About Duffbert...

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

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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide
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Co-author of the book IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide
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01/28/2009

Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit in on a tech interview for a potential candidate...

Category Everything Else
I obviously haven't been on a full-fledged job interview in quite awhile, so it was interesting to be sitting on the other side of the table while coworkers asked questions to gauge the technical expertise of the applicant.

As I watched this transpire, I had the same feeling I get when I sit in a session at Lotusphere with some of the top-end gurus of our community...

Never assume you've arrived, and that you know all you need to know.  There are always people out there that know far more than you, and reputation can only take you so far.  You need to know the basics, and have them down cold.  And you better be able to explain how you got to the answer you arrived at.  It may not even be right, but there should be a train of thought that got you there.

I came away more humbled and educated than when I went in.  Not only was I challenged to know my art and profession as well as I can, but I also learned valuable skills in how to interview people.

A crazy day it was, but very profitable...

01/27/2009

A special thank you to tech book publishers...

Category Lotusphere2009
If you've been to any of my Lotusphere or ILUG sessions where I've presented, you know that I nearly always give away something I find extremely valuable...  books.  In an hour long session, the most a speaker can hope to do is whet your appetite for additional learning.  The next step is then up to you to start traveling the path yourself.  In my case, that almost always involves grabbing a book and working my way through it.

Given my addiction to reading material, I've developed close and unhealthy relationships with many contacts in the tech book industry.  Julie at Apress, Heather at Pearson, and Marsee at O'Reilly are just a few of the people I enjoy working with on a regular basis.  All those individuals (and others) have been *extremely* gracious when I've asked if they are open to supplying books for session giveaways, far more generous than I could ever imagine.

This year, I featured a couple of titles from O'Reilly in our sessions.  I asked Marsee if she was open to providing a couple copies of each.  When I got to the Dolphin, I had three boxes, 40 books total, awaiting me.  Think about it, people...  40 brand new books, shipped directly to the hotel, all to benefit you, the attendee.

If you have a tech book that's helped you learn a new skill or gain some valuable knowledge, definitely take time out to thank the author.  But also take a moment and thank the publisher for doing what it takes to get that book into your hands.  Publishing, especially in the tech sector, is a tough business these days.  I want to make sure we don't underappreciate the O'Reilly's, Apress's, Pearson's, Wiley's, and other publishing companies that help us get to where we need to be in our professions and careers.

01/26/2009

This is just nuts...

Category Everything Else
A picture named M2

A picture named M3

I realize for a Brill or Vowe, these counts would be closer to hourly totals for them.  But in my little pond, the ripples are rather impressive.  And here I thought I'd have my first 1000 hit day while I was at Lotusphere.  :)

01/25/2009

Book Review - Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology by Bob Lewis

Category Book Review Bob Lewis Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology
A picture named M2

I enjoy reading the newsletter that Bob Lewis puts out each week...  Keep The Joint Running.  Therefore, I was very interested in reading his new book Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology.  A dose of cold reality without all the fluff and politics involved.  So many leaders and management in IT could learn much by reading this book...  :)

Contents:
Section One - Conceptual underpinnings: There are no best practices, only practices that fit best; To optimize the whole you must sub-optimize the parts; Bad metrics are worse than no metrics
Section Two - Putting process in its place: Relationships precede process; Relationships outlive transactions; Don't confuse documentation with reality
Section Three - The nature of the IT enterprise: Before you can be strategic, you have to be competent; Big solutions that work start as small solutions that work; Customers are external, Internal customers aren't; Don't run IT as a business, run it in a businesslike way; There are no IT projects
Section Four - Being smart, and something important to be smart about: Digest with intestines, think with brain; Every employee is irreplacable
Afterward

Lewis starts off early in the book by proclaiming there's no such thing as "best practices".  That should get noticed...  The six variables of business (cycle time, throughput, overhead cost, unit cost, quality, and excellence) are different for all businesses, so there's no "one size fits all" approach to doing things "right".  So learn from everyone and let smart people figure out solutions that work.  So now that Lewis has taken a direct shot at one of the most universal "truths" of business, what else can he do?  Plenty...

For me, the most important chapters (or at least the ones that resonated with me) were the ones dealing with relationships.  It's common to look at IT as a number of technical issues and discrete transactions.  But it's really a matter of personalities and relationships.  Reading about the "Process Distrust Loop" solidifies what I've been unable to pin down over the years as to why well-designed processes can so quickly break down in practice.  And relationships in business?  It's the only way you can get things done.  Transactions that build trust make it easier to get others to help you going forward.  Using a win-lose mentality in your interactions will guarantee that others will be looking to sabotage you when you most need their support.  Definitely a case of winning a battle but losing a war.

After you've been told all the conventional wisdom about running an IT department, you owe it to yourself to get a different look at the reality of it all.  Manifesto is not a long read, but it's filled with no-nonsense advice and wisdom that can make all the difference between success and failure.

01/25/2009

Book Review - Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Category Book Review Malcolm Gladwell Outliers
A picture named M2

In the blogging circles I follow, it's been nearly impossible to miss the frequent mentions of the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I requested a review copy of the book, as I'm not sure I'd get through our library hold list for the next six months given the popularity of the book.  I'm glad I made the effort to get a copy, as Outliers does an excellent job in destroying the common myths of what it takes to be successful.  

Contents:
Introduction - The Roseto Mystery
Part 1 - Opportunity: The Matthew Effect; The 10000-Hour Rule; The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1; The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2; The Three Lessons of Joe Flom
Part 2 - Legacy: Harlan, Kentucky; The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes; Rice Paddies and Math Tests; Marita's Bargain; A Jamaican Story
Notes; Acknowledgments; Index

The first example of "success" involves a sport I know and love...  junior hockey.  It's generally thought that at the Junior A level (just short of professional), the stars are ones that have worked harder and have more skills than others who haven't made it to this level.  But after looking at player statistics, Gladwell noticed something interesting.  Nearly all the players have birthdays in the January/February range.  Coincidence?  Not really...  It turns out that January is the age cutoff for players.  Players born in January are the oldest of their class year.  They are bigger than other kids in the same year.  At the age of five, those five to eight months of difference creates a significant edge.  The January players get noticed, and get more attention than others.  This attention leads to more opportunities, which makes them better, which gives them more opportunities, etc.  The kids born towards the end of the class year don't end up with the same advantages as they're smaller.  The net result is that these Junior A stars may think that they've achieved this level through pure skill, but the real answer is that they've achieved quite a lot simply by being born in January...

