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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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07/30/2008

Book Review - The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why by Amanda Ripley

Category Book Review Amanda Ripley The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

A picture named M2

So you find yourself in the midst of a 9/11-type disaster or a natural disaster like an earthquake.  Observing from a distance, it's easy to second-guess the decisions of those whose lives are threatened.  You think you'd be far more decisive and intelligent.  But would you?  Amanda Ripley examines that question in her book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why.  It's an excellent read on the different forces at play in disaster scenarios, and how come your "expected" response may not be anywhere close to what you actually end up doing.

Contents:
Introduction: "Life Becomes Like Molten Metal"
Part 1 - Denial: Delay - Procrastinating in Tower 1; Risk - Gambling in New Orleans
Part 2 - Deliberation: Fear - The Body and Mind of a Hostage; Resilience - Staying Cool in Jerusalem; Groupthink - Role Playing at the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire
Part 3 - The Decisive Moment: Panic - A Stampede on Holy Ground; Paralysis - Playing Dead in French Class; Heroism - A Suicide Attempt on the Potomac River
Conclusion - Making New Instincts
Author's Note; Notes; Selected Bibliography; Index

Ripley uses the stories of individual survivors (and a few who didn't make it) to analyze how our minds react to an unexpected traumatic experience.  She frames the responses as three phases of something called a Survival Arc, which make up the flow of the book.  The denial phase happens immediately after the event occurs.  We rationalize away the most logical explanations and attempt to paint the event in terms of what we consider normal.  This is why we ignore fire drills and don't exhibit any urgency in the face of impending danger like fire or hurricanes.  After denial (assuming that denial doesn't end up killing you), we move into the deliberation phase.  We've accepted that things aren't "normal", but we're still not sure what to do about it.  Some become docile and follow anyone who seems to have a plan, regardless of how smart or idiotic it may be.  Others step out of their assigned roles and become leaders, herding people to safety although it's not their "job".  After deliberation comes the decisive moment, the time when you take action and commit to a course of action.  Many believe that panic is the most common reaction.  But in reality, many groups tend to stay calm for various reasons.  In the "hero" category is the person who puts themselves at risk of death to save others, regardless of how hopeless the odds may seem.  What's strange is the reason why people would do this.  It's not the "I wanted to be a hero" mindset in many cases.  Instead, it's the "I couldn't live with myself if I didn't" feeling.  Finally, Ripley wraps up the book with examples of how training and teaching can alter the outcome of a disaster, and get people to react in ways that can save their lives with only a few simple changes in thinking.

This is an excellent book for the times we live in.  We go about our lives, expecting everything to be "normal".  But there's absolutely no guarantee that your day in the office won't turn into a life-or-death struggle that you are completely unprepared to handle.  Just the simple knowledge of these phases can go a long way towards making you aware of your surroundings, as well as giving you the proper understanding of what's happening to others around you.  If you take the time to incorporate Ripley's insights into your mental framework, you'll up your odds significantly in terms of being a survivor instead of a statistic.

07/30/2008

Book Review - Nothing To Lose by Lee Child

Category Book Review Lee Child Nothing To Lose

A picture named M2

Five days off, and the latest Lee Child book arrives at the library...  Nothing To Lose.  Normally, this is a recipe for a great time.  This time, it seemed to be a bit off.  While I liked the return to current times with the Jack Reacher character, the plot on this episode seemed to stretch out a bit too long.  I was also less than enthralled with the subplot of missing persons, especially given the way Child chooses to have Reacher react to it.

Reacher's on the road again, traveling (on a whim) from Maine to California with just the clothes on his back, a passport, an ATM card, and a toothbrush.  He ends up in a town in Colorado called Hope, and from there it's only 17 miles to another town called Despair.  He can't resist the urge to check out the place, so he starts walking.  When he gets into town and tries to order a cup of coffee in the diner, it's made quite clear to him that strangers are not welcome.  Telling Reacher he can't do something is like waving a red flag in front of a bull, and he refuses to leave.  This leads to one busted up local deputy and Reacher in jail for vagrancy.  They take him back to the boundary between Despair and Hope, and dump him off.  The police officer of Hope, a pretty woman by the name of Vaughn, meets him there and attempts to reason with him to just come back to Hope and ignore Despair.  But Reacher can't let it alone, and he's determined to find out why they were so determined to get rid of him.  He learns that Despair is a metal recycling company town completely owned by a single person, and Reacher figures he's got something to hide if the entire town is afraid of anyone showing up.  It also doesn't help Reacher's curiosity when he finds a military Forward Operating Base guarding one of the roads into Despair.  Things aren't adding up for Reacher, and he has no better thing to be doing than to uncover the secrets of Despair.

On the whole, I did enjoy the return of Reacher to his post-military, drifter ways.  I'm glad that Child chose to retreat from the military flashback detour, and stay with the character that I've come to expect.  Reacher's attitude, dialog, and ability to wreck havoc in personal confrontations is all there in Nothing To Lose.  It's just the plot that seems to drag.  There's a pair of plots involving what may be going on at the recycling plant, as well as people who seem to have disappeared after showing up in Despair.  The real purpose of the recycling plant doesn't show up until the end, nor does the reason for the missing persons.  Once Reacher *does* discover the reasons for both, he goes off on a political rant that seems rather out of character.  It also places him directly at odds with Vaughn, given the personal circumstances she's dealing with.  While it isn't quite a "soapbox" novel where the entire plot is designed to support the author's personal crusade, the end sure smacked of it.  

Nothing To Lose isn't horrible, nor is it such that I'll be less inclined to get Child's next Reacher novel as soon as I can.  But I certainly hope that this is not the start of a trend...

07/27/2008

Book Review - The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sushi and Sashimi by James O. Fraioli and Chef Kaz Sato

Category Book Review James O. Fraioli Chef Kaz Sato

A picture named M2

Ummmm....  Sushi....

I haven't met too many pieces of sushi I haven't liked, so I could resist picking up a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sushi and Sashimi by James O. Fraioli and Chef Kaz Sato at the library when it became available.  If you are capable of following a recipe, you shouldn't have too many problems creating most of the items contained here.  I *will* say I wish there had been more pictures of the finished pieces, however.  

Contents:
Part 1 - The Basics: The Key Ingredients; Additional Ingredients; The Sushi Kitchen; Tips and Techniques
Part 2 - The Recipes: Sashimi a la Carte; Sushi; Sushi Rolls; Cooked Rolls and Tempura Rolls; Vegetarian Recipes; Appetizers and Salads
Index

For a relatively short book, Fraioli covers most of the essential knowledge in a concise manner.  You learn about the different types of fish often used, other ingredients such as vegetables and fruit, as as well as the equipment you'll need to get started.  He also covers the best ways to cut and slice the meat so that you get the best sections of the fish without dealing with bones and other undesirable fishy pieces.  The majority of the book is then devoted to different recipes that you can follow to create your own delicacies.  He goes everywhere from tuna sashimi to tuna rolls, scallops to shrimp heads, California rolls to Dragon rolls.  The instructions are pretty easy to follow, and once you've done a few you should be well on your way to making tasty sushi that doesn't look all too bad once you set it on a plate.

