages within a single project so that you can get the best of all possible worlds.  If they are all running under the same JVM, there's few reasons not to take advantage of the various strengths.  I also enjoyed the Object Calisthenics entry, as the exercises force you to rethink program design without resorting to techniques that can get out of control very quickly.  Many of the other chapters are a bit more focused on topics that might or might not work for you if you're not already using that software/approach.  You can always dig out one or two items that are not specific to the tool (as in development tool programming should fall under the same level of control and planning as production code), but you have to work a bit harder to get there.

If you're into the particular tools outlined here, by all means get the book and read it.  If  you're not at that spot for whatever reason, it's still worth reading.  Just be prepared to work a little harder and/or realize that some of the chapters just won't do much for you.

05/24/2008

The new standard for meetings and conferences (from Seth Godin)

Category Presentations

From Seth Godin's blog: The new standard for meetings and conferences

If oil is $130 a barrel and if security adds two or three hours to a trip and if people are doing more and more business with those far afield...

and if we need to bring together more people from more places when we get together...

and if the alternatives, like video conferencing or threaded online conversations continue to get better and better, then...

I think the standard for a great meeting or a terrific conference has changed.

In other words, "I flew all the way here for this?" is going to be far more common than it used to be.

This is something that I really hadn't thought about, as I always expect a conference to be really good if I'm going to travel there.  But he's got a good point...  it's getting more and more expensive to travel, and much more convenient to get content without the hassles of trying to get somewhere.

Here's what a speaker owes an audience that travels to engage in person: more than they could get by just reading the transcript.

And here's what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement.

This both thrills and scares me to death.  It thrills me that we should be expecting to get more value, and that the bar should be raised for those providing these events.  And it scares me that I'm going to be judged on these higher values.

I've never felt like I could "mail it in" when it comes to a presentation, nor do I take the privilege of presenting lightly.  But this is a wake-up call for those of us that choose to put ourselves out there in front of our friends and colleagues.  The expectation of value from those in front of us continues to increase, and it's up to us to provide it.

05/24/2008

Book Review - A Lifetime of Secrets: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren

Category Book Review Frank Warren A Lifetime of Secrets: A PostSecret Book

OK...  I've now gone through all the PostSecret books at our library with the completion of A Lifetime of Secrets: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren.  As you might be able to tell, there's a bit of a theme on this one.  Warren has created a compilation of his PostSecret items ranging from submissions from the very young to the quite-a-bit older.  It goes to show that secrets and regrets cut across our entire lifetime, and age doesn't necessarily make them any less or more painful or funny.

The book starts out with secrets that many of us have had or experienced at some time in our adolesence...  "I love him.  He loves her."; "Dad, I can do anything...  as long as your working by me."; "I wonder if my dad ever thinks 'I'm home' when he pulls in the driveway to get me here at my moms."; "I wasted my childhood trying to be grown-up.  Now I'm a teenager and it sucks."  Secrets drift through the middle years... (Over a drawing of a singer on stage) "When you said I wasn't good enough to be your girlfriend, I used it as my inspiration.  Congratulations @sshole, you're famous."; (over a picture of a female archeologist) "I hope that someday he'll bury an engagement ring in the dirt for me to find!"; "Just because I try not to talk about it...  does not mean I'm over it, that I feel better, or that I'm ever going to be okay.  I just don't want to be a burden."; "I wish I could be someone's hero."  As the book winds down, you hear the voice of old age opening up their soul...  "Today is my 64th birthday.  No one but me knows how lucky I am and how content and happy I feel!"; "I'm 52, male, single and childless.  I've played my part in four abortions and a miscarriage.  All I ever wanted was a family."; "I will die alone and happy."

About halfway through this book, I started thinking...  what if one of these secrets had been written by someone about me?  It makes you slow down just a bit when you wonder if you've been responsible for someone's pain, if you've injured someone without thinking, or if you've been the secret longing of someone who never had enough courage to speak up.  That whole mindset added yet another layer of feeling over the things I read.  I'm sorry to have finished the books, as I had quite the emotional impact from them.  And I find that getting in touch with feelings like that is all too uncommon in my life.

05/24/2008

Book Review - The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren

Category Book Review Frank Warren The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book

OK... I'm on a PostSecret book kick now.  This time I grabbed The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren from the library.  And like the first one I read, I was completely drawn in by the human drama played out in the pages.

If you don't know, PostSecret is the project started by Frank Warren where people decorate postcards and letters, reveal a secret they have that they haven't told to anyone, and then send it anonymously to PostSecret.  Warren has taken these confessions and posted them on his website as well as compiling some of them into books.  Secret Lives is not any different than the others, but it doesn't mean that there isn't an incredible amount of emotion there.  Some that caught my attention...  (written on a calendar page) "I write fake notes on my desk calendar for my employees to find just to see how fast the news spreads!"; "I only wear watches with numbers because I can't read dots or roman numbers."; (superimposed on a wedding announcement) "on our first date I told him that I had genital herpes.  he loved me anyway.  this July we will celebrate our 20 year anniversary .  thank you for loving me anyway."

Some of the secrets are crushing to imagine what lies behind them...  "I'm terrified that my sister is going to hurt herself on purpose...  and I don't know how to help her."; "I haven't forgiven my dad for leaving when I as a kid.  I'm 30 now and still feel he left because of me."; "I gave up my dream because of one bad teacher..."

There's so much emotion here, and you realize that people are living with crushing burdens.  I have one more PostSecret book to read, and I have no doubt it'll be just as emotional.  This one's not quite as long as the previous one, but still well worth reading.

05/24/2008

Book Review - Executive Stamina: How to Optimize Time, Energy, and Productivity to Achieve Peak Performance

Category Book Review Marty Seldman Joshua Seldman Executive Stamina: How to Optimize Time Energy and Productivity to Achieve Peak Performance

As tempting as it is to think you can be effective at work without paying attention to your physical health, the reality is much different.  Your ability to operative at full capacity is limited by your fitness and stamina (both physical and emotional).  This subject is covered in the book Executive Stamina: How to Optimize Time, Energy, and Productivity to Achieve Peak Performance by Marty Selman, PhD. and Joshua Selman.  This is something I wish more people understood for themselves, as well as management understanding about others who they are pushing beyond limits.

Contents:
Part 1 - Work/Life Alignment: What Is Most Important to You?; Is Your Schedule Aligned with Your Priorities?; The Minimums and Shifts/Drifts Systems; Finding Your Career Sweet Spot
Part 2 - Building Your Stamina: The Impact of Stress; Increasing Your Fitness; Your Lifelong Fitness Plan; Nutrition; Stress Management - Your Individual Plan; Yoga at the Office
Part 3 - Optimizing Job Performance and Results: Identifying High-Payoff Activities; Taking Control of Your Calendar
Part 4 - Career Management: Reaching Your Full Potential; Avoiding Career Management Mistakes
Part 5 - Personal Relationships: Maintaining Positive Relationships
Conclusion
Index

As you can see from the contents, the authors split up your professional life into five different areas.  In order to run at optimal capacity, you really do need to have all these areas in alignment.  Realistically, you'll see some areas crying out for attention more than others.  For me, I was drawn to the first area about work/life alignment (as many say I must not sleep).  Learning to align my schedule with what's most important is something I keep putting off.  The "urgent" overruns the "important".  I was also intrigued with the Shifts/Drifts system.  That's a way to track certain behaviors that you've considered key.  You can set the "minimum" activity necessary to move forward towards some goal.  Then by tracking drifts, you can notice if you're straying from that commitment.  All too often, we end up in a place we don't want to be and wonder how we got there.  It wasn't an overnight occurrance in most cases.  It was a slow drift from your path that didn't become obvious until it was too late.  Checking those drifts can do wonders for keeping you focused, at a point in time where corrections are still easy and possible.  The chapter on finding your career "sweet spot" was also timely.  We're going through some reorgs at work, and I had to give some thought to a potential move into a new role and position.  The reality is that I'm currently in a "sweet spot" right now, a time when my "good at", "like to do", "interested in", and "fits with values" all align in a single job.  While a new position could mean more pay, it would also take me away from what I really enjoy doing (and away from what I'm really good at).  After reading that chapter, I realized that moving "up" because it's expected is not the right choice.