Gladwell uses this insight to dig into other success stories and general assumptions (such as all Asians being good at math).  In all the cases, he found solid evidence to point to other external factors that gave these people and groups an edge beyond "hard work".  The Asian/math phenomenon can be tied back to language that enables young children to understand math concepts much more easily than does English.  Korea Air plane crashes were not due to Koreans being bad pilots.  It was tied to a culture of deference that kept crew members from openly questioning the captain, thereby forcing communication to follow a ritualized pattern to avoid offense.  Once you're made aware that the "lone wolf" pattern is rarely a complete story, Gladwell's findings cause a lot of things to fall into place when it comes to achievement.  Basically, you are who you are because of those who came before you.

I really enjoyed this book.  I've often thought there had to be more behind the "self-made man" stories, and Gladwell confirms it.  That's not to say that someone can't overcome the odds, that they can't be born in December and become a hockey all-star.  But it forces you to look behind the obvious feel-good stories to find other answers.  Even if you don't agree with the conclusions that Gladwell reaches, you'll be forced to think.  A recommended read...

01/25/2009

Book Review - Salvation in Death by J. D. Robb

Category Book Review J. D. Robb Salvation in Death
A picture named M2

One of these days I'll learn not to start a J. D. Robb novel on a weeknight, right before I have to head off to a conference.  I'm addicted to this series, and Salvation in Death is no different.  A fun read that kept me up long after the light should have been turned out.

Dallas is called out to pick up an apparent homicide at a church funeral.  She arrives with Peabody to find a dead priest, likely poisoned by the sacramental wine used during the Mass.  No one seems to have anything against the priest, and the wine served during Mass is not locked up.  Really, just about anyone *could* have done it.  But after digging into the preist's past a bit, Dallas finds something interesting...  It doesn't look like the priest is who he said he was, and may well not have been a priest at all.  Throw in a another poison murder of a big name tele-evangelist in front of thousands, and Dallas doesn't quite know what she has to deal with.  Is it a copycat murder, or does someone have a vendetta against all religious figures?  And just who *is* the "priest" who was murdered, and why would he have been hiding for so long?

This episode in Eve Dallas' life was a bit different than many of the other novels.  There's two murders in play, and it's not quite clear as to whether they're linked or just coincidentally similar.  Many times you get one main case, and that's the whole focus.  Robb (aka Nora Roberts) also digs a bit deeper into Eve's abusive background, as there are a few elements of the case that resurrect in her some not-so-pleasant memories.

As always, I keep expecting this series to start to go stale.  And as always (fortunately), it hasn't for me.  

01/25/2009

BoF 407 – Getting Social in the Lotus Community handout

Category Lotusphere2009
And finally, here's the handout that Gregg Eldred and I used for the BoF 407 - Getting Social in the Lotus Community session Wednesday morning at 7 am...

Handout

01/25/2009

BP108 - Getting to WOW: Interface First Design for Lotus Notes Developers slides

Category Lotusphere2009
For those who haven't picked up the slides from the BP108 - Getting To WOW: Interface First Design for Lotus Notes Developers session by Chris Blatnick and myself, here they are.  These are slightly different than the downloaded PDF of the slides, as these have the background images we used in the presentation.

Slides

01/24/2009

If you spoke at Lotusphere 2009 and have updated slides and/or demo dbs, comment here (please?)

Category Lotusphere2009
EDIT - There's now a wiki for this: Lotusphere2009 Presentations and Downloads.  Please head over there to add information and check for updates.


Each year after Lotusphere, I download all the slides from the Lotusphere Online site and add them to the appropriate pages in Ben's Lotusphere Sessions db.  I also like to grab any updated slides and/or demo databases and add them also.  But it's somewhat hard to find all the blogs and postings where they might be showing up.

To try and make it a bit easier for everyone to find the additional material, would you consider adding a comment to this blog with links to your material?  I'm sure the community would greatly appreciate it (as would I)...

Thanks!

01/24/2009

Another incredible week at Lotusphere is over...

Category Lotusphere2009
Lotusphere is always such a swirl of activity and information, and placing things in context is something that takes me a couple of weeks.  But the memory snapshots are vivid and many, and will enter the Lotusphere memory album along with the other 11 years worth...
  • Sitting next to Carl "Blueman" Tyler on stage at Gurupalooza.
  • Being "touched" by the Blueman himself.
  • Watching people look at my head and laugh on my way back to clean it off.
  • As usual, not being able to get from check-in to the elevator on Saturday without meeting friends in the Rotunda at the Dolphin.
  • Having time to share, laugh, and cry one-on-one with friends at a level I don't often experience.
  • Learning that Remy Sidecars are quite tasty...  even in volume.
  • I still snore....
  • I have GOT to lose weight before next year's Lotusphere.
  • I don't know why everyone's camera who took pictures of the back of my head had a flaw that made me look like I have a bald spot.
  • Being part of the Lotusphere Blogger's program this year.
  • Being able to watch the Opening General Session at the front in my own reserved yellow beanbag chair.
  • Watching the *real* Blueman Group perform at OGS.
  • Walking back from the Boardwalk, passing four guys going to the Boardwalk, hearing them say the name "Duffbert" and laugh, and not having ANY context as to why they were laughing (and they didn't know that it was me walking by)...
  • Actually drawing about 125 - 150 people to our session during that killer 1 pm Monday timeslot.  
  • Having our "competition" come running into our session from the next room over just for the laughs.
  • Staying out of the camera's eye most of the week.
  • Knowing the photo I'll be known best for is the one with me and Carl on stage at Gurupalooza, and me with a blue handprint on my head.
  • Twittering at 4:15 am on Friday that I only have 45 more minutes before I need to catch the Mears shuttle to go home.
  • Having Turtle twitter back that a group was still down in the Rotunda...  :)
  • Sitting down at the Closing General Session, seeing a grand piano on stage, and thinking that the organizers really blew it this time.
  • Spending the next 1.5 hours seeing the most incredible CGS with Ben Zander.
  • Getting the two Spiral/Possibility flipchart pages after the session was over (thanks, Sandra!)
  • Once again being on stage for the annual bloggers photo after the CGS, and knowing these people mean so much to me.


01/24/2009

OK... most of the press coverage I found is now posted upper left...

Category Lotusphere2009
For the time being, I'll just let them sit there for readers.  At some point in the next couple of weeks, I'll move them to a separate blog entry and return to my normally scheduled sidebars.

And yes, having Ms. Radicati as the last (top) entry does contain a certain level of irony that is not lost on me.  :)

01/21/2009

"IBM Should Set Lotus Notes Free" - He's kidding, right?

Category Lotusphere2009
From Michael Hickins Enterprise Tech News blog: IBM Should Set Lotus Notes Free

Hickins takes a bit of a riff from the whole "IBM should open source Notes" theme that got a bit of airplay a couple months back.  The general impression I got from the blog buzz is that making Notes an open source project was nearly impossible (due to licensing issues) and that it would be a disaster.  Now we have Hickins contending that Notes should be sold off and offered for free:

IBM should do the right thing and use next year's Lotusphere as a platform for selling Notes to a company capable of making it exciting and, most of all, free. Free from its IBM legacy and free of cost as well.