The only nit for me in the book was the lack of pictures.  There are eight full color pages in the middle that each show a couple of different dishes.  But in many cookbooks, I'm used to seeing both the dish and the recipe side by side so you know what you're working towards.  Granted, doing that format would have made the book much larger and more expensive.  Still, sometimes it's hard to conjure up an idea of what you should be looking at once you finish.  

Now, after all that reading, I need to find me a sushi bar...  I'm hungry!

07/26/2008

Book Review - Takeover by Lisa Black

Category Book Review Lisa Black Takeover

A picture named M2

As part of the Amazon Vine review program, I got the chance to read an advance copy of Lisa Black's first novel, Takeover.  She shows some real promise as a new entrant into the forensic crime genre, and I think she would end up on my "authors to follow" list.

Theresa MacLean is a forensic scientist working for the Cleveland police.  She's normally brought into the game once a crime's been committed, and someone needs to read the evidence for clues.  But in this particular case, she ends up right in the middle of a crime in progress.  Two bank robbers are holed up in the Federal Reserve branch building in Cleveland, and they have hostages.  One of those hostages happens to be a detective, Paul Cleary, who is also MacLean's fiancee.  He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but MacLean is frantic with worry over what they might do to him if his true identity becomes known.  They find out the answer to that question when he pulls his gun trying to stop one of the killers from taking another life.  In order to get him out of the building and to a hospital, MacLean puts her job on the line and decides to give the robbers the escape vehicle they've been demanding.  She's able to trade the car for Cleary, but she also ends up being part of the deal.  Now she's a hostage, ill-prepared to carry on negotiations now that she's unexpectedly on the inside.  Add to that the concern over Cleary's life and her daughter (who could become motherless due to her careless action), and MacLean is in way over her head.

I thought the storyline and pacing worked well.  I kept turning pages to see what turn would happen next as they tried to avoid any more bloodshed.  The characters weren't quite as fleshed out as they could have been.  It was almost as if this were part of a series, and you should have already had some background into the characters.  MacLean was developed well as a person, but not necessarily as a forensic scientist.  The hostage negotiator was also developed well.  Many of the other characters seemed to be a bit light, and the reasoning behind the original robbery attempt was a bit murky.  Still, all things considered, it was an enjoyable read and a good first effort for someone who could develop into a solid author.

07/24/2008

For those who wondered about the caffeine table in the Maker's Notebook...

Category Everything Else

... here's the low-down:
Substance
Ounces
Milligrams
Coca-Cola Classic
12
35
Pepsi
12
38
Sunkist
12
41
Dr Pepper
12
41
Diet Coke, Tab
12
47
Yerba Mate tea
8
50
Tea, green or black
8
50
Mountain Dew
12
54
Red Bull
8.3
80
Foosh Energy Mint
1:100
Espresso shot
1
65-130
Coffee
8
65-120
Yerba Mate, traditional
6
110
Full Throttle
16
144
Rockstar
16
160
Monster Energy
16
160
SoBe No Fear Super Energy
16
174
Jolt
23.5
280
Cocaine Energy Drink
8.4
280


Let's see...  given this chart, I get approximately...  450 to 600 milligrams a day...  on a "normal" day.  It has gone much higher than that.

And I wonder why my caffeine tolerance is so high...  as I finish off the two liter bottle of Diet Dr Pepper.  :)

07/23/2008

Book Review - Vanishing Portland by Ray and Jeanna Bottenberg

Category Book Review Ray and Jeanna Bottenberg Vanishing Portland

A picture named M2

I love old photos, especially photos of locations where you can see how things used to look and compare them to the current landscape.  I ran across the book Vanishing Portland by Ray and Jeanna Bottenberg on our library RSS feed, and jumped on it immediately.  It was a delight to see both early Portland images, as well as images I remember fondly since we moved here in 1968.  While I don't completely share their tendency towards progress being cultural destruction, it is a bit sad to see what we gave up for things like parking garages and supermarkets...

Contents:
Acknowledgments; Introduction; Stores; Restaurants, Bars, and Nightclubs; Buildings and Streetscapes; Transportation; Products and Companies; Sports, Arts, Entertainment, and Media; Oregon Centennial Exposition; Bibliography

The book starts off with a brief history of Portland spanning the years from the 1840's through around the year 2000.  You learn that Portland was very well-known for "shanghai-ing" sailors as forced labor on ocean voyages.  You pass out in a bar, and you wake up at sea, unable to escape until the voyage was completed.  Companies started, grew, died, moved...  Exposition grounds had a history of serving as assembly areas for Japanese internment camps.  World War II Liberty ships were produced in large numbers in local shipyards, and an entire city, Vanport, was built around that industry.  Unfortunately, Vanport was wiped out when a levy broke and flooded 18500 home in less than an hour.  After the history lesson, it's on to the pictures and images of days gone by.  Stores such as Meier and Frank with horse and carriages out front.  It's now a Macy's.  Corno's Food Market, complete with huge fruit cutouts adorning the building (I remember those).  It's now been torn down.  Restaurants such as Waddle's right before you cross the I-5 bridge, with the famous clock and duck sign.  It closed in 2004 for a Krispy Kreme shop, but ended up as a Hooter's instead.  sigh...

There are images from Portland Wrestling, back in the days before the WWE (yes, I watched it every Saturday night).  Wrestlers like Jesse Ventura and Rowdy Roddy Piper got their start here.  There are all the old theaters that lined Broadway Street, such as the Oriental, the Broadway, the Fox, and the Orpheum.  All are gone under those names, and only the Orpheum survived with major renovations to become a performing arts center.  There's even the landmark location about a quarter mile from my house...  the Steigerwald Dairy Company building that was in the shape of a milk bottle.  It was remodeled as a 7-Up facility, then the bottle was enclosed to put a large 7-Up sign on the top.  That recently gave way to, of all things, a Budweiser logo.  Double sigh...

There are also some glimpses into how culture forces change.  There was a chain of restaurants based out of Utah called the Coon Chicken Inn.  One opened about a mile away from my house in 1930, and the buildings all sported a blackface character's head as a huge part of the entrance.  Obviously as time progressed, that stereotype became far less acceptable, and the restaurant closed in 1959.  I'm sure the same could be said for the Sambo's restaurant chain.  The "Little Black Sambo" character became unacceptable, and even altering the basic advertising didn't keep it from closing down to the point of only the original restaurant still remaining.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and there were only a few places where the information attached to the picture was incorrect.  I also could have done with fewer matchbook cover pictures in the restaurant section, but I guess it's hard to find pictures of some restaurants that were part of larger buildings.  The book also screamed for a follow-up that would attempt to place the photographer at the same place today, taking the same picture at the same angle.  Perhaps that'll be a photo project in all my spare time...  :)

07/23/2008

Book Review - Maker's Notebook

Category Book Review - Maker's Notebook

A picture named M2

Ok...  this might be the most unusual book review I've ever done.  I'm about to review a book consisting of...  blank pages.  Ah, but what blank pages they are!  :)  It's the Maker's Notebook by O'Reilly Publishing and the staff at MAKE magazine.  I was given this as a gift from a friend, and I don't think she could have given me something that appeals more to me on so many levels.