Actually, *all* the chapters and sections are of value.  You could read this book a number of times and pull away something new and different after each reading.  What's important though is to understand that you can only push so hard and so long before everything starts to break down around you.  Executive Stamina can help prevent that breakdown before it's too late and you've done irreparable hard to your body, emotions, and overall life.

05/24/2008

Book Review - PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives by Frank Warren

Category Book Review Frank Warren PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

I've been a fan of the PostSecret site for awhile now.  It's a project started by Frank Warren back in late 2004 involving blank postcards.  He spread them around and asked people to share a secret on the card, decorate it as they saw fit, and then mail it anonymously to him.  In short order, the project took on a life of its own, and Warren started receiving cards and letters from around the world.  The book PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives is a full-color compilation of some of these mailings, and it's fascinating.

Behind the cover of anonymity, people are willing to 'fess up to numerous things that are dark secrets never before revealed.  Going through the book, you see secrets such as "He's been in prison for two years because of what I did.  9 more to go.", "I wish my parents could see me for what I am, instead of what I didn't become.", and "I am contemptuous of others so it hurts less then they are indifferent to me."  The words themselves can be funny, haunting, sad, or shocking, but the real impact is the artwork that adorns the cards.  It's there that you get the full emotional impact of what the writer is saying.  For instance...  A "Hello, My name is..." tag with the space filled in as "I force new acquaintances to address me by my shortened name because it makes me forget my past.".  Or there's the picture of the wrecked car with the hand-written note "I almost decided not to get out, once I knew I'd hit the river."

Not all the items are as dark as what I've noted above.  There's "I believe in destiny, and I think I know mine.  :) :) :)", "I had a cyst on my face that ruined 7th and 8th grade.  Now I love it because it makes me different.", and my favorite (written on a Starbucks cupholder)...  "I give decaf to customers who are RUDE to me!"

I guess part of the fascination with PostSecret is the lurid stuff that shows up.  But it's also a reminder that what you see on the outside of someone is in all likelihood far different than what they see on the inside.  It once again reminds me that everyone is struggling with something in their lives.

There are other books in the PostSecret series, and I have them on hold at the library.  This book was excellent in a thought-provoking way, and I look forward to more.

05/24/2008

Yahoo buy not a strategy in itself: Microsoft CEO

Category Microsoft

From Reuter's: Yahoo buy not a strategy in itself: Microsoft CEO

Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said on Friday that buying Yahoo was not a strategy in itself, and dropping the bid meant it now had $50 billion to spend on other acquisitions.

"Yahoo was never the strategy we were pursuing, it was a way to accelerate our online advertising business," he told a packed hall at a technology conference in Moscow.

"We will spend money on some acquisitions. You can do a whole lot of things with 50 billion dollars," he said.

What the...?

Let me get this straight...  Microsoft was willing to burn their cash reserve and go into debt for the first time in its history, to spend nearly $50 *billion* dollars for a non-strategic purchase?  $50 *billion* as "a way" to accelerate their online ad business, with no thought to catching up in search?  Once you've spent $50 *billion* as "a way" to accelerate, what other options might you have to resort to if that doesn't work?  For $50 *billion*, I'd be wanting to make sure it was *THE* way to accelerate just about everything in my company.

It continues to amaze me that they allow Ballmer to speak in public, and that the shareholders of Microsoft haven't gone into full-fledged revolt.  

05/22/2008

So why do most presentations fall flat?

Category Presentation Zen

Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen is a master teacher on how to present information in ways that get remembered.  In an email exchange, he suggested reading Brain Rules by John Medina to understand why most learning environments and presentation styles absolutely suck for retaining much of anything of importance.  I'm in the midst of the book right now, and he's right...  Couple Brain Rules with the book Presentation Zen, and you'll forever feel guilty for subjecting your audience to yet another PowerPoint "template".

Check out his "presentation (of sorts)" of Brain Rules in terms of how it specifically relates to presenting to others:  Brain Rules for Presenters

And don't be surprised to see a few people take some risks at ILUG this year.

05/17/2008

Time to step away from the keyboard for the day...

Category Everything Else

While spending most of the day at the keyboard was not my first choice in Saturday activities, I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in about six months.  I caught up on a number of book reviews on stuff I had finished but that were piled on the corner of my desk.  I wrote two articles for the June issue of the LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter.  I reviewed a number of items on another writing project I have going.  Getting all these things done today means that I can focus tomorrow on my ILUG presentation.

Add in a mowed lawn, small grocery store trip, picking up some meds for Ian, and I feel like I actually did something rather that fritter away the day, only to feel swamped on Sunday.

I don't think I quite grasped how much mental drain these things have been placing on me over the last few months.  Once ILUG is done, I'll actually be free of any upcoming writing assignments or demands other than the monthly newsletter.

Oh, when are the abstracts for Lotusphere 2009 due?

It never ends.

05/17/2008

Book Review - Bringing Down The House by Ben Mezrich

Category Book Review Ben Mezrich Bringing Down The House

After seeing the previews for the movie "21", I remembered that there really was a group of students from MIT who took blackjack card-counting to a whole new level in casinos.  To get the non-Hollywood version of the story before seeing the movie, I grabbed Bringing Down The House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich.  It's a fascinating look into how the MIT team formed, made millions, and subsequently got barred from nearly every casino in the industry.

Mezrich is a reporter who was given the chance to interview one of the main players, Kevin Lewis.  Lewis was recruited into the group in 1994, and quickly rose up to be one of the "Big Players" of the team, one who could put on a character, step into a hot table, and make tens of thousands of dollars on a single hand.  These weekend raids on casinos continued for the next four years, earning each of the participants an incredible return on their "investments".  Couple that with the fact that the casinos treated them as whales (high rollers), and they were living a life that one could only dream of.  Comped rooms, shows, travel, parties, etc...  But things started going sour in 1998.  The team was showing some major dysfunctional behavior, and a rival team (also from MIT) was threatening the secrecy of the routine.  What started as a minor barring from one casino quickly (and violently) spread to nearly every other casino in Vegas.  What really surprised them was the speed at which other casinos outside of Vegas (and even the US) knew about them and shut them down.  Lewis decided at that point that his life was more important than the money, and left it all behind.  The only question that remains is who or what tipped off casino security.