Um...  Am I missing something here?  Business plan?  Return on investment?  Business model?

I don't begin to even remotely figure out how you'd sell Lotus Notes to another company (for billions), give away the Notes client, and then expect to recoup costs and make a profit.  Perhaps the Notes client is free and the Domino server costs, but even then you're still talking about paying for the power that makes Notes so valuable.  This idea is the ultimate in "what we lose in money we'll make up in volume" thinking.

Yes, there are plenty of free plug-ins and web offerings that can offer alternatives to software like Notes and Exchange.  And in the long term, it might well be that the "cloud" model will prevail over monolithic architectures hosted on-site.  But in the here and now...  Spend billions to buy a product you're going to give away?  

And I thought the open source push was flawed...

01/21/2009

Great... lost my Lotusphere 2009 Press Coverage page... sigh...

Category Lotusphere2009
OK...  so I'm doing something in this blog that's causing me to drop pages.  I think it's related to "republishing" a page several times, and then overrunning some field size.  Something to check next week.

Until then, I'm picking back up on the conference coverage by going directly to the sidebar.  Once it's over, I'll consolidate to a single blog entry.  But for now, back to your regular programming...

01/21/2009

Interesting takes by Nick Shelness at Ferris about the analyst briefing for the OGS at Lotusphere

Category Lotusphere2009
Lotusphere 2009: First Take

He's complimentary about the Designer and Xpages features, although he points out that without the "two-lane diversion", Xpages could have been delivered two or three years earlier.  Yes, the Workplace focus ultimately cost momentum, but some of the features of Workplace led to stuff like Xpages.  

Here's the part that he really found interesting...

For the rest, two of the strongest Lotusphere 2009 messages are those that are going un-said:

    * Lotus has quietly withdrawn support for DB2 as an alternative to Notes Storage Facility (.nsf) repositories on Domino servers
    * There are no posted sessions on Domino Designer-based development of native Eclipse-based Domino applications

It seems like there's always a hot new technology that doesn't end up panning out in the long run.  I remember all the DB2 sessions at prior Lotuspheres, and how this was going to provide us with the ability to start joining data from multiple databases into a single view and presentation.  Again, with the Workplace focus, it made some sense.  But in terms of adding it to your Domino environment, there was a major learning curve both on the dev and the administration side.  And trying to install the beast was not for the faint of heart, even if just for your own use on a local workstation.  In some ways, Xpages gives you that capability to combine and merge data from various sources onto a single screen that the DB2 approach was supposed to solve.  

I feel bad for those who have committed significant resources to learn and build DB2 solutions based on the expected capabilities.  On the other hand, I'm glad to see that valuable development resources at Lotus won't continue to be used for a product set that never really made it out of the starting blocks.

01/20/2009

Live blogging at the Nachos and News blogger event...

Category Lotusphere2009
This is a "news leak" event that promises to be interesting...

No embargos, no rules, we are free to go for it!

Ed Brill's up...  Plan to add ActiveSync to Traveler in a future release, demoed on an iPhone earlier today.  This will be released later this year, and will work like Nokia and Windows CE devices.  No timeline for public beta yet.  Works like full ActiveSync.  Same ActiveSync protocol.  Using native mail application on the iPhone to do this.  Calendar and contacts, too.  Ultralight iNotes development will still continue, too.  So it's not an abandoned effort.  No testing with Android yet on this release.  Every intention of getting this iPhone client out as soon as possible...  definitely 2009.  

David Marshack for UC team...  Announced delivery of ST8.5 second half of year.  Modernizes the server side of things much like 7.5 did for the client.  Making the meeting conferencing "rock solid".  Goal is to make a web conference a natural act, much like a chat or an email.  Meetings will be persistent.  The architecture will be more plug-in based.  If you have ST, it can use those components.  If you're browser-only, there's no downloading of Java applets and such.  Zero footprint web client.  Also Communication Enabled Business Processes, where processes use ST to enable seamless communication in building on-the-glass context links.  Persistent meetings in ST standard.  Zero footprint version will allow for screen sharing for reading.  The screen rendering is HTML.  This will be based on WebSphere, so there's a learning curve involved in terms of administration if you don't already have something like the ST gateway in place.  Migration from Domino ST to WebSphere ST is still being worked out.  There will be Domino 8.5 versions of ST also, so it's not a move you HAVE to make for WebSphere.

Caleb Barlow for Foundations...  First announcement - Lotus Foundations 1.1 - support for VM Hypervisor so that you can run Windows applications, those old business applications that the "small dental office" can't get rid of.  The Foundation server will allow remoting in to repair things, even if the Windows VM session crashes.  Second announcement is that Lotus Foundation Branch Office will be launched.  This is for enterprises that want "drop in" appliances.  This allows quick swap-in / swap-out for repair without sending out expensive help.  Supports a full Domino enterprise installation.  It would look like a Domino server to the Notes admin, but like an appliance to the OS administrator.  

Next is a demo by a partner with a solution...  Xerox works with Foundations and their own platform to bring this clear down to the multifunction printer level.

OK.....  Time for analysis, in that I didn't finish this until after I got back from a few gatherings.  :)

I'll be the first to admit I'm not a good candidate to offer deep insights on these announcements.  I don't play much in the mobile arena, I don't administer Sametime, and I'm not going to be selling Foundation servers.  Still, it's interesting to be there and be part of an IBM announcement before the announcement is made.  Kudos to IBM for opening up like they have to the bloggers this year.

The ActiveSync component for Notes on the iPhone will be cool.  It'll make Notes a legitimate (in the eyes of others) entry in the iPhone world.  It's also good that they aren't abandoning the iNotes work done to date.  Choice is a good thing.  Cleaning up ST for 8.5 is great, and eliminating the Java applet components is long overdue.  I'm still not sure I completely understand the difference between the different ST versions for Domino and for Websphere, but that's because I am really a user of ST for all intents and purposes.  I'm all for making the ST web conferencing environment more robust, and getting that type of interaction to be a natural part of a user's expectation and experience.  With Foundations, I really *am* totally out of that space not being a business partner.  But I do see the benefit of having a drop-in environment that makes creating a system nearly plug-and-play.  Extending this out to larger enterprises with the Branch Office offering is really cool, and I can see how that would excite some organizations.  And the Xerox demo?  That was, to quote Nathan, "way f'nin cool".  If Foundations can position itself as a driver appliance for other types of hardware solutions (like multifunction printers from Xerox), there's some room to play there.

01/20/2009

Monday's Blogger Q&A session...