The Maker's Notebook is designed to be a durable, long-lasting lab notebook for your projects and experimentations.  As stated in one of the chemistry books I reviewed, it's imperative that you document your work in such a way that it's reproducible as well as leaving a chain of evidence of what you did to get to the final result.  While you can do this with a number of blank notebooks, the Maker's Notebook fills the need in a classy way.  It's hardbound, so the durability will be better than something with a light cardboard cover.  The pages inside consist of graph paper with room at the top for project/idea, date, notes/signature, and a place to record the starting and ending page(s) of the experiment notes.  And since each page is numbered, there's never any question as to whether pages have been removed or not.  Beyond those core features, there's a touch of the practical and whimsical.  There's a built-in ruler on the inside cover that's handy, and the last dozen or so pages have "important" reference information...  common weights and measures (and conversion factors), area codes and international calling codes, common glue bonds, the robot laws and rules, caffeine amounts in common caffeinated drinks, common English to 1337 character substitutions, and so forth.  Throw in a ribbon to mark your place, a rubber band to hold the book tight and hold loose items,  and stickers to brand pages and/or the cover, and you have a complete tool for documentation.  There's even a white space on the edge binding so you can write a title and still read it on a bookshelf!

I'll admit I'm a junkie for these types of things.  Clean, empty pages...  waiting to be filled...  so many promises.  In this particular case, I plan on using my notebook to take notes as I learn about my new digital SLR camera.  I was convinced even before this arrived that I needed to take notes to become good at photography.  Now I have the perfect place to put them.  

My guess is that even though this is the first Maker's Notebook I have, it won't be my last...

07/21/2008

New studies highlight the potential downsides of SharePoint

Category Microsoft

From All About Microsoft: New studies highlight the potential downsides of SharePoint

I find it rather interesting that SharePoint is being accused of the same problem that Microsoft accuses Notes of...  proliferation of applications in an out-of-control fashion.

SharePoint is one of Microsoft’s crown jewels. Microsoft is touting the fact that SharePoint generated $1 billion in revenues for Microsoft last year. At Microsoft’s recent Worldwide Partner Conference, company officials said they expect partners to generate $5 billion in SharePoint-related services revenues for themselves in the coming year.

But it’s not all roses on the SharePoint front — especially when it comes to the growing trend by customers to use SharePoint not just as a set of loosely integrated applications, but as a development platform in its own right. A couple of new studies highlight the potential risks of which customers should be aware when betting big on SharePoint.

The Forrester report includes some pithy warnings about the potential risks of uncontrolled growth of customized SharePoint applications. From the report’s executive summary:

    “(A)s many shops are discovering, SharePoint is also a development platform that people both inside and outside of IT use to create intranets, outward-facing portals, electronic forms, workflows, and even dashboards. The promise of SharePoint: Your organization will be able to create and deploy collaboration applications faster and give businesspeople productive new tools. The pitfalls: SharePoint can add new unplanned demands as your teams fill the product’s gaps in application life-cycle management and enterprise integration and as they create policies to prevent a new chaos of usergenerated applications.”

SharePoint’s customizability and rich feature set is a blessing and a curse for many customers. Forrester noted that “SharePoint is a pure Microsoft server stack that closes off any opportunities to substitute third-party databases, Web servers, and other products for Microsoft components,” Forrester cautioned. In addition, the Enterprise Edition of SharePoint, which includes many of the advanced app-development features, “can add $200 per user to your budget,” the report’s authors noted.

With power comes responsibility...  Yes, your users *can* create their own Notes and SharePoint applications.  And yes, you will have a number of them that will be built in a haphazard fashion, become mission-critical, and end up back in the hands of IT to "support".  Unfortunately, that what happens when you make something that can be "programmed" without programming.  It happened with Access, it happens with Notes, it will continue to happen with SharePoint.  

And then, IBM will be touting a conversion package to move SharePoint apps to Notes/Domino, because only about 15 - 20% of the SharePoint applications in your organization are actually used.  The rest are abandoned or obsolete...  <only slight sarcasm there />

07/21/2008

Had to pick up one more .me domain I uncovered today... proveitto.me

Category Everything Else

Now if I can find a couple companies to buy it and youwantapieceof.me from me for a bit o'cash...  :)

07/20/2008

Book Review - Google Apps Hacks by Philipp Lenssen

Category Book Review Philipp Lenssen Google Apps Hacks

A picture named M2

I happily take advantage of a number of Google applications such as Gmail, iGoogle, Google Calendar, and a few other things.  But there's more to the Google Apps family than that, and I know I'm not getting all I can out of the offerings.  After going through Google Apps Hacks by Philipp Lenssen, I have a number of new tricks to try out both on stuff I already use as well as a few other apps.  Fun stuff!

Contents:
Meet The Google Docs Family; The Google Docs Family - Google Documents; The Google Docs Family - Google Spreadsheets; The Google Docs Family - Google Presentation; Become a Gmail Power User; Customize Your Google Home Page; Manage Your Events With Google Calendar; Keep Up On News With Google Reader; Manage Your Photos And Videos With Picasa and YouTube; Create Your Own Home Page, Blog, or Group; Dive Into Google Maps, Google Earth, and Sketchup 3D; Google Analytics And Beyond - Market Your Site, Track Visitors
Credits; Index

This book follows the same format as other O'Reilly Hack titles.  For each of the chapters, you get a number of tricks, or "hacks", that show  you how to do things that may not be intuitively obvious.  There's a difficulty meter after each hack title that gives you a clue as to whether its something that is easy to pull off or something that takes a degree of technical skill.  The first couple of hacks in each chapter tend to be introductory in nature.  They explain the package and get you started.  For instance, the first hack in the first chapter is "How to Get Your Google Account".  Likewise, the first hack in the iGoogle chapter has you adding Google tools to your iGoogle home page.  The hacks get more in-depth after that, such as "Backing Up Your Email" or "Create Google Maps Overlays On the Fly".  I personally was intrigued by some of the possibilities in the Google Spreadsheets area.  "Add Live Data to Your Spreadsheet" was interesting, as was "Automatically Complete Lists of Related Items".  That one is completely unexpected, and shows the power of integration with the Google search engine results.  There's also a way to import data from web sites into a Google spreadsheet.  That has some particular interest for a project I'd like to do.  Finally, there was a *really* cool hack to show how to track packages via RSS using Google Reader.  That one will be getting some significant use with my next Amazon order...

As with all Hacks titles, some items will be absolute gems for you, while others will hold no interest.  That's OK, and it's to be expected.  All it takes is one or two hacks to make a radical change in the way you do things.  In terms of usefulness, Google Apps Hacks ranks up there with the best of the Hacks titles.

07/20/2008

Book Review - Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort, Second Edition by Steven Van Yoder

Category Book Review Steven Van Yoder Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort (2nd Edition)


A picture named M2

How is it that a few select people are able to attract attention from others in ways that increase their business opportunities?  It's because they've mastered the art of becoming "slightly famous".  Think of it as using networking in ways you never thought of before.  Steven Van Yoder covers this in his book Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort, Second Edition.  Even if you're not running your own business, this book will more than pay for itself in turning you into someone who is considered an "expert" in your chosen field.