Mezrich wrote the book in 2002, so it doesn't necessarily dig deeply into the recent world of casino security.  The security technology has only gotten more high-tech since then, and I'm sure that story would be just as interesting as the card-counting story.  I was riveted by how Lewis and his team could execute their operation with so much precision, while at the same time having the casinos spend a ton of money to keep them coming back.  But greed often destroys everything it touches, and this is no exception.  Lewis wanted to be much more low-key when the heat started.  But he was overruled by the head of the team, and that decision nearly got some of them killed.

In the fast moving world of scams, casinos, and technology, it's amazing that people could get away with this much over such a long time.  It makes you wonder what other scams and attacks are occurring these days.  Bringing Down The House is a good look at one way it was done successfully.  But it almost begs for a follow-up to reexamine the state of casino security six years after the original story ended.

05/17/2008

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

Category Book Review J. D. Robb Nora Roberts Strangers In Death

I don't know how Nora Roberts continues to crank out books at this rate.  I got the latest In Death installment from the library the other day...  Strangers In Death by Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb.  Strangers adheres to the basic Eve Dallas plot-line.  The focus is on the crime and story, without a lot of character-building along the way.  And I guess that's why I enjoyed this so much...  I could just get lost in the story and have a good time.

In this episode, Dallas pulls a call for a crime that has a number of media implications.  Thomas Anders, the head of a sporting-goods company, is found murdered in his house.  What makes it "scandalous" is that he's tied up in bed, choked with a rope around his neck, with plenty of "toys" laying around.  It certainly looks like a fantasy gone wrong, except that there's absolutely no clues as to who the other participant (and likely murderer) was.  The wife is alibied, vacationing on a Caribbean island.  The housekeeper seems to be far too business-like to do that.  His business partners all seem to have liked him.  But someone is hiding sometime, and Dallas has her ideas as to who is and isn't coming clean.  With Roarke's help, she can put all the circumstantial evidence together, but she's still missing the solid evidence to nail the suspect cold.  She'll have to crank up the pressure on a number of people to see who cracks first...

There's not necessarily anything in Strangers that makes it strikingly different than other In Death novels.  Conversely, it's like a good friend...  you know what to expect, you enjoy the company, and you're more than happy to be there.  I personally enjoyed being here a lot, and I'll look forward to the next visit.  At Robert's rate, I may not have to wait very long, either.  :)

05/17/2008

Book Review - Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams by Pamela Skillings

Category Book Review Pamela Skillings Escape from Corporate America

I'm fortunate...  I love my job.  That doesn't mean there aren't some days where I'd gladly trade it in for a new model, but that's true for anything you do.  However, I'm constantly amazed by how many people truly *hate* what they do, and only continue working because they can't afford not to.  Pamela Skillings looks at people in that predicament and offers them a way out in her book Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams.  It's a well-written book that should give you all the help you need to start making choices and decisions to change your current situation.

Contents:
Quiz: Are You A Corporate Casualty?
Part 1: Plan Your Escape
1. This Is Not Your Father's Job Market
2. The Trouble with the Rat Race
3. True Callings and Wrong Numbers
4. Let's Get Practical
Part 2: Exploring Escape Routes
5. Corporate Jobs That Don't Suck
6. Take A Break
7. Swim in a Smaller Pond
8. Go Solo
9. Build a Business
10. Follow Your Creative Dreams
11. Make A Difference
Part 3: Going Over the Wall
12. Going Over the Wall
Have a Nice Escape
The Escape Tool Kit
Acknowledgments
Meet the Corporate Escape Artists

The thing I like most about this book is that it doesn't try to fit everyone into a "one size fits all" mold.  In the job world, "one size fits almost nobody".  Skillings lays out the reasons why you may not be satisfied with your corporate existence. Sometimes it's due to burnout, sometimes to disillusionment, or even due to reorganizations that have relegated you to working for the boss from hell.  Whatever the case, getting to the core of your dissatisfaction is key to figuring out how to correct it.  Once that's established, she then explores the potential options that you might want to explore.  For some, corporate life is fine, but you need a new pond.  There's nothing wrong with a cubicle if that fits your style and comfort zone.  Perhaps for others, it's just a sabbatical that's needed to recharge the batteries a bit.  Maybe a start-up where you're playing a variety of roles?  Become your own boss as a contractor/consultant?  All those possibilities are put out there for you to consider, along with hints as to why or why not each one may be right for you.  The final part of the book wraps everything up with a realistic expectation of what you'll feel when you've made the decision to pull the trigger...  fear.  Often that fear keeps people from taking that final step.  With Skillings's help, you can see that for what it is and act accordingly.

Another thing that makes this an enjoyable read are the real-life examples interspersed throughout the book.  She's gone out and interviewed a number of well-known people and asked them how they fell into their "dream job".  What you'll find is that the differences between you and them are not as large as you'd think.  In many/most cases, they started with the same fears and concerns you have, along with a feeling that they were missing something in their current situation.  The main difference between them and you is that they've taken the step and done the hard work, and are now reaping the rewards.  You're not guaranteed to succeed, but you're guaranteed to fail if you don't begin.

An excellent book to recommend to that cube dweller who continually laments their lot in life.  Things can be different, and Escape from Corporate America can help show you the way.

05/16/2008

I decided to upgrade to Firefox version 3 release candidate 1 this evening...

Category Firefox

I was vaguely aware that they were getting close to the version 3 release, so I decided to jump in now.  So far, it is very fast...  visibly faster than version 2.  I haven't started playing around with the new features yet, but that'll happen over the next couple of days.  The downside is that most of my plug-ins are not yet compatible.  Not yet sure whether that will cause me to go back to version 2 or not.  

What's life without a few risks by living on the edge?  :)

05/15/2008

Recommendations for resources on web-enabling a Domino app? (from a LUG.org reader)

Category LotusUserGroup.org Software Development

A couple of days ago I got a question from a Developer Tips newsletter reader:

What are some books that you would recommend to get if in the process of
web-enabling an application?  Also, is there any software that allows for
converting current lotusscript/formula language to javascript?

The closest I can get to a book that seems to deal with Domino-specific web app work is rather dated ( Domino 5 Web Programming with XML, Java, and JavaScript ).  There's also Lotus Notes and Domino 6 Programming Bible, but that deals with far more than just web app features.
       
Since books alone won't get you where you need to be with Domino web development, what other resources might you suggest?

05/14/2008

Book Review - Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era by Mary Jo Foley

Category Book Review Mary Jo Foley Microsoft 2.0

This is a book I've been looking forward to for some time...  Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era by Mary Jo Foley.  Given her long track record in covering Microsoft in tech media, I was interested to know how she perceived the behemoth as they come to a critical juncture in their leadership.  I personally think she did a very good job in touching on and analyzing all the different facets that make up Microsoft's efforts to stay relevant.  Only a minor deduction for an assumption she had to make late in the game that didn't play out as many expected...  :)

Contents:
Forward - The Microsoft 2.0 World (According to Mini-Microsoft)
Acknowledgments
Introduction - Microsoft 2.0 - Welcome to the New (Post-Gatesian) Microsoft
Microsoft 1.0 - It Was All about Bill
Microsoft 2.0 - The Buzzwords
Microsoft 2.0 - The People
Microsoft 2.0 - Products on the Near-Term Radar Screen
Microsoft 2.0 - Big-Bet Products
Microsoft 2.0 - Tried and True Business Models
Microsoft 2.0 - Untried but Unavoidable Business Models
Conclusion - On to Microsoft 3.0
Memos, Letters, and E-mails
Annotated Reading List
Index