Category Lotusphere2009
I was able to take part last night in a blogger Q&A session, where about 15 - 20 of the bloggers were invited to talk with all the IBM execs.  Pretty much if they were on stage at the OGS, they were there for us.  Poor Erica had figured we'd do it similar to speedgeeking, where we'd each pair up and visit the tables for five minutes.  But don't ever tell bloggers what's going to happen, as we'll change it.  :)  Since it was just for us, we turned it into a panel discussion so we could hear everyone's questions and answers.  Worked much better for us...

I was more of an observer, as many in the room were business partners and have ongoing working relationships with the management.  Still, it was interesting to hear unfiltered and unscripted answers to the issues we deal with every day.

The whole marketing question came up, as it always does.  It appears that IBM is trying to be more active in the social media space when it comes to advertising, presence, and mindshare.  They are taping customer stories all week, where real customers share what value they've received from Lotus software.  These videos will be used in various ways to get the message out there.  We reiterated that we are all for getting the message out there, but it has to be consistent and loud.  Once a year splashes at Lotusphere are great in January, but we need those news releases for the other 11 months.  They understand that different markets need different messages, and it's not a one-size-fits-all approach.  Of course, we want to see more Domino-specific stuff out there, not just throwing the Lotus name at the end of a branding ad.  My personal opinion is that time will tell how this plays out and if we see a significant change from our viewpoint.  Historically there's been a disconnect between our view of marketing (advertising) and IBM's view (actual marketing).  One ad campaign will not change that history, nor will many of us at our ranks appreciate the different message/different audience approach, as we've felt that IBM has not gotten product-specific enough.  But in any case, I *do* think they understand the problems.

There are also a number of partnerships "in the pipeline", so alliances like those with Skype, SalesForce.com, and LinkedIn for LotusLive.com should start being more prevalent.  IBM wants to make sure they can deliver, however, so announcing a bunch of stuff at the start of the year, only to have it show up months later isn't useful.  I'm encouraged that this pacing will lead to more "here now" products, as well as a more constant presence in the press.

The talk also went to the whole SharePoint competitive strategy.  While things like Foundations help address those issues for smaller businesses, the reality is such that SharePoint *is* showing up more and more, and it's being asked for by customers.  I'm still not certain that we'll end up seeing some targeted switch program or emphasis from IBM.  Yes, if IBM knows about an account who may be switching, they can often save the account and reinforce the product's value.  But often those conversations can't/don't happen due to lack of transparency or incomplete follow-through.  Yes, Lotus has answers for everything that is SharePoint, and yes, SharePoint is not a perfect product.  There are challenges there.  But unless the business understands what those equivalents are, they don't even know enough to *ask* for help in decision-making.  I still feel this is where some very pointed product/platform comparisons in the media would help immensely.  We need to have businesses asking "Can you tell me about Quickr?" rather than having us mention the product and having them say "What's that?"

There were other questions and answers, but that covers the things that struck me.  One overall theme that needs to be pointed out is that Xpages are a big deal.  Lotus is placing some major bets on this.  I'm enough of a realist to know that it's impossible to tell at this point whether that direction and momentum will continue.  DB2 and Composite Apps were big deals in prior Lotuspheres, and the reality has fallen short of the initial promise.  But if you want to be on the edge of where things are going in Notes development, you need to dig into Xpages.  It's already far more usable and production-ready than other "big deals" were in the past, and this *should* end up being the new programming model for web apps going forward.

Thanks again to everyone at IBM who set this up and trusted us to behave ourselves.  :)

01/20/2009

What? It's Tuesday already???

Category Lotusphere2009
At every Lotusphere, there comes a time when you think...  WAIT!  Slow down!

I'm SO there now.

I attended a number of sessions and events yesterday that need blogging, but it didn't get done last night as I was doing face-to-face time with a number of others.  I still have a couple vendors to talk with today, along with some more blogger program stuff.  Oh, yeah...  I have a session to repeat in less than two hours!  :)

I don't know how people like Ed Brill pull it off...

After my session is over, I think I need to transport the empty suitcase back to my room (how else do you transport 20 books to your session for giveaways?)  I'll pick up lunch, and then spend some time blogging until a 1:30 meeting.  I'm in sensory overload, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

01/19/2009

Whoo-hoo! Google Reader had pulled my blog post before I lost it! My OGS live blogging up to the UCC part...

Category Lotusphere2009
Having connectivity issues, but working on that...

Blue Man Group as the opening...  Way too funny!  


Sitting in the blogger's pit.  My own beanbag chair down down front.


Nice opening...  Now up for Bob Picciano.  Off to a great start!


Deidra, his wife, works for Lotus as a developer.  He brought this early, to make a point...  He hears a LOT about Lotus every night for dinner.  16 consecutive growth quarters.  Added new 12236 customers to Lotus portfolio since ND8.  Great press recognition for Lotus and ND8.  Bob is a REALLY good speaker...  :)  


The guest speaker is...  Dan Aykroyd!  This should be a riot!  Opened with Beldar piece.  Started with stories about collaboration on movies.  Following teleprompter well (which we can see from here)...  :)  Story about camera man and actor.  The shooters do not work for the actor, the actor works for the shooters.  They are the ones that make the actor look good (and can also make them look bad, too).  You have to be good collaborators, not individual demanding people.  Short session, but fun to watch.  A very eloquent speaker.


Back to Bob...  Attendence is up 2% over last year.  Appreciation for having that happen given the economy.  Theme is Resonance.  Resonance will "shatter Windows".  :)  Coke, Netjets, and HSBC customers are highlighted in the OGS, with actual top guys from the companies showing up for a short talk.  


Coca-Cola serve over 200 countries, and need to collaborate around the world.  Heavy SAP user.  The collaboration/productivity/messaging element of their stack is shown as Lotus.  Both sides above and below (portal/content and business info/applications/connectivity) are SAP.  Ease of use, extended enterprise, openness, mobility, partnerships...  All involving Lotus.  They are working tightly with Lotus to create the solutions they need. I can see how Project Atlantic would be such a big deal to Lotus and Coke.


NetJets...  they do fractional jet ownership.  Heavy need for collaboration to make sure all the pieces they have are available when they need it.  5000 customers with over 800 jets and 15 jet types.  173 countries.  Thousands of pilots.  Logistics is THE critical element.  390000 flight hours each year, 200 million miles.  They use a WebSphere portal app with Quickr and Sametime that allow this collaboration to take place.  Portal app will be live in Europe first, rolled out to other areas later.  Being able to communicate in a mobile environment is critical because everyone has to come together to make a single flight happen.


HSBC...  300000 employees around the world.  Need to collaborate to make this the world's "local bank".  Needed comprehensive collaboration solution.  They can't buy a single solution for everything, but they CAN choose their partners, and they chose Lotus to help bring this together.  No specific on systems, which is too bad...


Bob is back.  He commits to make partners prosperous.  