Contents:
Preface: How to Break Out of the Anonymity Trap
Part 1 - The Center of Your Universe: Just a Little Fame Will Do; Aim For a Target; The Brand Is You; Thought Leadership
Part 2 - Media Strategies: Media Strategies That Work; Attracting Media Attention; Getting an Article into Print; Broadcast Media
Part 3 - Reaching Out in All Directions: The Slightly Famous Website; Marketing in A Virtual World - Internet and Web 2.0 Strategies; Stand and Deliver - Speaking Strategies; Info-Products - Create Multiple Income Streams; Strategic Partnerships; Reach Out and Connect; Keeping in Touch with Newsletters; Cause Marketing - Doing Well By Doing Good
Index

You know the people...  colleagues (or competitors) who are always in demand as speakers, consultants, writers, or sources for articles.  Is it because they know absolutely more than anyone else on a given subject?  Usually not.  It's more because they've become "slightly famous" in their niche by making themselves known and available via various channels.  Van Yoder covers the essentials of setting yourself up in this way.  Part 1 of the book sets the groundwork for determining what it is that you want to be known for, and how best to position yourself as a person who is an authority on that subject.  Once you've determined your niche and subject matter, you can use his techniques to start building your name as a brand in the marketplace.  You don't need to become a household name to everyone on the planet.  What you *do* need to do is start putting your name out there in your niche as someone who has valuable information, who can be trusted to share that information, and who is accessible.  Once you start down that path, the rest of the book covers various ways that you can make this work in different channels, such as becoming an industry speaker or writer, becoming a person turned to for news stories, or making your knowledge available in audio/visual/written form for purchase.  Once you start building up a little momentum (i.e., becoming "slightly famous"), the exposure starts to build a life of its own, and you're attracting business in ways you never thought possible.

While I'm not an independent businessperson or a consultant, I *am* someone who needs a certain level of exposure in my field in order to take advantage of various opportunities that come up.  I fortunately did a number of things correctly up to this point, but with Van Yoder's book I can take it even further.  Get Slightly Famous is one of those books that will cause you to rethink how you view yourself within your industry or community, and if followed it will lead you down paths that will surprise you.  

07/20/2008

Book Review - Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith

Category Book Review Alexander McCall Smith Espresso Tales

A picture named M2

Following my enjoyment of 44 Scotland Street, I picked up a copy of Alexander McCall Smith's sequel titled Espresso Tales.  Still the same quirky characters as 44 Scotland Street, and still more of a "slice of life" book with no overall driving plotline.  Fortunately, it's still a lot of fun following the players as their pompous attitudes and actions get pricked and deflated...

Bertie is in a major rebellion phase against his overbearing mother Irene.  She's still trying to make progress with his psychotherapy, but she's more interested in the therapist than Bertie is.  Bertie's father also figures out that he's failed his son in terms of standing up to mom, and is determined to reverse that trend and give Bertie a normal boyhood.  But to do that, he has to disassemble Irene's "Bertie Project" against her will.

Bruce is convinced that he's ready to open a wine shop and become the next great wine merchant.  Ah, but he needs money to do that.  He manipulates a long-time wimpish friend (George) to join him in the idea and front the cash.  Bruce plunges in thinking he knows everything, but as usual he's completely clueless as to what people really think of him.  As the store gets closer to opening, he's in for a few surprises.

Pat has decided to attend Edinburgh University and stay at 44 Scotland Street.  Her father loves this idea, as he's grown quite close to his daughter.  Domenica manuvers Pat into a date with a coffee house waiter by the name of Peter.  She's somewhat uncertain about Peter on a number of different levels, and his invitation to attend a nudist picnic with him doesn't help much.  Domenica, on the other hand, is getting antsy for her next great adventure, and decides that a new study abroad is what she needs.

Matthew is surprising everyone by actually turning a profit at the art gallery.  He still holds a candle for Pat, but Pat really doesn't see him in that same light.  Matthew's world gets thrown into a complete tizzy when his father announces that he's dating someone who he intends to marry.  Matthew's convinced that Janis is just out to get his father's money, and makes his objections pretty clear.  But all is not as it seems, and he's in for a few surprises along the way.

And for the fans of Angus and Big Lou, they have their own adventures also...

Although I'm not a fan of "reality TV", I do enjoy the occasional book that goes down that path.  The characters of 44 Scotland Street are so engaging and quirky that it's hard not to want to watch their lives unfold.  Along the way, you see reality that's obvious to everyone except the person who's living it.  Makes you wonder how much of that is in our own lives.  I'm in possession of the 3rd installment, and I'm looking forward to starting it.  The way this book ends makes you wonder how this cast of characters will be able to stay together...

07/19/2008

Book Review - Innovator's Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work

Category Book Review Innovator's Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work Scott D. Anthony Mark W. Johnson Joseph V. Sinfield Elizabeth J. Altman

A picture named M2

I've read a number of books on innovation, both on a personal and business level.  Always looking to find that "edge"...  In the book The Innovator's Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work by Scott D. Anthony, Mark W. Johnson, Joseph V. Sinfield, and Elizabeth J. Altman, the authors present a methodology for making disruptive innovation part of your company's culture.  Along the way, I had my thoughts twisted a bit as to how best to disrupt the standard playing field, while not going head-to-head with the giants right from the beginning...

Contents:
Introduction: Your Guide to Growth; Precursors to Innovation
Part 1 - Identify Opportunities: Identifying Nonconsumers; Identifying Overshot Customers; Identifying Jobs to Be Done
Part 2 - Formulate and Shape Ideas: Developing Disruptive Ideas; Assessing a Strategy's Fit with a Pattern
Part 3 - Build the Business: Mastering Emergent Strategies; Assembling and Managing Project Teams
Part 4 - Build Capabilities: Organizing to Innovate; Innovation Metrics
Conclusion
Appendix - Frequently Asked Questions; Notes; Index; About the Authors

As you can tell from the list of chapters, the authors cover everything from identifying ideas and potential products that would be disruptive clear through to the end where you have a formal organization that can grow and repeat successes in that area.  Given their experience in the field, you avoid making mistakes that are all too common and sound correct, but end up being wrong.  For instance, companies have a tendency to throw massive amounts of resources and capital behind a new idea or product that will "revolutionize the industry".  The problem is that everyone becomes committed to the initial design and plan, and no thought is given to learning and prototyping along the way.  The end result is often a product that completely misses the mark in terms of what people want.  But by then, so many millions have been sunk into the design that you can't easily go back.  The book instead advocates for quick trials and cheap prototypes without large amounts of funding.  That forces creativity and smaller experiments, and permits course changes along the way.  Only after you get actual feedback do you commit larger resources to it.  But by then, you should know the outcome or have a solid idea as to market acceptance.

For me, I was most interested in the first part of the book.  The concept of "overshot customers" was one I hadn't heard of in quite those terms.  These are the people who don't need or can't use all the high-end performance built into the product(s) being offered, and are actually looking for something far less.  To them, "less" becomes "perfect".  Why pay for 100% of a product when all you really need is 10% of it?  The other 90% is of no use to you.  This is also linked to the concept of "nonconsumers".  These are the people who don't use your product (or any product being offered) due to constraints of skill, wealth, access, or time.  If you can identify these consumers and serve them, you have an entry into the market that can disrupt the incumbents.  Finally, I was also intrigued by the concept of "jobs to be done".  It's the adage of "people don't buy drills, they buy holes".  If you rethink your product as a service that people are hiring you to do, then you can think beyond the boundaries.  An example would be the lowly mop.  Not much to do differently there.  But if you think that people are hiring you (the mop maker) to clean the house, then you look at the product differently.  In this case, it led to the Swiffer line of dust mop accessories.  Less effort, easier cleanup, and the job is done more quickly.  Hence, people "hire" your product as the superior choice.  Interesting concepts...