When you're trying to analyze a company as large as Microsoft *as it is still moving*, it's a difficult chore to commit words to page without having those same words become irrelevant (or even wrong) before the book sees the light of day.  Many of the previous books on Microsoft try to tell the story of some past event, and at least have the ability to know that the story isn't going to change much.  Foley had to look at the not-so-distant past, mix in the ever-changing present, and try to figure out what it all means for Microsoft once Bill Gates steps away from the company on July 1st, 2008.  Given that nearly impossible task in book form, I think she accomplished what she set out to do.  She's realistic in where Microsoft has succeeded and failed, without portraying an overwhelming bias as a fan-boy or hater of the company.  Although the company would not grant her access to officials for this book, she has plenty of other sources to reveal little-known projects, plans, and experiments designed to keep Microsoft from constant reliance on the cash cows of Windows and Office.  But it's painfully clear that Microsoft still continues (and will for the foreseeable future) to rely heavily on those two products to keep the ledger sheet green and to allow them to sink/waste vast amounts of money on other projects that still haven't panned out over time (like IPTV).  After reading this book, you realize that Microsoft isn't dead, isn't irrelevant, and isn't going to go away overnight.  However, they are at a critical point in their existence, where leadership, technology, and market forces are all combining to make the stakes higher than they've ever been.  

To Foley's credit, she doesn't come out and "predict" Microsoft's future.  Far too many industry analysts attempt to do that on a daily basis, and continually fail.  What she does do is lay out the challenges and offer some insight as to where they *might* go given their track record and past history.  That's incredibly useful, and also allows you to go back a couple years later to see how those forces actually played out.  The only nit I had about the book surrounds the Microsoft-Yahoo proposed merger.  Obviously, that event happened *very* late in the writing of the manuscript.  An event of that magnitude could not be ignored without the book looking dated before it was even printed.  However, the outcome of that event seemed to have different treatments as the book went along.  Earlier in the book, she apparently made the decision to assume the merger would transpire and wrote as if it had.  Later on, it was more of an "if the proposed merger occurs" stance.  I understand she had to do something with it...  It just so happens that it didn't play out as most everyone expected it to.  It still doesn't negate or lessen the value of all her other insights and analysis.

You can quibble over whether she's right or wrong as much as you'd like.  That's life in the tech world, as we all have our own "expert" opinions on how technology will absolutely play out.  What I don't think you can argue over is whether she did her homework on this book and delivered on what she set out to do.  She did...  Nice job.

05/12/2008

So was/is it worth moving away from my Yahoo mail account to Gmail?

Category Yahoo Google

Shortly after Microsoft announced their intention to take over Yahoo months ago, I decided that I really wanted no part of a MicroHoo online presence.  I've had the twduff email address at yahoo.com for years, and I've normally considered that my primary email address.  The duffbert account at gmail.com started picking up some of my traffic once Google rewrote the rules for web-based email accounts.  After the Microsoft announcement, I dropped my paid account status for Yahoo.  I routed more of my normal email to gmail.com.  I even changed my homepage from My Yahoo to iGoogle.  Other than Flickr, I don't consider Yahoo a primary site for anything I do anymore.

So now that the MicroHoo merger is dead, do I still feel my moves were warranted?  In terms of quality of service, there's no question.  Yahoo email spam protection is nearly useless.

I've noticed that 99% of the spam that gmail catches is true spam.  I still do a quick scan of what's out there before I delete it, but it's nearly always spam.  Although I must admit I'm still entertained by emails with titles such as "Your killer sausage will impress them all!"  Glad they like my culinary skills...

Yahoo email seems to be a crapshoot.  I can get an email from someone and reply to it.  I'll add their address to my contact list.  With few exceptions, their response back to me will be considered spam.  Newsletters seem to use a random number generator to determine if they'll be spam or inbox material each time.  And I'm really tired of all the enhancement emails that Yahoo can't seem to figure out don't belong in my inbox.  For a company that's been doing web-based email offerings for such a long time, I'd expect them to be at the leading edge of getting spam protection right.  My experience is that they're one of the worst.

I'll admit I liked My Yahoo better than iGoogle, as iGoogle seems to be a bit slow to load some of the modules.  Conversely, there's quite a choice of iGoogle modules to choose from.

Bottom line...  I think Microsoft was incredibly ill-advised to offer Yahoo that much money for the company.  I've got to believe that Yahoo lost some level of traffic from people who wanted nothing to do with Microsoft.  And if there was a drop in traffic to Yahoo based on that, I've got to think that they'll be hard-pressed to get it back.  I don't think Yahoo's offerings are special or different enough to cause people to switch back once they abandon them.

05/11/2008

Book Review - Windows Vista Annoyances by David A. Karp

Category Book Review David A. Karp Windows Vista Annoyances

Sometimes, a book in the Annoyances series is one that you can use to fine-tune an application you use often.  And then there's this one...  Windows Vista Annoyances by David A. Karp.  Regardless of whether you hate Vista or think it's the best Windows OS out there, you'll be finding useful and applicable tips on every other page here.  Vista is just tailor-made for a book like this, and Karp takes full advantage of the opportunities.

Contents:
Get Started with Windows Vista: Editions of Vista; Install Windows Vista; Migration to Windows Vista
Shell Tweaks: Customize Windows Explorer; Working with Files and Folders
The Registry: The Registry Editor; Structure of the Registry; Registry Tasks and Tools; File Type Associations
Working with Media: Playing Video; Handling Online Video; Sound and Music; Photos, Pictures, Images; Media Center Annoyances; CD and DVD Drives
Performance: Trim the Fat; Make Your Hardware Perform; Hard Disk
Troubleshooting: Crashes and Error Messages; Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware Troubleshooting; Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery
Networking and Internet: Build Your Network; Internet Me; Secure Your Networked PC; Web and Email
Users and Security: Manage User Accounts; Permissions and Security; Logon and Profile Options; Share Files and Printers
Scripting and Automation: Windows Script Host; build a VBScript Script; Object References; Wacky Script Ideas; Command Prompt Scripting; Windows PowerShell
BIOS Settings
TCP/IP Ports
Index

When I bought my new laptop , it came loaded with Vista.  Since it was pretty early in the Vista release cycle, I thought it would be good to learn it since adoption would be widespread in a short period of time.  Yeah, right.  Vista turned into one of the most annoying operating experiences of my life.  Slow performance, endless "do  you really want to..." dialog boxes, reboot times that took forever...  While you can't get rid of the overall pain of Vista (unless you "upgrade" to XP or a Mac), you can use Karp's information to lessen the daily headaches.  For instance, he takes  you into the Performance Options settings to help  you figure out what eye candy you can live without so that you actually get work done.  He shows you how to tweak the registry to eliminate the menu opening delay.  He also goes into some depth on how to get Vista set up to greatly reduce the start-up time (and that's a MAJOR accomplishment).  And that's just a fraction of what you'll find here that will find immediate application in your life with Vista.

It's always a good thing to get a decent reference guide to the major software packages in your life.  Vista is no exception.  But there's a few packages where you need someone to tell you how to *live* with the less-than-stellar results on your screen.  Vista's the poster child for that.  Windows Vista Annoyances should be *very* close at hand as you work with the operating system.  Assuming you haven't already switched to something else...