Jim Balsillie - co-CEO of Blackberry.  10 year anniversary.  Domino 8.5 support for Blackberry announced.  Hosted applications to be offered on Blackberry.  He covers how important mobility is, and how that will continue to define the environment of businesses.  Enhanced Lotus Suite for Blackberry announced.  New BlackBerry client for IBM Lotus Connections.  New BlackBerry client for Sametime.  Support for Symphony and Quickr on BlackBerry platform.  Support for Domino Designer with Xpages on BlackBerry platform.  Major improvement to allow Domino developers to become BlackBerry developers.  THAT is cool.  


2morO@Wrk - the new tag.  Bluehouse was announced last year.  Bluehouse is now LotusLive.com.  This is the entry of Lotus into the cloud, into the hosted offering space.  Can develop for that platform, also.  


Now for Alistar Rennie...


(side note...  still having network issues.  The techs just started rolling out cables for us.  :)


This is Lotus's 20th birthday...  wow!  


Kevin Cavanaugh...  Notes may be mature, but not predictable.  Notes hangs out with "disruptive friends".  200000 Symphony users at IBM, and Office licences are being dropped.  Symphony development is getting major attention.  Notes 8 adoption is over 50%, and is higher than any other release.  Alloy is the IBM/SAP collaboration offering.  Calendar integration in this Alloy client is very nice.  They are taking calendar feeds (standard ones), iNotes has a new look now.  Calendar overlays work...  you can overlay Google calendars!  :)  Notes widgets will be available in iNotes.  


Designer in 8.5 is the biggest upgrade since LotusScript was introduced.  Demoing the Xpages feature.  Custom control demo using the tag cloud custom control.  Very easy to add, and gives you the Internet capabilities.  They are working with RIM to make sure that Xpages development for mobile is just as richly featured as the browser.  Nice showing of how the BB app looked the same as the browser version.  They are also giving the ability to customize the app for device by number of rows, etc.  Showed how you can read Symphony docs on the BB device also.  Very good direction on Domino mobile development.  


Announcing that IBM.com/Smartmarket will be open to all partners to promote, distribute, and support apps.  They are also publically committing to OpenNTF support!  WIN!  New appliances...  Lotus Protector, Lotus Foundations were announced last year.  VMWare images are going to be distributed and supported soon.  


UCC up now, with Bruce Morse.  

01/19/2009

OK... so "live blogging" didn't work out so well here at Duffbert's Random Musings

Category Lotusphere2009
More than halfway through the Opening General Session, I lost the ongoing document I was using due to a document error.  As such, everything I wrote was just...  gone.  I will try a bit later to see if an "autosave" version of the page or something is lurking, but I'm not counting on it.  Cie la vie.

I'll recap later.  For now, it's getting close to session time for that killer 1 pm timeslot where half the sessions I wanted to see are all scheduled against each other.  Including mine and Chris Blatnick's.  :)

Later, all.

01/19/2009

@#$@#$@# Just lost my OGS blog entry! AHHHH!

Category Lotusphere2009
HATE when that happens...  I'll recap later.  Now over to Twitter.

01/18/2009

Great Sunday at Lotusphere...

Category Lotusphere2009
I'm starting to wind down from the first day at Lotusphere.  Sunday is always one of those days where you get dumped into the Lotusphere blender, ended with a night on the beach, laughing with hundreds of your new closest friends.

I started off the morning (after a not wonderful night of sleep) by going to John Head's jumpstart session on Notes integration with Office, .Net, and Symphony.  I've done maybe 5% of what he and Alex showed, and there's so much more that I can be doing.  I'm excited to start trying out a few of these techniques when I get home.

I then headed back to my room to try and do a bit of prep for tomorrow, as well as rest up a bit.  Between three interruptions by Disney housekeeping, there wasn't much rest to be had.  I decided that food sounded interesting, so a quick trip down to the dining hall found me sitting next to Joe Litton.  Always nice to be able to catch up.  Killed a bit of time until the first blogger event I went to, which was tagging behind the judges as they interviewed the CTO and Best of Showcase nominees.  An interesting experience, to say the least.  More on that in a second.

Back to room, where I happened to turn on the Arizona/Philadelphia game (nice win, Cards) and did some more prep.  Tek Check at 6:15 for tomorrow's session, but of course that made me miss Turtle's session.  I think I'll regret that for a long time.  Then out to the reception party, finally connected with "my people", and had a nice evening of food, drink, and laughter.  Ask Wild Bill to show you his Harley impression next time you see him...  Most of my cohorts are off doing kareoke and such, But I REALLY need to get some sleep before my speaking days fire up.  Hence, I'm minutes away from sinking into the wonderful Heavenly Beds here at the Dolphin.

Tomorrow's OGS should be fantastic.  There's a "blogger's pit" that I'll be part of as part of the blogger's program.  They won't tell us exactly what that means, other than we'll have power and reserved seating.  But they are VERY excited about the arrangements.  Regardless of how we're set up, it'll be fun to be front and center for live blogging the OGS.  I'll have an entry going here, and I'll publish and replicate every few minutes to keep things semi-up-to-date.  Knowing that I don't have to worry about power is great, as I can set the laptop on full power and blog away.

Back to the judging...

These awards are a BIG DEAL for the companies who are in the running.  They have 15 minutes to explain and demo their product.  In that time, they have to inform and impress the judges.  It's not quite an elevator pitch, but it's closer to that than a customer sales call.  Watching the different styles was interesting, to say the least.  Some presenters did a solid job of explaining and demoing.  Others have a lot to learn.  One episode was about 10 minutes of slides about the company, how well they've done financially, how they've won business against Microsoft, etc.  By the time the speaker got to the demo of the actual product, there was no time to show anything.  I thought it was a tactical error to show slides for the first two minutes.  After eight more minutes I was just...  stunned.  It's not a marketing pitch, nor is it a pure tech demo.  There has to be both, but most of all there has to be value.  Why would I as a customer even care?

I was reminded of Kathy Sierra's oft-repeated refrain...  No one really cares about you or what you can do.  They want to know how this will make THEM rock.  Very important.

Also...  passion.  Yes, the presentation needs to be solid.  You have to be prepared, and you have to anticipate what may come up.  But if you aren't truly excited about your product, why should I be?  There was one episode where the presenters hit that mark.  They knew their product, they knew the audience, they had the pitch down solid.  But you couldn't miss the fact they were *passionate* about the product.  They believed in what they built, they loved what they did, and the excitement was palatable.  And watching the judges was pure joy.  They became involved and animated because they were drawn in.  You could see that they had placed themselves in the role of user, and they got it.  As someone who presents and loves to watch that skill done well, that was the best 15 minutes I spent all day.