This is a book that deserves to be sitting on the shelf of management in all companies.  Actually, it shouldn't be on the shelf.  It should be in the briefcases and backpacks being read...

07/19/2008

Random Saturday thoughts...

Category Random

The wife and I went to see Dark Knight yesterday.  In terms of plot and substance, I don't think it was one of the better ones.  In fact, 10 to 15 minutes in, I was thinking that it was rather slow and wasn't up to the hype.  But Heath Ledger as The Joker...  wow!  I know people had been talking Oscar for this one, and I thought (mistakenly) that it was due to his death.  Hey, if you want to be a legend, die at the top of your game (or on the ascent).  But an Oscar for this performance would be a no-brainer.  Ledger *became* the character, and in my opinion made the movie far more than it would have been otherwise.  It's definitely not a "feel good" movie, as it's extremely dark and disturbing (and unfortunately has some elements of truth tucked away in there).  We'll probably have to follow it up with something lighter, like Mamma Mia.  :)

Also, I joined in on the .me domain scramble.  Of course, all the good ones are taken, like bite.me, kiss.me, and so on.  Phrases that end in the word "me" are just about as difficult to find.  But I *did* come up with one that really surprised me in terms of being available...

http://youwantapieceof.me/

I don't have a clue as to what I'll do with it.  Perhaps some mixed martial arts federation or a self-defense company will make me an offer on it.  Can't say that I wouldn't consider it.  :)

07/17/2008

Book Review - Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely: Making Intelligent Choices in America's Healthcare System by Dr. Davis Liu

Category Book Review Dr. Davis Liu Stay Healthy Live Longer Spend Wisely: Making Intelligent Choices in America's Healthcare System

A picture named M2

It seems as if navigating America's health care system continues to get more complex with each passing year.  Dr. Davis Liu's book, Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely: Making Intelligent Choices in America's Healthcare System, presents a practical guide to how best to steer your way to an excellent relationship with your health care professionals while not going bankrupt in the process.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Most Important Policy You Will Ever Own: Health Insurance, Savings Accounts, and Cost; Consumer Driven Health Plans (CDHPS), Health Savings Accounts (HSAS), and Personal Responsibility; The Quality of Your Health Insurance Matters!; Do Your Homework. Question Everything and Pay Nothing (Right Away); You're On Your Own; Health Care Costs - How Much Does It Cost For Procedures and Tests?
Part 2 - Mastering the Ten-Minute Doctor Office Visit: The Importance of a Medical History; Providing The Perfect History; Know Yourself - Your Personal Medical History; Make Every Office Visit Count; Informed Consent - Is It OK With You?; Don't See Your Doctor
Part 3 - Do The Right Thing Regularly and Repeatedly: The Prudent Approach To Staying Healthy; American Cancer Society; Cancer Guidelines for Women; Cancer Guidelines for Men; Cancer Guidelines for Women and Men; American Heart Association (AHA); American Diabetes Association (ADA); U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF); Immunizations and Vaccinations; Happy Birthday to You; Denied Coverage? Reimbursement Letter
Part 4 - Meet Your Medical Team: Your Health Advisors - Physicians; Internists and Family Physicians; Specialists; Medical Specialties; Surgical Specialties; Other Primary Care Fields; Other Specialties; What's the Deal with DOs (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine)?; Other Providers; Office Settings
Part 5 - The Truth About Medications: The Magic Pills; Generic and Branded Medications - What's The Difference?; Partnering With Your Doctor - Having a Frank Discussion; Making Sense of Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications
Part 6 - Caveat Emptor, Or "Let the Buyer Beware": Concierge Care; Body Scans; Herbal and Dietary Supplements
Part 7 - Twenty-First Century Medical Care: Looking Forward - Trends Redefining Health Care; Hospitalists; Group Visits; Evidence-Based Medicine
Part 8 - Take Control - Excellent Health Pays: Self-Serve Health Care; Stay Healthy; Using the Internet for Research; The Future of America's Health Care
Appendix - Referenced Web Sites; Notes; Index

Dr. Liu has created an excellent guide that covers virtually all the moving parts of the American health care system that you as a consumer will deal with.  Even better, he does so without pushing an overt agenda or offering some "secret method" for making it all work.  He acknowledges that the system can be confusing and frustrating, but knowledge is key in making effective choices.  He's big on making sure you have your own version of a personal health record that you can quickly present to a doctor to summarize your health history.  Given the current focus on electronic personal medical records, this makes a lot of sense.  He also ends each section with a "Take-Home Points" summary, a convenient list of action items that reinforce all the information just covered as well as making it easy to put into action the points you just learned.  There are also a number of sidebar insets throughout the pages that highlight certain key points in a sentence or two, making it easy to skim back through the book to pick up the pertinent facts.

This is a book I'd have no problem recommending to someone trying to get a grasp on making sense of the health care maze in America.  That should include just about everyone.  It's balanced, practical, and deals with reality instead of a nirvana that doesn't exist.  Nice job...

07/16/2008

Book Review - Odd Hours by Dean Koontz

Category Book Review Dean Koontz Odd Hours

So my name finally came up on the library hold list for Dean Koontz's Odd Hours novel, the latest installment of the Odd Thomas character.  While I found it an enjoyable way to kill a few hours, I felt it was a bit light on plot but was rescued by Koontz's ability with dialogue and creative writing.

Thomas finds himself in Magic Beach, a very small California coastal community.  He's been drawn there by a haunting dream of red tides and incredible light over the ocean.  He's not sure what it all means, but he's learned to just go with the flow and let things come to him in their own time.  He happens to meet up with a young girl on the boardwalk, and their conversation turns very surreal and ethereal.  But things get real when a small group of thugs decide to harass him and the girl.  She's able to flee, and Odd jumps into the ocean to escape them.  That's not the end of it all, however.  The leader of the group comes looking for him in an inflatable boat, and Odd has to try and disappear among the pilings.  Turns out more than just the leader is looking for him, and Odd's not sure who he can trust or whether he should just get out of town.  But the girl and the dream keep driving him to find answers, and soon he's the last line of defense between terrorists and the death of millions.

On the positive side, Koontz has a way with words.  Rarely in a novel do I have to look up words I've never even heard of before.  That's always a bit refreshing.  He's also able to breathe life into the Odd Thomas character in a way that few novelists are able to do.  The scenes are detailed and precise, and the book plays out as a movie in my head when I'm reading.  On the other hand, the plot seems to be secondary to the writing at times.  For instance, a significant amount of time is spent on the pier escape.  Detailed scene, but it seemed to go on forever.  Had it been someone of lesser skill, I'd probably have gone into skim mode.  I can't help myself, however.  I just love watching Koontz weave words together like he does.

If you haven't read any of the other Odd Thomas novels, you'll miss a bit in terms of Odd's special "gifts".  The Sinatra subplot makes much more sense when you've gone through the Elvis experience in the prior installments.  As I'm a fan of Koontz and Odd Thomas, I liked the read.  But I don't think it's the best Odd Thomas story of his lot...