05/11/2008

Book Review - Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig

Category Book Review David Koenig Realityland

Being a Disney fan, it was a given that I would get a copy of Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig from the library.  Koenig has written a number of other books that go behind-the-scenes and show the difference between the managed image and the true reality of the Disney empire.  In Realityland, he focuses on the Florida version of Disney's dream, Walt Disney World.  Koenig does an excellent job digging into the trials involved in getting The Magic Kingdom built and running, as well as the struggle to define "EPCOT".

Contents:
Waltopia - Mr. Disney's last and greatest dream
Project X - The undercover expansion
Planning the Invasion - Preparing for the ground attack
Trouble Building - The fight to finish on time
A Grand Opening - Through the gates of the Magic Kingdom
Room Change - Turmoil and turnover at the hotels
Power Plays - The energy crisis, Reedy Creek and rocky community relations
Crash Mountain - Space Mountain and the never-ending quest for safety
Showcase for Sale - Sponsoring a piece of the kingdom
Constructing the Future - The hardships and headaches of breaking new ground
Starring in the Show - Making little money and lots of magic for a living
EPTPOT - Experimental Prototype Theme Park of Tomorrow
Upheaval - A coup at the kingdom
Reel Competition - Disney vs. Universal - and everyone else
It's a Jungle in Here - Survival of the shrewdest
The Polite Force - Security with a smile
Backwards to the Beginning - The Homogenized Mouse

30+ years after the start of it all, it's easy to allow Walt's philosophy and vision to filter what actually happened.  Disney has become synonymous with attention to detail and outstanding customer service.  But Walt never lived long enough to see Walt Disney World become a reality.  Those left in charge were burdened with the phrase "what would Walt do?" when it came to making any sort of decision on what WDW would become.  And just as Disneyland had its share of problems and teething pains, so did WDW.  Labor relations with the construction companies were less than harmonious.  Cutting-edge experiments and partnerships (such as the building and ownership of the Contemporary) broke down under the strain of deadlines and constant changes by Disney.  And while getting the Magic Kingdom built had some sort of pattern in Disneyland, it was EPCOT that continually haunted the leadership.  Walt had envisioned an entire city built to e
utopian standards, and everyone wanted to know when Disney would start building it.  But the reality was that there was no way that something of that size and scale could be successfully created while still making a profit.  It was all they could do to spin the creation of Future World and World Showcase as a place where EPCOT "concepts" could be tried and advanced.  Even that twist was hard to pull off, as Disney wanted to have companies and countries pay to build and operate the attractions and pavilions.  But things change, attractions need to be updated, and sponsorships come to an end.  Even to this day, EPCOT is still a pale shadow of what Walt had imagined and dreamed.  At best, it's another theme park that attempts to teach as well as entertain.

Having been written within the last year, Koenig also goes into the decision to build Animal Kingdom and how management had to struggle to make the concept work.  On the outside, it was meant to be something where people would learn about the environment and creatures that inhabit different areas on earth.  But when you mix animals and environmentalists together, you start to get friction on a massive scale.  And due to a lack of attractions when it first opened, people had a hard time thinking of it as something more than a Disney-fied version of a zoo.  Throw in the massive ego of Michael Eisner during this time, and it's amazing that anything got done and that Disney was able to come out with its carefully crafted image intact.

For those who buy into the whole Walt Disney image as presented to the public, this book will either be an eye-opening read or something bordering on a traumatic event.  Sort of like learning there's no Santa Claus.  For those who know and understand that there's a difference between image and reality, the book will simply add more color and humanity to the Disney empire.  As a person who loves to go to DisneyWorld, I found the book fascinating.  I'll still enjoy the rides and the atmosphere, and will still be amazed by the "Disney Mystique".  But I'll also be a bit more appreciative and understanding of what pain it took to get it all to work.

05/10/2008

Book Review - Leadership Brand by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood

Category Book Review Dave Ulrich Norm Smallwood Leadership Brand

It's easy to pick out what makes a particular brand distinct and valuable...  Apple, Costco, Wal-mart all have a definite public perception that drives their operation.  In the book Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood, the authors contend that each company also has a "leadership brand" that helps drive that public perception and that enables the company and employees deliver on those expectations.

Contents:
Branding Leadership; The Case for Building a Leadership Brand; Creating a Leadership Brand Statement; Assessing Leaders Against the Brand; Investing in Leadership Brand; Measuring Return on Leadership Brand; Building Awareness for Leadership Brand; Preserving Leadership Brand; Implications for Personal Brand; Criteria for a Firm Brand; Firms with Branded Leadership; Notes; Index; About the Authors

Ulrich and Smallwood do a good job in changing the way that an organization's leaders are normally viewed.  Using the "brand" concept, building and promoting leaders is based on an underlying element that lends a continuity to how the company performs and delivers in the marketplace.  These types of leaders are the ones that allow a company to consistently lead their market niche over a long period of time.  It's obviously not a "quick-fix" solution to a company that's failing.  You don't just decide "here's our leadership brand, so lead in this way" one Monday morning.  Using the measured approach outlined here, it's possible to start to attract and promote the type of person that will complement the core message of your company.  

05/10/2008

Book Review - Seeing Yourself As Others Do by Carol Keers and Thomas Mungavan

Category Book Review Carol Keers Thomas Mungavan Seeing Yourself As Others Do

Trying to figure out how others perceive me in the workplace is something that's very high on my list of concerns.  The book Seeing Yourself As Others Do: Authentic Executive Presence At Any Stage of Your Career by Carol Keers and Thomas Mungavan goes a long way in helping to clear away those misconceptions and blind spots.  It also gives you the tools you need to come across the way you need to in many different situations.

Contents:
Introduction - Perception is Reality; Communication Foundations; Command of the Room with Charisma; Leverage Influence and Power; Expectations, Strategic and Tactical; Audience Connections; Relationship Competence, Locally and Remotely; Listening Engagement; Inspiration, Motivation, and Praise

Based on the title, you may think this is focused more towards the executive branch of your organization.  Not true...  There's plenty of material here that pertains to the way you interact at any level and in any situation.  Executive presence is the ability to be viewed as one with authority and presence, someone who is authentic in their personality and who can connect with and inspire those around them.  The acronym CLEARLI is used by the authors to explain that quality - Command, Leverage, Expectations, Audience, Relationship, Listening, and Inspiration.  Once you understand that your impression of yourself is not reality, that the reality is perception that others have of you, you can start to build up those skills and remove those blind spots that are holding you back.

For me, I took a lot away from the chapters on using your voice effectively as well as becoming a quality listener.  Communicating effectively with others is far more than just the words you tell them.  It's the pacing of your words, the emotion and variation and body language.  I need to understand how to control that much better.  In addition, my skill at listening to others can stand some significant improvement.  So often, you can communicate at a much higher level by shutting up and listening to the other person.  Instead of trying to figure out what you're going to say next, focus on what the person across from you is trying to say.  I need to work harder to get past that superficial level of understanding that comes with not completely focusing on that other person.

This is an easy read, well-paced and completely applicable to where you live.  Time spent thinking about these concepts can have a dramatic effect on your personal and professional relationships.

05/10/2008

Book Review - Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Category Book Review Steve Martin Born Standing Up

A fellow reader/reviewer tipped me to the book Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.  It's a memoir of Martin's life from childhood to 1981, when he walked away from stand-up comedy.  Unlike many memoirs that are the product of a ghostwriter, Born Standing Up is all Martin.  It helps that he's an actual writer, as well as a comedian and actor.  Because of that writing skill, you get a close-up, intimate look into the events and people who made him the hottest comedian of his time.  And it also explains why, seemingly at the pinnacle of his success doing stand-up, he walked away from it all.  