One other thing I'm noticing more and more about the IBM story as it relates to the Microsoft story that we often bash...  Perhaps it's because I'm in a dual role now...  :)  I know we in the pure Domino world take pride in the fact that we can do so much with a single package, while Microsoft has to have an entire software stack to accomplish much of the same.  That's true as far as it goes.  But more and more, vendors are talking about installing the "IBM stack", which is Domino, Quickr, Connections, WebSphere, etc.  Many of the new toys we have available aren't just a single Domino server.  To get the full Lotus experience, there's a considerable stack that needs to be installed, and much like Microsoft, all the parts don't always play perfectly with each other when they first come out.

This isn't to say the stack is good or the stack is bad.  And I know many of the business partners in the Notes community have been talking about the "Domino and, and, and" requirements for quite some time.  But it just hit me today that making the Domino vs. MS stack argument ignores the fact that the whole Lotus experience needs the same type of "additional boxes" requirement that we often chide MS for.  This isn't news to many of you reading this, but it just finally caught up with me.  I have to be more careful before making that argument in the future.

OK...  It's getting late, and I really need to head to bed.  Good night to all, and I'll see you live at OGS tomorrow morning.

01/17/2009

Potential 'big badass botnet' spreading fast - ZDNet

Category Microsoft
Well...  I think we found our Lotusphere spoiler for 2009.  :)

From ZDNet - Potential 'big badass botnet' spreading fast

The 'Downadup' worm is spreading quickly and now infects more than 3.5 million PCs, according to the security company F-Secure.

In a blog post on Wednesday, F-Secure put the total number of infected machines at an estimated 3,521,230 — a rise of more than a million machines over the previous day's tally. The security firm bases its estimates on information it has gleaned by tapping into infected machines.

Downadup, which also goes by the name of Conficker, exploits a vulnerability outlined in MS08-067, a Windows Server service flaw that was patched in October. It executes a dictionary attack in order to try cracking user passwords, in the process locking user accounts out of the Active Directory domain. It emerged a week ago that Downadup can also infect USB sticks, thereby propagating on the client side.

01/17/2009

Book Review - Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Category Book Review Daniel Suarez Daemon
A picture named M2

I'm a techie, and this book was nearly impossible to put down...  Daemon by Daniel Suarez.  I was lucky in that I started it as I boarded a plane for a cross-country flight.  If this had been Suarez's fourth or fifth novel, I would have enjoyed it quite a bit.  Knowing it's his first makes it even better...

Matthew Sobol, a genius who made a fortune in the computer gaming industry, dies from brain cancer at the age of 34.  At nearly the same time he dies, two programmers who work for his company, CyberStorm Entertainment, meet a rather gruesome end to their lives.  The homicide investigation reveals that the two deaths were "ordered" via an internet hack, and that serious preparation had been made to pull off the two murders.  But when they finally determine who likely killed them, they face a dilemma...  You can't prosecute a dead man for murder.  Sobol appeared to have left software agents, or "daemons", running on the net to trigger actions based on news feeds or particular events culled from RSS.  Of course, the 'net is a huge entity, and it's impossible to tell where other attacks might come from, or even if there are any more.  But there definitely *are* more to come, and it's only getting worse.  Sobel's daemons are enlisting the assistance of "wetware", and soon Sobol's "entity" has the ability to inflict rewards or harm on just about any element of society that it chooses.  This new "game" has life-and-death stakes, and it's up to the authorities to figure out if there's even a way to beat it...

I imagine that anyone with an interest in tech will immediately be drawn into this novel by about the third chapter.  Then as the gaming element kicks in, it brings a whole new slant to your daily existence.  One of the review quotes on the back cover reference The Matrix, and I can see (and appreciate) the comparison.  Suarez does an excellent job blending science fiction and gaming strategy into a compelling read that shows just how much of what we are is based on technology.  If I could have a steady supply of this type of sci-fi storytelling, I'd be a happy man.

01/15/2009

Eyes top left... The link to Lotusphere 2009 press coverage is now up!

Category IBM/Lotus Lotusphere2009
Up on the left side, top entry on my blog, you'll find the link to a page of Lotusphere 2009 press articles.  I did this last year, and it seemed to go over well.

I'll be using Google News Alerts to find articles when they hit my inbox.  Some articles are press releases picked up by various sources.  The first one I hit will probably get the credit.  I'll try and avoid dups, but no guarantees.  No commentary on this page, either...  Just links to the news.

01/15/2009

Au contraire: Exchange's lead over Notes actually 'getting bigger and bigger,' says Gartner

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft
From Computerworld: Au contraire: Exchange's lead over Notes actually 'getting bigger and bigger,' says Gartner

OK...  a different view heading into Lotusphere from one of the analysts...

While IBM Corp. argued Thursday that its Lotus Notes collaboration software was turning the tide against the market leader, Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange, a Gartner Inc. analyst said that's not the case.

"I don't believe that in either revenue or user seat share, that IBM is closing the gap [with Microsoft]," Tom Austin, a Gartner analyst, told Computerworld on Thursday. "The gap is getting bigger and bigger."

<snip>

 Austin, a Gartner group vice president and research fellow who conducted that research, said that statistic was for 2007 shipments of Notes versus Exchange only. It is far different than the percentage of workers actually using either software today, the installed base.

For that, "Microsoft Exchange has at least three times the users of Notes with enterprises with 500 or more users," Austin said. IBM may be adding Notes users, but its share of the installed base "is getting smaller," he said.

Now, Austin does go on to say that Notes 8 has helped staunch the flow of moves to Exchange:

 "Notes 8 has staunched some of the anxiety IBM inflicted on itself when it was pushing Workplace as a Notes replacement, causing its user base to freak," he said. "They can honestly say that Notes 8 today is almost as good as Outlook."

However, Austin thinks IBM won't be able to start winning large companies back until it starts to "carpetbomb" corporate end users with marketing and free copies of Notes the way Microsoft did when it was building up Outlook in the late 1990s.

"Mere mortals, not IT people, are going to have more and more say, but IBM adamantly refuses to do anything that would piss off IT buyers and senior executives," Austin said.

"Carpetbomb" corporate end users...  I know more than a few in the Notes community would wholeheartedly agree to that.

It's frustrating that for something that sounds so straightforward and simple (who runs what software), no one can agree on a counting methodology, analyst percentages differ wildly, and vendors tout the numbers that make them look best.  I'm surprised that Enron didn't try to develop a market in trading seat counts...  :)

01/15/2009

IBM claims momentum for Lotus Notes

Category IBM/Lotus Lotusphere2009
From Computerworld: IBM claims momentum for Lotus Notes

A number of interesting tidbits in this article from Computerworld:

IBM claims momentum for Lotus Notes Ahead of its annual Lotusphere conference next week, IBM Corp. claimed that its Lotus Notes collaboration software is starting to turn the tide against its bigger rival, Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange.

In a statement released today, IBM said it has 145 million Notes licensees worldwide, up almost 4% from the 140 million licensees IBM reported last year.