07/13/2008

Will Americans ever "sacrifice" again?

Category Everything Else

A picture named M2

Back in the 40's, World War II was something that galvanized our country in a way that I don't believe has been seen since.  It was considered patriotic to sacrifice your own needs so that more material could be allocated to the troops overseas.  Goods were rationed, and people were encouraged to buy war bonds to finance the effort.

These days, the average citizen is completely disconnected from any "war effort" that may be going on.  Other than to follow the news and have opinions as to the rightness/wrongness of it all, nothing much changes in the lives of John Doe, unless Mr. Doe was called up from the National Guard and Ms. Doe and children are now left on their own.  There's no thought as to conserving for the war effort, nor do we give financially in a way that ties directly to the war effort.  Yes, I know we give in terms of "national debt", but it's not as if we go out and buy bonds like they did back then.

I'm curious...  will America ever voluntarily sacrifice like that again?  Will there ever be a movement in our culture that calls upon everyone to pitch in and contribute to a greater good?  Is there any connection any more to what we spend/do and what the government does?  Or do we all just assume that the government will spend as they please, and we really don't need to do anything different?  Could it be that we've not had an enemy since World War II that *truly* threatens our shores with armed conflict and battle?  Or have we just become so jaded and cynical as a society that we really are more concerned about "getting ours" than "giving to others"?

Just one of those things that always run through my mind when I see photos from the 40's, and try to imagine how Americans would react to being told they *had* to ration goods in order to win a war somewhere.  

07/12/2008

Book Review - Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent by Fred Burton

Category Book Review Fred Burton Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent

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I got on the library hold list early for the book Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent by Fred Burton.  From the standpoint of a "been there, done that" memoir, it's a good read.  You get a feel for how difficult it is to fight terrorism on a global basis.  But the book loses a bit when it comes to style and storyline.  It seems to be building up to something that never quite happens.

Contents:
Part 1 - Rookie Year: The Buried Bodies; Down the Rabbit Hole; Night Train; The Dark World's Redheaded Stepchildren; Chasing Shadows; No Space Between Black and White; The Mad Dog of the Middle East; Two Hits for El Dorado Canyon; Human Poker Chips; One More Gold Star; The Gray Hell of Wait and Hope; The Stench of Good Intentions; Shipwreck; The Beer Hall Encounter
Part 2 - The Veteran: Little Italy; Mice; Threat Matrix; The Bronze Star Assassin; PAK-1 Down; Night Flight; In Country; Pakistani Two-Step; One Hour to Nowheresville; The Buffet at the End of the World; Puzzle Pieces; The Perfect Murder; Autumn Leaves; Two-Minute Free Fall
Part 3 - War Weary: Street Dance; The Colonel's Revelations; Watching the Watchers; The World's Most-Wanted Man; Deadly Equation; Money Changes Everything; Finale In Pakistan; Lillybrook
Epilogue - Brotherhood of the Badge; Author's Note; Acknowledgments

Burton's story begins in 1986 when he was assigned to the Diplomatic Security Service's (DSS) small Counter-Terrorism Division.  It was made up of a whopping three people, two of whom were brand new, and all the work was manual and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants.  Imagine everything being paper files, tons of filing cabinets, and all the growing institutional knowledge of terrorism in certain areas being all in the head of one or two people.  Burton was quickly crowned the Middle East "expert" and as such became deeply involved in terrorist activities in Beirut, Iran, Iraq, India, and Pakistan, just to name a few.  As major terror figures like Abu Nidal and Ramzi Yusef carried out their plans, Burton and his small (but growing) team tried to anticipate, warn, prevent, and ultimately capture (or kill) these criminals.  His front-row perspective on these events makes you realize that luck and chance plays a much bigger role than you'd like to believe or admit.  It really is a wonder that more events like the first World Trade Center bombing don't happen...

While I found the material interesting, I struggled with the style and pacing of his story.  90% of all the action takes place in the mid-80's with the kidnappings and air bombings.  Any one of those incidents could be a full book in itself, so by necessity he can't go as deep as you might like.  He's writing in as "as it happens" style, so there are times you feel as if you already know the outcome of the story since the major players may have already been caught/jailed/killed.  Part 3 jumps to the mid-90's and gets a bit more personal as to what the job has cost him, but the gap doesn't necessarily bring you further along in the DSS story.  And for all intents and purposes, it end in 1994.  Nothing much on why he left, why he joined a private security firm, and so on.  For a book written in 2008 and for a topic very much in the forefront of today's headlines, the 15 year gap from then to now just screams to be addressed somehow.  Maybe it's all classified or he's forbidden from writing about later events, but how do you not even touch on 9/11 and the full impact it had on his agency or his private firm?  

I would still recommend this as a good read if only to understand the battle that goes on in The Dark World.  Just don't expect to come away with a full up-to-the-minute analysis of where we are today.

07/07/2008

A minor ND6.5 to ND8 migration issue I ran into today...

Category IBM/Lotus

We're getting close to the point of upgrading all our app servers to 8.0.1.  Overall, we've seen little in the way of issues that would keep us from taking the final step to get all the servers in our environment upgraded.  But I *did* run across something today on a Domino web application that forced a minor code cleanup.

In a few of our larger internal web sites, I had subforms that handle CGI fields and CSS code.  Those subforms were nested in another subform that contained the navigation header code.  But in a few of the forms, we also placed the subforms in the form itself.  Just one of those things you don't notice at the time, given the apps have grown and evolved over the last five to seven years.

In ND6.5.5, having a duplicate subform is not a cause for concern when Domino renders the document.  ND8.0.1?  Not so forgiving...  I placed the app on the test server and called up the main URL.  Server error 500.  That sent me to the log file to see what Domino choked on.  Fortunately, the log.nsf file was very clear about the fact there was a duplicate subform that was NOT allowed.  A quick examination of the form and subforms revealed what the problem was, and I was able to make the necessary changes in test for production turnover later this month.  That should avoid the problem occuring during the cutover.  (Yay!)

I thought I'd just throw this out on the blog in case anyone else is looking for stupid developer tricks that may affect your migration from 6.5 to 8.  

07/07/2008

Book Review - How to Be a Complete and Utter Failure in Life, Work & Everything: 44 1/2 Steps to Lasting Underachievement by Steve McDermott

Category Book Review Steve McDermott How to Be a Complete and Utter Failure in Life Work & Everything: 44 1/2 Steps to Lasting Underachievement

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Yes, I like self-improvement books as it only takes one or two ideas to radically change your approach and effectiveness in life.  But if you read enough of them, it's a bit too easy to skim over certain things thinking "heard that, done that."  Steve McDermott throws a curve ball in the genre by writing a book titled How to Be a Complete and Utter Failure in Life, Work & Everything: 44 1/2 Steps to Lasting Underachievement.  Obviously, you know you're going to get improvement tips, but the framing of them in the negative helps to slow you down a bit...