The book traces his early infatuation with magic and comedy.  He worked at Disneyland in the magic shop that was there at the time, and he started learning the tricks and techniques that would form the beginning of his act.  Along the way, he picked up a banjo and learned to play it.  This combination of banjo, magic, and humor had him doing the coffeehouses and storefront venues that were everywhere during the '60's.  He also spent a fair amount of time working The Birdcage at Knott's Berry Farm doing more of a vaudeville style of comedy.  Overall, it was what he wanted to be doing, but he also knew that you couldn't make a living with it at this level.  He knew he had to get a break somewhere or give up his dream of becoming an entertainer.

The late 60's and early '70s were a turbulent time in our country.  Society was changing, and Martin was studying what effect that had on comedy.  He started to do routines that were more cutting-edge, routines that required the audience to look at humor in a different light.  These self-deprecating, physical routines started to catch on, and he also began to be booked on more TV shows.  Before long, his appearances went from 100 seat rooms to sold-out venues all over the US.  But while his act was becoming part of the culture and lexicon of society, he was personally struggling.  Relationships were hard to maintain due to the schedule, and he was trying hard to deal with parental relationships that were highly dysfunctional as he grew up.  His standup career ended in 1981 after a third successive night of something going wrong in his Vegas King Tut act.  What looked to be anger on the surface was actually the grind of the last 20 years coming to a head.  He walked away from his act at that point and spent time healing the rifts between him and members of his family.  

What made this book so fascinating was to see the reality behind the public image.  It's easy to imagine that actors, singers, and comedians have it all...  popularity, money, travel, friends.  But really, it's a hard existence full of doubt, hard work, and loneliness.  Born Standing Up shows that being funny is painfully difficult, and comes at a high cost.  While I've always liked Steve Martin as an entertainer, I'm now pretty sure that I'd also like the real Steve Martin, the man who's there when the film stops rolling and the footlights are turned off.  This is an excellent read...

05/08/2008

Finally the torture comes to an end... the application stays in production!

Category Software Development

So *this* is what it's like to live without a knot in your gut 24/7...  I nearly forgot how nice it was.  :)

So yesterday I did some more significant "tuning" in my application, hoping to cut down on db lookups, recalcs, and writes.  I had to make a few concessions on the nice interface we had, but a "nice interface" is useless if the app won't run.  Finally, I made the suggestion that we "auto-register" everyone in order to cut down the number of new documents coming in at the same time everyone was trying to pick team members and such.  It was also a nice gesture to give the 100 points to everyone for putting up with the inconveniences.  

So this morning I was seated at my desk, bright and early at 6 am, watching the app run.  We have one office in a time zone one hour earlier, so there was a small bit of activity.  The first hour looked to be OK, so we opened up the navigation path feature around 7.  People started joining teams, rosters started forming, and views kept refreshing.  By 8:30, I was tentatively convinced that we had finally gotten the application to a point where it was behaving well enough to call it "live" for good.

The sense of relief is overwhelming...

I spent the afternoon monitoring the app and writing a "lessons learned" paper.  That one is more focused on what we as a team should do differently next time to make the whole process run more smoothly.  This includes user interface choices we made, discarded during "tuning", and perhaps could have kept after all.  I could have done a better job making the Team Roster and the Individual Logsheet have stronger separate identities in the views, as there were some issues on removing people from teams.  We had the concept of substitutes who could be used during the program if an original member dropped out.  Unfortunately, some teams thought they needed their subs immediately, thereby giving them more than the 10 person limit...  At least by noting all this, we'll have a much better module for the next team event in a couple of months.

The other post-mortem goes here...  What did I learn from this event?  
  • Perspective - I take customer service and support extremely personally.  If I don't deliver on what I said I would, I failed.  This particular group is one I really enjoy working with, and it hurt to not have performed up to my expectations.  On the other hand, 100000 people died in a storm in Myamar, and I'm stressed over a four-week employee wellness program that's not getting off to a stellar start.  Even though we all shared that feeling, it didn't help me feel any less responsible.
  • 100% involvement - When you've done something for a long time (10+ years of Notes development), there are some times when you tend to go into "auto-pilot" mode.  You've built widget X a dozen times, you pull the code from a prior iteration, and in short order you have a functional app.  But did you *really* need to have "NoCache" on those dbLookups?  All 20 of them?  That get refreshed on every field change?  Did you even freaking NOTICE you had done that????  That lack of attention on my part is not acceptable to me.  There's little difference in delivering something in 4 hours vs. the 6 hours you should have taken to review field settings, hide-when formulas, duplicate code, unused fields, etc.  It's not the user's job to find and report that stuff in testing.  It's my job to give them something to test that is as close as I can get it to "go live" based on their request.  This whole subject is probably the biggest personal issue that I've internally dwelt on during the week.  Consider it a wake-up call...
  • The Notes community is an incredible thing - Before I go further, I should note that I'm due for a slight adjustment in my SSRI meds.  It's the whole "Prozac poop-out" tolerance issue.  One of the side effects of going back to "the old Duffbert" is that I can easily get more emotional (read: wet eyes) than normal.  Having said that...  I was incredibly touched this week by all of you.  From feedback and encouragement via Twitter, to Skype calls for consultation and support (and more encouragement), emails, IMs, etc.  Incredibly funny poetry that made me laugh at work, when all I really wanted to do was curl up in the fetal position.  People remembering my birthday (which is tomorrow) with cards, gifts, and even a phone call from New Zealand where it was already May 9th, serenaded by Mr. Sampson's family choir... For those who are part of this community, cherish it.  It's a rare thing, and it's something that I can't imagine not being part of...  Thank you all.

It's easy to say, in the midst of all the madness, that soon you'll look back at all this and laugh.  Rationally, I knew that would happen.  Emotionally, I was having second thoughts.  So rather than throw away what I paid dearly to learn these last four days, I'll be able to come back here and say "here is where I grew as a developer."

05/07/2008

Admins... how they view themselves...

Category Humor

A picture named M2

05/06/2008

It's humbling to put your code out there for others to see (subtitled: Just another day of frustration...)

Category Software Development

Ok...  so we have day 2 of my application that refuses to behave.  I stripped plenty of stuff out that, on review, could have been a bottleneck.  And twice we fired it up, only to peg the server at 100% again.  Granted, it took longer to do so, but it was still not good enough to leave in production.

Phigment offered via Twitter to take a look at the code for a second set of eyes, and I just got off the call with him.  Talking about feeling STOOOOOOOOPID!  He quite accurately pointed out a number of potential troublespots (after I thought I had already gotten rid of them all), along with suggestions for change.  This, coupled with something I brainstormed out with a user this afternoon, may well make this an app that will run like it *should* be running.

First off, my thanks to everyone who has chimed in and helped.  It's great to be part of such a strong community of Notes-aholics who care and work with each other without expecting much in return, knowing that they too will need help some day.

And to another point that hit me even harder...  It doesn't matter how long you've been coding and developing...  You have bad habits.  Having Phig dig into my code and ask "why" was rather embarrassing.  I know I'm better than some of the things he found, but you're going fast trying to meet deadlines.  You know you'll go back and clean up the repetitive code.  And you never do.  But it doesn't matter, as no one else will ever see it.  Until you have to ask for help.  I feel like I went from a 10 year developer to a 1 year developer repeated 10 times.  