In the 15 months lading up to Sept. 30 last year, IBM won more than 12,000 organizations and companies as first-time customers, many of them former users of Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, it said.

It's been awhile since I've seen seat numbers quoted.  Good, bad, or otherwise, it's one of the few ways you can show growth beyond general financials or antidotal evidence.

IBM also claimed in its statement that "a number of customers that Microsoft had previously announced would migrate to Exchange are now stalling or abandoning those plans."

An IBM spokesman declined to name those companies. However, companies that IBM described in its release as "new wins" over Microsoft include Southern California Edison, Nationwide, Global Hyatt Corp., CEMEX, 3M, State Bank of India, The Hartford, Banco do Brazil, and, most prominently, The Coca-Cola Company.

Coca-Cola's executives will be featured at the Lotusphere conference in Orlando talking about their experience running Notes for more than 200,000 employees worldwide, according to the spokesman.

Coca-Cola is the global parent company to 51 subsidiaries, including U.S.-based Coca-Cola Enterprises, which switched to Microsoft's Exchange Online services for its 70,000 employees last spring.

I'm *very* interested to hear the Coke story, as this is one of those "migration" stories touted by Microsoft.  Some clarity here will prove enlightening.

Third-party estimates show Exchange topping Notes, though they range from "easily" to "with difficulty." Ferris Research's survey found Exchange's installed base at 65% and Notes holding 10%. IDC pegs Exchange at 52% versus Notes' 38%, while Gartner Inc. saw a tighter battle, with Exchange, 48%, against Notes40%.

This is the "otherwise" when it comes to license/seat counts.  Unless you know the methodology behind the methods used by the firms, you can draw just about any conclusion you want from these estimates.  Microsoft will tout Ferris, IBM will tout Gartner.  And a certain analyst who knows blogs are dead isn't quoted...  hmmmm...  (no link on purpose).  :)

And at the end of the article, it appears that the Exchange 14 "is being tested" story from earlier in the week will be the Lotusphere spoiler this year...

01/11/2009

Today I accomplished a major financial milestone... The mortgage is history!

Category Everything Else
Three or four years ago, we attended Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University series at a local church.  While we weren't financial basket cases, we knew we could be doing so much better with what we had.  Bills were paid, food was on the table, cars were paid off, but I can't say we felt financially "secure"...

Within a short period of time, my wife and I got on a budget that we've kept up consistently.  That in itself was a major stress reliever, as Susan knew what money she had to spend, and I wasn't worried about "cash flow".  We put together the start of our emergency fund (the $1000 goal for those who know the DR method), and we reviewed what we had in the way of debt.  No car payments helped (one of the few good things financially that came from Enron), and the credit cards were pretty minor.  Within six months, we were working on our 3 to 6 month emergency fund.

Fast forward to now...  Ian's tuition at Portland State is part of our monthly budget, so no loans there.  We use cash for the categories that Susan manages (groceries, household, etc.) and one credit card for bill payments (the stuff I take care of, like utilities, tuition, etc.), but we record it in the checkbook as a debit expenditure.  The bill then gets paid off with no interest charge, and we get our air miles.  The 401K is at the max for company match.  I could be doing MUCH better there, but I got a late start.  I *can* retire some day...  when I'm 87.  :)  

The only real debt that we still had was the mortgage.  We refinanced back in the late 90's for a 15 year loan, so it was always the plan to have it paid off around 2011 or so.  But still...  to be *sooo* close to having it over with.  Some of my side gigs with writing have paid off well, and I've been making some chunk payments to bring the remaining balance down even more.  With a writing check I got at the end of 2008, I decided to use most of that to give myself a late Christmas present...  no debt and a paid-off mortgage.

Where do we go from here?  Now we start to build up the emergency fund to a true six month level.  Of course, not having a mortgage as part of your budget makes that a lot easier (more money to put towards it, and less monthly expenditures to save for).  We really need to be putting more away for retirement, too.  But getting the buffer fund fully built up will be a nice feeling, especially in this economy.

We've been truly blessed to be in this position.  I would strongly recommend Dave Ramsey's program to anyone who is struggling to get on top of their financial life.  It's not smoke-and-mirrors, and it requires some hard decisions if you've overused credit in the past.  But even taking the first step towards financial freedom is a great feeling, and the momentum builds quickly...

01/10/2009

Book Review - Heat Lightning by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Heat Lightning
A picture named M2

I've mentioned on prior John Sandford novel reviews that I was getting somewhat burned out on the whole Davenport character.  It seemed like the character wasn't going anywhere, and the plots were somewhat slow.  When Heat Lightning showed up at the library, I picked it up more out of habit than anticipation.  I was moderately surprised to find that this novel featured Virgil Flowers instead of Davenport, while still having bits of Davenport show up in the story.  Surprised turned to happiness as I got immersed into the storyline.  This is the reason I keep Sandford on my "Authors to Read" list...

Flowers is tagged on a murder that has some rather bizarre features.  The body is left at a war memorial, and along with the trauma associated with murder, the victim has a wedge of lemon stuffed in his mouth.  Of course, that's a real problem when *other* bodies have turned up with the same MO.  All the victims appear to have known each other, possibly as part of the military, but Flowers doesn't immediately know what common thread ties them all together.  And until that thread is discovered, there's no telling whether the killings have stopped or will continue.  And with all high-profile and gruesome killings, the public is outraged, and politicians want answers yesterday.  Davenport is pinning his hopes on Flowers to solve the crime quickly before the feds take over, but sometimes the answers just aren't out there...

The Flowers character is what makes this story click.  Virgil lives for fishing and women, not necessarily in that order.  He's pretty unorthodox in his investigative methods, but he's not afraid to go head-to-head with authority to get things done.  The story starts by flipping back and forth between Flowers trying to solve the crime, and the killers going after their intended targets.  It's not until late in the read that you find out who the killers actually are, so you're kept guessing throughout the book as to who might be the killers.  Fortunately the thread between the killings appears relatively quickly, so you know the "why" behind the deaths.  The combination of characters, plot, and pacing made this a hard book to put down, and restored my faith that Sandford can still tell an entertaining story...

01/09/2009

Is there a morality of "acceptable profitability" in these tough economic times?

Category Everything Else
Something that's been rattling around my brain for the past few weeks...

A few months back, I remember a news item about Starbucks warning of a challenging 2009, and that their growth was going to be less than projected.  They were still going to grow, mind you, just not as much as during the last few years.  Companies that are used to profits of 7 - 15% are considered to have "dismal" results if growth was only 1 - 2%.  Compare that to auto companies and banks that are reporting true losses of billions every quarter, and *any* growth appears to border on an epic win.

The normal Wall Street view is that companies must continue to maintain solid growth, or the stock gets hammered.  With that same mindset, companies look to trim expenses and lay off staff so that they can somehow attempt to achieve something close to what Wall Street expects.  In many cases, it's not a matter of avoiding losing money, but a matter of trying to maintain some level of growth.