McDermott's book consists of 44.5 chapters, or "steps", on how to continue along the same path of failure that the vast amount of people tread on a daily basis.  So you start out with things like "Don't decide what you want.  If you do decide what you want, don't think about why you want it.  And if you do decide why you want it, commit to believing you can't have it."  "Don't have any goals" is a pretty common theme for the less-than-stellar achievers in life, as is "Don't stop being an unthinking dog."  Each step contains the negative exhortation, followed by a quote to avoid, details on why it's important not to do this particular step, and ending with actions not to take.  The simple act of flipping the dominant idea from "do" to "don't" is enough to make you think a bit more about what he's actually telling you to do.  Couple that with his very humorous writing style, and this book is not only useful but fun.

The only thing I found a bit strange/odd/difficult was the constant changing from the negative to the positive tense.  Most of the chapter explains why that opposite reaction is used to accomplish greater things and be more effective.  But he often changes from a "this is why this works" to a "so don't do it" so quickly that it makes for a difficult narrative flow.  I still like the overall negative/positive angle, but you do have to work at some of the transitions to avoid thinking that you perhaps really *shouldn't* do what he's telling you not to do.

A fun read, well worth working through, especially for those who have an aversion to these types of books.  At least if you fail, you'll have someone to look up to now.  :)

07/07/2008

Book Review - Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength by Diana McLain Smith

Category Book Review Diana McLain Smith Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength

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Divide Or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict Into Strength by Diana McLain Smith opened my eyes as to why business and personal relationships can start out so strong and then seemingly self-destruct for "no reason".  Once you understand the structure and pattern of this event, you can start to take steps to correct it.

Contents:
Part 1 - Understanding Relationships: The Life and Death of a Relationship; The Anatomy of a Relationship; The Key to Resilience
Part 2 - Transforming Relationships: Disrupting Patterns of Interaction; Reframe How You See Each Other; Revise What You "Know" to Be True
Part 3 - Making Change Practical: Focus the Change Effort; Choose the Right Strategy; Motivate Change
Part 4 - Relational Sensibilities: Sensibilities for a Change;
Appendices: Appendix A - A Thinking Person's Guide to Behavioral Repertoires; Appendix B - The Ladder of Reflection
Acknowledgments; Notes; Bibliography; Illustration Credits; Index

The problem makes sense once you have it pointed out to you...  It's a circular pattern of "how X acts, how Y frames things, how Y acts, how X frames things."  The author uses John Scully and Steve Jobs as a prime example of this.  When they both met each other and started out, they unconsciously chose to see only the parts of their personalities that they were focused on bringing into the partnership.  Scully had the professionalism that Jobs needed and wanted, while Jobs had the enthusiasm that Scully admired.  But as time went on, these same traits started to be perceived differently.  Scully was acting as the coach and mentor, making exceptions for Jobs' failures.  Jobs saw Scully as an indulgent father figure who was to pleased.  Jobs then acted like the spoiled child, begging forgiveness to get back in Scully's good graces, but never making permanent changes.  Scully was framing Jobs as the prince/king of Apple, and felt he had to maintain discipline.  Over a relatively short period of time, this cycle led to Scully's failure and ouster from Apple as Jobs consolidated power and left Scully out of the loop.

Using a more down-to-earth scenario, she then takes you through this same type of spiral and shows how the simple act of stepping back, acknowledging there are other forces at play, and then asking how the other person is really feeling can bring the spiral to an abrupt halt.  Once both parties understand the loop they've gotten themselves into, as well as the false assumptions they're making, then they can both choose to approach the relationship from a point of reality instead of assumptions.

Granted, this isn't an easy "do this, this, and this" process, and both sides have to be willing to open up and be vulnerable.  But if you're dealing with a number of poisoned relationships at your job, Divide Or Conquer could be the first step to regaining control.

07/06/2008

Product Review - Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth Headset

Category Product Review Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth Headset

Through Amazon's Vine program, I recently received a review unit of the Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth Headset.  Never having used (or had to use) a hands-free headset, I was interested to see how easy it would be to interface to my iPhone.  Overall, I'm impressed with the unit for ease of use as well as ease of interface.  But I'm still not completely comfortable with the unit just sitting in my ear.  I keep expecting it to fall out at any time.

A picture named M2

After a couple hours of charging via the USB power cord, I turned it on with a quick push of the earpiece.  Then with my iPhone, I switched into Bluetooth discovery mode and instantly found the Plantronics device.  I entered the password of 0000 to complete the pairing, and I was off and running.  The iPhone automatically threw control over to the headset for incoming calls, and tapping the headpiece control button brought up the keypad for dialing.  As a test of the sound quality, I dial the Jott message service and left myself a short message with a bit of background noise.  Jott was able to properly use its speech recognition to decipher the message and send it to me via email.  In terms of hearing, it was actually better than having the iPhone plastered against the side of my head.  If I were going to be on a call for any length of time using my iPhone, I'd definitely want to be using the Plantronics headset.

The only drawback is the way it fits in the ear.  I'm used to seeing headsets that clip over the ear, so I was curious as to how snug this would feel with it just sitting there without external support.  I had to switch from the medium size clear plastic gel tip to the large size, as medium definitely felt like it was falling out.  Even with the large, it was hard to trust that it would stay there.  If you had too much head motion, I'm not sure how the grip would hold.  This is probably one of those things that just takes some getting used to.  I'll have to see how it works out over time.

Would this replace my iPhone earbuds at $150?  Probably not.  I'm not that tethered to my cell phone.  But if you spend time in the car where it's illegal (or should be) to be holding a cell phone while driving, this would be an ideal way to stay reachable without worrying about wires getting in your way...

07/06/2008

Book Review - More Joel on Software: Further Thoughts on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and ... Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity by Joel Spolsky

Category Book Review Joel Spolsky More Joel on Software: Further Thoughts on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers Designers and ... Luck Work with Them in Some Capacity

If you're a fan of the website Joel On Software, you will enjoy having so many of his postings in a single volume.  More Joel on Software: Further Thoughts on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and ... Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity by Joel Spolsky takes a number of his blog postings over the last six years and presents in a context that was unavailable as they unfold over time.  This aspect of book over blog allows him to consolidate thoughts or explain the evolution of concepts that he's experienced as one of the A-list bloggers in the tech community.

Contents:
Part 1 - Managing People: My first BillG Review; Finding Great Developers; A Field Guide to Developers; Three Management Methods (Introduction); The Command and Control Management Method; The Econ 101 Management Method; The Identity Management Method
Part 2 - Advice to Potential Programmers: The Perils of JavaSchools; Talk at Yale; Advice for Computer Science College Students
Part 3 - The Impact of Design: Font Smoothing, Anti-Aliasing, and Subpixel Rendering; A Game of Inches; The Big Picture; Choices = Headaches; It's Not Just Usability; Building Communities with Software
Part 4 - Managing Large Projects: Martian Headsets; Why Are the Microsoft Office File Formats So Complicated? (And Some Workarounds); Where There's Muck, There's Brass
Part 5 - Programming Advice: Evidence-Based Scheduling; Strategy Letter VI; Can Your Programming Language Do This?; Making Wrong Code Look Wrong
Part 6 - Starting a Software Business: Forward to Eric Sink on the Business of Software; Forward to Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality; Hitting the High Notes
Part 7 - Running a Software Business: Bionic Office; Up the Tata Without a Tutu; Simplicity; Rub a Dub Dub; Top Twelve Tips for Running a Beta Test; Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service
Part 8 - Releasing Software: Picking a Ship Date; Camels and Rubber Duckies
Part 9 - Revising Software: Five Whys; Set Your Priorities
Index