I need to dwell on this idea of seeking out code reviews from others you respect...  For one, I don't want to repeat this week ever again, and two, I don't want to be that red-faced again.  I've definitely been given my much-needed reality check.

05/05/2008

Boy, I haven't had that bad a day as a developer in a LONG time...

Category Software Development

We moved a new Notes app onto the server Friday, and we opened it up for the registration function this morning at around 7 am.  Within about 10 minutes, the CPU of the server was pegged at 100%.  Not good...

We modified a keyword document to close off the registration, dropped the users from the applications, and everything went back to normal (10% - 20% utilization).

Now, I would be OK with this if I could pinpoint a reason WHY this new app was going crazy.  Functionality-wise, it was working fine in development.  Obviously, I hadn't tested it under load of a large number of users starting to register.  I streamlined a few lookups, changed a few graphics to be image resources, dropped a couple of views that had some level of calculation in a column, and dropped a field (that I didn't need) that was being built as a text list upon saving a document.

We'll try again tomorrow morning with the new changes, as well as with the server and Notes admins monitoring things when we open it back up again.

I'd understand it if I had done some Java agent that was not releasing memory, or if I had agents stuck in a loop.  But there is no Java code in there, and there's only one agent scheduled to run once an hour (and I can tell in OpenLog it ran all of one second during our crisis).  I'm wondering if the @PickList function used to pick people for your "team" was having fits since the view of eligible people was being added to (new registrations) and deleted from (people chosen for a team) heavily during that initial registration.

Sigh...  I don't like being incompetent...

05/04/2008

Book Review - The Moment It Clicks by Joe McNally

Category Book Review Joe McNally The Moment It Clicks

I'm in awe of people who can take great pictures with seemingly little effort.  But in reality, those pictures are a combination of skill, knowledge, and not a small measure of luck.  Joe McNally, a very well-known photographer who has shot for Time, National Geographic, and others, "converses" with the reader in The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters.  You'll find out how his mind works to control lighting and scene to make those famous images.

Contents:
Shoot What You Love; Keep Your Eye in the Camera; The Logic of Light; There's Always Something to Bounce Light Off Of; Joe's Lighting Tips; Joe's Camera Bag; Joe's Grip and Lighting Gear; The Barroom; Glossary; Index

This book was born from a workshop where McNally was presenting.  He was sharing gems of experience, when it dawned on one of the attendees that capturing these nuggets of wisdom could be a perfect method for letting everyone get into the mind of a great photographer.  The format of the book consists mostly of two page spreads.  The right side shows the photo, and the left side is McNally sharing the story behind the image.  Not only does he share what it took to get the picture, but he also gets into the technical aspects of how it was lit and shot.  So much of what he does is based on lighting.  Too much, too little, bouncing off items, focussed lighting, ambient, etc...  When you get done, you'll never look at light in quite the same way again.

Will this book allow you to replicate the same types of shots that have made McNally famous?  No.  For one, he has hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, and often has a budget to do things like renting elephants and hanging people from helicopters.  My guess is that you don't have that working for you.  Also, he doesn't use a "do this, then this, then this" approach.  He does talk about the equipment and settings, the lighting and circumstances, but it's more as if you were sitting in a pub talking to a best mate.  If you're not experienced on camera technology and terminology, you'll also miss a fair amount of the value.  But if you've done some work and become more than just a tourist with a camera, this can take you up another level or two.  

Or you can just look at the pictures and marvel that it's possible to do those kinds of things with a camera...

05/04/2008

Book Review - Awake at the Wheel by Mitchell Lewis Ditkoff

Category Book Review Mitchell Lewis Ditkoff Awake at the Wheel

Awake at the Wheel: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an Uphill World) by Mitchell Lewis Ditkoff can, in my opinion, be compared to the classic "Who Moved My Cheese?".  Ditkoff does for creativity what Johnson and Blanchard did for living with change...  It gives the reader a short, humorous story loaded with meaning and concepts that hit the reader right where they live.

Contents:
What's The Big Idea?; Choosing; Author's Note; The Story of Og; Og Gets an Idea; Dazed By the Possibilities; Aargh!; The Grunt of the Town; Getting Around To It; Og's Head Is Full, But the Cupboard is Empty; The Big Meating; The Path Is Made By Walking On It; Crouch; An Arrow to the Heart of the Matter; Nothing to Get; Smoke From a Fire, Flakes From a Stone; The Happy Accident; The Center is Everything; Sleeping Like a Rock; Follow Your Feet; Everyone's Turn; What Og Learned - 12 Wheely Good Best Practices; Tooling Up - 35 Ways to Get the Wheels Turning; Writing It In Stone - The Tools and Techniques Contest; Nexting - How to Invent the Future; Staying on a Roll - Resources for Thinking Outside the Cave; OgCasting - Your Free Audio Bonus; About the Author

Ditkoff explores the world of ideas and creativity though the story of Og.  Og is a caveman who spends more time thinking than the average Neanderthal.  He stumbles upon the concept of a circle, and becomes obsessed with what it could mean to the group.  Of course, most of his fellow cavemen are more concerned about maintaining the status quo...  hunting, eating, staying warm.  Og takes a journey to talk with a wise one, and from that trip the wheel is born.  But even then, others in his clan are more interested in shooting it down as something that will never work.  But one person *does* figure out the practical application, and pretty soon everyone is "rolling along" with the greatest thing since dried mammoth...

I really did like this book.  Taking the concept of ideas and putting them in caveman terms freshens up what could be just another book on creativity.  At the end of the book are 35 "tools" you can use to spur your own idea machine, as well as how best to make sure these fleeting thoughts don't disappear like smoke from a campfire.  Like many companies have done with "Cheese", this should be a mass purchase, handed out to all employees, and then discussed in team meetings.  Those who are into this genre will love it, and the Neanderthals who are cynical will likely spend the 30 minutes or so it should take to read it.  And they *might* even come out of that experience as the new Og of your organization.

05/02/2008

IBM unveils Quickr tools to stave off SharePoint

Category IBM/Lotus

From NetworkWorld: IBM unveils Quickr tools to stave off SharePoint

Interesting that we have another migration tool being announced to move *from* Microsoft *to* Lotus...

IBM Friday released a data migration tool that is a critical component in providing its Notes/Domino install base an alternative to moving to Microsoft's SharePoint Server.

IBM Lotus Quickr Content Integrator provides wizards and templates for moving content in mass to Quickr from SharePoint sites, Microsoft Exchange folders, IBM Lotus Domino Document Manager libraries and IBM Lotus Domino team room applications.

The Content Integrator also supports co-existence of data on multiple platforms during an elongated migration, including synchronization capabilities.

Quickr is a content management system that includes team workspaces and runs on either Windows, Linux or Unix. It also is a component of IBM's unified communications stack that revolves around Domino, Sametime and Connections, a set of social networking tools.

Something I found interesting is that this tool is based on technology from Casahl, a group that's been known more for their IBM to Microsoft migration tools.  It's encouraging to see companies see business opportunities to bring data back into Lotus.

EDIT: More information:

IBM Pledges Quickr Migration from SharePoint - eWeek

New IBM Software Tools Designed to Liberate SharePoint Data - CNNMoney

05/01/2008

Book Review - No One Heard Her Scream by Jordan Dane

Category Book Review Jordan Dane No One Heard Her Scream

I had a chance recently to read a novel from a first-time author by the name of Jordan Dane.  Her book, No One Heard Her Scream, is a good crime thriller, even more so when you consider it's a debut effort.  

Rebecca Montgomery is a detective in San Antonio, and she's trying to be part of an investigation that is very personal.  Her sister was abducted five months earlier, and a potential crime scene left lots of her blood behind but no body.  She's not willing to take "no" for an answer when it comes to investigating the crime on her own, even though it might get her into hot water with her boss.  Because there have been other girls who have gone missing with the same MO, she's anxious to get to the bottom of it.  To get her off the case, she's given a local crime scene that appears to be arson.  But the fire reveals a skeleton of a girl who was bricked up in the building many years ago.  Her investigation brings her face-to-face with one Diego Galvan who's associated with a rather nasty businessman by the name of Hunter Cavanaugh.  Cavanaugh is a prime suspect for the arson crime, and Galvan seems to want to help Montgomery instead of his employer.  She has to figure out who set the building on fire, who killed the girl they found there, whether Cavanaugh knows about any of the disappearances, and exactly how much she should trust Galvan to help and protect her.

In terms of plot, Dane shows real promise.  The story moved along well, and I didn't have any moments where I felt I was marking time or slogging through it.  About the only thing I thought was a bit "off" was the immediate lust that Montgomery and Galvan had towards each other.  He's a mystery person who seems to know everything about her, and their initial meeting after the fire felt a bit awkward.  But if you want to treat this as a romantic crime thriller, then it falls into place a bit better.  Either way, that's not enough to make me dislike the book very much.  I'll be interested to see how her two follow-up novels (apparently already set to come out a couple months after this one) develop the characters.  Dane could definitely be an author to watch...

04/30/2008

Book Review - Hackerteen: Volume 1: Internet Blackout by Marcelo Marques

Category Book Review Marcelo Marques Hackerteen: Volume 1: Internet Blackout

I've mentioned in the past that I occasionally pick up and read material that isn't my normal fare.  When offered a chance to read the graphic novel Hackerteen: Volume 1: Internet Blackout by Marcelo Marques, I figured this would be my foray into different stuff.  While I don't know that I'm the best person to review something like this, I'll say that it probably does a good job with what it sets out to do.

This first volume sets the stage.  Yago is spending a ton of time in front of his computer, and his parents are worried.  They find a school called Hackerteen that teaches students how to ethically explore and prevent computer crime.  Yago is under the age limit, but impresses HackerIP (the head of the school and the "greatest" hacker in the country) with a test of his skill.  As such, he's accepted into the program, becomes part of the team that is the upper echelon of the school, and is called upon to stop a hacker threat that will take down the entire Internet.  But at the same time, he's been conned into planting a computer virus that threatens to do great harm, all because he wanted to earn some extra money to help his father keep his bakery afloat after a huge grocery store moves in across the street.  He has to admit to his ethical lapse and clear his mentor of the charges being leveled against him.  But don't expect to get full resolution here...  Volume 2 is due out soon.  :)

Here's where we get into the "your mileage may vary" part.  Nearly all the books I read have more words in one chapter than this has in the entire volume.  So, we're not talking about a major transfer of technical knowledge in the 101 pages of Hackerteen.  I'm also old enough to remember when something like this was called a comic book, not a "graphic novel".  Conversely, far too many kids don't read much of anything unless it's entertaining or assigned by a teacher.  In Hackerteen, the author weaves in themes of ethical behavior, teamwork, and questioning authority.  That last one comes into play with electronic voting machines that are "certified" to be accurate, as well as hacking laws that make it possible to convict just about anyone using a computer.  It's not a stretch to see how the government has tried (unfortunately with a fair amount of success) to do these exact things.  A 12 year old may not care much about voting machines that they won't be able to use for another six years.  On the other hand, a graphical novel such as this can start them down the road of thinking for themselves.

There are URL links at the bottom of many of the pages that *should* give additional information on some of the subjects mentioned in the story.  But when I went to the site, it was lacking any content, and the navigation didn't work half the time (in either IE or Firefox).  That's too bad, as I think a strong website working hand-in-hand with the book would be a powerful combination.  Still, I think Hackerteen does accomplish what it sets out to do...  Educate young minds about hacker ethics in a way they'll understand and read.

04/30/2008

Product Review - Netgear RND2150 ReadyNAS Duo 500 GB Desktop Network Attached Storage

Category Product Review Netgear RND2150 ReadyNAS Duo 500 GB Desktop Network Attached Storage

This is probably one of the best "toys" I've received as part of the Amazon Vine review program...  The Netgear RND2150 ReadyNAS Duo 500 GB Desktop Network Attached Storage device.  Having never had a network storage device to use at home, I was a bit unsure as to how useful I'd find it.  In less than a week, the answer is "how did I live without it?"

A picture named M2

First impressions...  I expected something much bigger.  The largest dimension is 8 inches deep, while being only 4 inches wide and 5 inches high.  So in terms of footprint, there's not much there to take up desk or counter space.  I plugged it into my Netgear wireless router, ran the set-up software, and it immediately was recognized once I ran the RAIDar software to interact with the administration console on my Windows XP machine.  With little effort and no directions, I was able to set up accounts for my wife's machine and Ian's Macbook.  I didn't have a clue as to how I was going to walk him through the setup, but by designating the AFP protocol on his share, he found it automatically and started downloading to it right away.  He even complained when he couldn't transfer files over 100 MB, as that was the share size limit I had set him at.  Evil Dad...  :)  Now that I know that worked, I bumped him up to 100 GB.

The 500 GB gives me a ton of extra space for backups, media downloads, etc.  There are two bays in the unit, one of which is used in this setup.  If you added another 500 GB drive, it would use that to set up a RAID configuration.  Some have complained that they'd rather have it equal 1 TB instead.  If that's important, you can buy a larger configuration that goes to that amount of space, but the second drive is always going to make it a RAID device.  Being this is my first NAS device, it's not a big deal to me.  In terms of noise (or lack thereof), I'm really happy.  It sits across the room from me (about 12 feet away), and I can barely hear the unit.  In fact, my Dell desktop is slightly more noisy than the NAS, and I thought the desktop was already pretty quiet to begin with.  The only sound that threw me off was when I started doing some downloads on it, and you'd hear the read/write heads moving around.  I knew that wasn't a "normal" noise for my office, and it took me a second to realize where it was coming from.  Given about a week, I'll probably not even notice the small pops.

The feature that I really like is the built-in BitTorrent client.  You can start a torrent download on the NAS, and it'll run independently from there.  So instead of having the torrent client taking up cycles and memory on your regular machine, the NAS is just chugging away on the download for you.  It's an ideal set-up if you have to move around a lot, or if you're disconnected from your network for any length of time.  The BitTorrent client is pretty bare-bones, but it controls all the critical functions, such as throttling the transfer rates in both directions.

I'll dive into the manual this weekend to see what else I can do with it.  I know there is automatic backup software you can use, but I currently use an online backup service.  I'm torn as to whether I want to maintain that (backups available from anywhere) or save the money (but know I could lose both the computer and NAS in the event of a disaster).  But even if I didn't use too many other features of the device, I'd be very happy with it.  And if I can keep Ian out of the admin console and restrict his media files to 100 GB, I'll be doing well.  :)

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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