The thing that either resonates with or infuriates you about Spolsky is that he has very strong opinions that don't always mesh with the "common practice" of our industry.  For instance, he has some extremely defined ideas about what all programmers should be able to do, and most of them are only possible as the result of a computer science degree.  He only wants "great developers", and these developers are only going to come out of high-end college programs.  While he might only hire those who fall into that classification, the reality is that the industry is far more populated with solid and competent developers who don't work on code for software products that are designed to be released as saleable products.  He would consider a development job in a regular company a life of hell.  On the other hand, some of us like it.  :)  

But not all the topics are controversial.  Some articles shed light on common industry problems, like "Martian Headsets" (backward compatibility) and "Why Are The Microsoft Office File Formats So Complicated?".  It's easy to bash Microsoft for bloated and buggy software, but you start to understand a bit more after reading that last one.  With popularity comes legacy, and with legacy comes compatibility and general nastiness.  "Martian Headsets" also explains the "no win" situation Microsoft is in when it comes to IE8 and "standards".  They're raked for not supporting strict standards, yet most existing sites would fail to render under a browser that adhered to strict standards.  So do you bow to reality and accommodate quirks, or do you stick to ideals and break sites?  It's not an easy argument...

More Joel on Software is a book that will challenge you on a few things that you thought  you probably already knew.  You won't agree with him on everything, but it's always good to be forced to think...

07/05/2008

Book Review - Skylines: American Cities Yesterday and Today by M. Hill Goodspeed

Category Book Review M. Hill Goodspeed Skylines: American Cities Yesterday and Today

I've always been fascinated to old black-and-white photos, especially ones that show growth over time.  The book Skylines: American Cities Yesterday and Today by M. Hill Goodspeed is a visually stunning look at some major American cities, both early in their history, and how they look now.  The only drawback to the book...  it is *really* heavy!  :)

Contents:
The Northeast: New York; Hartford; Providence; Boston; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.
The Southeast: Richmond; Charlotte; Charleston; Atlanta; Savannah; Jacksonville; Tampa; Orlando; Miami
The Midwest: Chicago; Milwaukee; Madison; Minneapolis; St. Paul; Detroit; Cleveland; Columbus; Cincinnati; Indianapolis; St. Louis; Kansas City
South Central: Louisville; Nashville; Memphis; Little Rock; New Orleans; Dallas; Austin; San Antonio; Houston
The West: Denver; Salt Lake City; Las Vegas; Phoenix; San Diego; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Portland; Seattle; Honolulu

Most of the city chapters cover two double-page spreads.  The first two page combination gives a short history of the city, along with a number of black-and-white photos covering an earlier time in the city's history.  There's usually at least one panoramic black-and-white picture showing an early version of the skyline, as well as a hand-drawn map of the city, complete with minute details common to those early days of mapmaking.  Each of the photos has detailed captions that tell the viewer what they're seeing.  Turning the page gets you a full color panoramic picture of the current skyline, quite often shot at twilight or night.  The effect is a beautiful image of the city in all its splendor.  This color image is also annotated with a guide to all the major building that show up.

This is the true definition of a coffee-table book...  one that you'd place on your coffee-table for viewing by guests.  But in this case, you'll need the coffee-table just to hold the thing!  It's a foot and a half wide, and a foot high, with a weight tipping the scales over seven pounds.  The paper weight is heavy and high-quality, so you're assured of getting beautiful images.  Just don't expect to read this in bed propped up on your chest.  I tried...  it doesn't work.  :)

07/04/2008

Book Review - One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs

Category Book Review Michael Dobbs One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War

Like most Americans (or maybe not...), I knew that the Cuban Missile Crisis was a dangerous time in the history of our planet.  But until I read One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs, I don't think I fully understood how close we came to a full nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.  And the common wisdom of Kennedy being the "winner" of this confrontation doesn't capture the reality of how much luck, timing, and conviction played in the event.

Contents:
Americans; Russians; Cubans; "Eyeball to Eyeball"; "Till Hell Freezes Over"; Intel; Nukes; Strike First; Hunt for the Grozny; Shootdown, "Some Sonofabitch"; "Run Like Hell"; Cat and Mouse; "Crate and Return"; Afterword; Acknowledgments and a Note on Sources; Notes; Index

Conventional wisdom paints the Cuban Missile Crisis as a time where Kennedy stood firm over the placement of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuban soil.  He went "eye to eye" with Khrushchev, and Khrushchev blinked.  But Dobbs has exhaustively researched the event and paints a far different picture.  Khrushchev introduced both medium-range and tactical nukes into Cuba in order to show Russian superiority and to protect a fellow communist country from a potential US invasion.  This made Castro look invincible to himself and his people, and he welcomed the power they represented.  When US intel discovered the missiles, the international tension started to rise as Kennedy declared this unacceptable and demanded the removal of the weapons.  They also implemented a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent any more aid from showing up on the island.  With each passing day (and often each passing hour), the risk that one side or the other would launch an attack continued to grow.  Finally, through some backchannel negotiations and implicit promises, Khrushchev gave the order to crate up the missiles and send them back to Russia.  But at so many points, the outcome could have been so much different...

Castro was certain that a US invasion was imminent, and wanted Khrushchev to order a pre-emptive strike on the US.  The US kept up with overflights of the island to gather intel, and these overflights were seen as pre-invasion forays into Cuban airspace.  Soviet SAM sites shot down one spy plane over Cuba, and US military officials were demanding retaliation.  In fact, during the entire crisis, most US military officials were pushing for an invasion as well as launching a strike on Russian territory.  A US spy plane got lost on a polar flight, overflew Soviet territory, and nearly touched off an exchange right there.  While Khrushchev had started the confrontation, he recognized that no one could win in an all-out exchange.  And the first missile fired would make it impossible to turn back.  Kennedy recognized this also, and was doing all he could to hold off the hawks and give Khrushchev a way to back down while saving face.  In the end, Kennedy got the missiles removed, and Khrushchev got an assurance that Cuba would not be invaded, while also getting US nuclear missiles removed from Turkey.  But up to that point, there were literally dozens of points when a single person could have pushed a button and started an exchange that would have killed tens of millions of people.

Dobbs does an excellent job in both his research of the event, as well as the storytelling aspect.  I felt the rising tension and understood how both sides were operating with incomplete information while trying to protect themselves.  It's a literal miracle that the button wasn't pushed somewhere along the way.  Students of history and warfare really need to read this book to understand that a nuclear war isn't a winnable proposition, and everything needs to be done to prevent things from getting that close to the edge again.

06/30/2008

It amazes me that Forbes lets Daniel Lyons get away with this trash under the Forbes banner...

Category blogs

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs - A Lesson In Badges

Never mind that my opinion of Daniel Lyons can't get any lower than it already is.  And never mind that I never quite saw the appeal of the Fake Steve Jobs blog either.

But this entry crosses *well* over the border of vulgar, crude, and completely unprofessional.  

But what *really* amazes me is that Forbes lets him do this under their banner:

A picture named M2

They actually condone this stuff?

Lyons must have some really nasty dirt on his editor or the CEO of Forbes, because I'd have tossed him *long* before this.

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