In the face of job losses that come close to setting records, should we as a country set aside the profitable growth goals and attempt to "break even" instead?  Granted, this isn't a viable long-term position, but breaking even and providing jobs seems more responsible than cutting jobs to continue to grow and turn a profit.

Extremely simplistic, but I just wanted to get that out of my head and on "paper".

01/07/2009

Using Google Gadgets as Free Lotus Notes Plug-ins

Category IBM/Lotus CIO.com
My latest CIO.com article is now online...  Using Google Gadgets as Free Lotus Notes Plug-ins

If your organization uses Lotus Notes, you know about its e-mail capabilities. And if you're using Lotus Notes as a collaboration and workflow management platform, no doubt you have a number of applications to streamline and simplify your business processes. But do you also know that there are hundreds of free Notes plug-ins for the Notes 8 client, which can do everything from tell time, check the weather, keep you up-to-date on breaking news and perform countless other handy tasks?

Thanks again to Esther for making me sound semi-intelligent...

01/07/2009

The January LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter is out!

Category IBM/Lotus LotusUserGroup.org
The January issue of the LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter is now online (if for some unknown reason you're not subscribed)...

01/04/2009

Book Review - A Letter That Will Come Tomorrow by Naomi O'Hara

Category Book Review Naomi O'Hara A Letter That Will Come Tomorrow
A picture named M2

A Letter That Will Come Tomorrow by Naomi O'Hara isn't the normal type of reading fare I'd pick up.  But the near-future "Homeland Security" angle intrigued me.  It turned out to be pretty good from a contemplation angle, and she makes some interesting points on how patriotism plays out when taken to the extreme.

The story takes place in 2021.  Dr. Naomi O'Hara, a person of Japanese heritage, is taking the train from Washington State to New York in order to visit relatives and see the 9/11 memorial.  She's dealing with her mortality, as she has cancer.  Part of the reason for going by train is to meet others and hear their stories.  Given how many days it takes to make that trip, she has plenty of opportunity.  A Vietnam veteran tells her his story of survival and love during the war, all before he suffers a heart attack and has to be removed from the train.  A Lakota native American sits with her and shares his view of life and the land he was raised in.  One of the more interesting people is a young girl who's a sophomore in college and has her own unique view of life.  Winding through the stories and the trip is the view of what America has become in the name of "security" and "patriotism".  Homeland Security has unlimited power to stop and detain potential "terrorists".  All the media is tilted towards selling the public on why our never-ending wars are important to preserve our freedoms.  And of course, not conforming to the norms of society can quickly cost you your freedom.

In terms of action and plot, this book doesn't have much of either.  It's more of a character-driven story that dives deeply into the themes of freedom and patriotism.  This is done in a variety of ways, from going back to O'Hara's childhood in post-war Japan to watching and hearing the ever-present "Patriot screen" broadcasts that appear in most all populated locations.  While we're not to that point in America (yet), it's not hard to make the jump from where we are to the society she paints in her book.

There's an underlying current of mystery around the book.  The author's name is a pseudonym used to protect their privacy, but you'll also note that it's the name of the main character in the story.  Makes me wonder how much, if any, of the book may be autobiographical.  This is also supposed to be the first of a series, and I'll admit I'm curious to see where this might end up going.  While it's not the "action/adventure" recreational reading I normally do, it definitely makes you think...

01/01/2009

Book Review - The Telefax Box by Toni Seger

Category Book Review Toni Seger The Telefax Box
A picture named M2

The Telefax Box by Toni Seger is one of those books I read because the author contacted me and asked if I'd be interested.  The sci-fi premise of how machinery makes us dependent rather than liberated tweaked my interest, so I accepted.  While I'm not sure I got *all* the social and political satire she was after, the story was well done with plenty of opportunities to see society in all its glory.

The general storyline revolves around a murder that's taken place at one of the most prestigious labs in the galaxy.  The Machine, a computer that knows and tracks everything, doesn't show that anything happened during that time.  This fact, if true, creates real issues, as everyone believes that The Machine is all-powerful and can not be manipulated.  As the crime is investigated, all sorts of unusual characters and races from throughout the galaxy have to interact and overcome basic prejudices and attitudes that have been formed over millennia.  And at least for me, that's where the story excelled.  She has a real knack for describing and painting the creatures.  There are Quamats, who have short, stubby limbs and normally move by rolling.  But some have chosen to walk in a more normal fashion to fit into more "normal" society.  The relief from the pain that causes is what drives part of the murder investigation.  Taborites are aquatic creatures who have to communicate through tentacles attached to the surface of their tank.  Zantons are creatures with elongated limbs, and commonly hold positions of great power in the galaxy.  It's just one of those truths that everyone knows.  And then there are Sameracs.  Blue and beautiful, but completely anti-machine in their thinking.  As such, they hold very low positions in society with little chance of advancement.  All these creatures (and more) come into play, and it's fascinating to watch how Seger weaves their personalities into the story.

I'll admit I was a bit lost at the ending, and that's why I said I probably didn't get all the satire she was putting out there.  But even with that, The Telefax Box was one of the more entertaining sci-fi stories I've read in awhile.  This is supposed to be the first of a trilogy, and I wouldn't hesitate to give the future installments a read when they come out.

01/01/2009

Book Review - For These Tough Times: Reaching Toward Heaven for Hope and Healing by Max Lucado

Category Book Review Max Lucado For These Tough Times: Reaching Toward Heaven for Hope and Healing
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Max Lucado has a special way of explaining Biblical principles that cause you to slow down and contemplate deeper truths.  For These Tough Times: Reaching Toward Heaven for Hope and Healing is one of those books that can offer up comfort and perspective during the hard times of life.  I can think of more than a few times during the last decade when I could have used these words.

Contents:
When All That Is Good Falls Apart; Where Is God?; God's Great Love; Eyes on the Father; Good Triumphant; The Bitter Taste of Revenge; In the Silence, God Speaks; In the Storm, We Pray; From God's Perspective; Do It Again, Lord - A Prayer for Troubled Times; Notes; About the Author

This is a small book (84 pages) that speaks directly to the reader.  For instance, the chapter on revenge doesn't make light of the fact that "getting revenge" is a very human and typical reaction when we're wronged.  But while the initial flush of triumph and justice may feel good, the physical and relational toll of trying to "get even" costs far more than one can afford to pay.  Only by understanding forgiveness and letting go can we rid ourselves of that pain and experience peace.  Hard things to do, but definitely the right thing.

You'll probably keep this book on your shelf and pull it out from time to time as circumstances dictate.  And when you do, Lucado will be there to help you readjust your perspective.

01/01/2009

Book Review - The Darwin Awards Next Evolution by Wendy Northcutt

Category Book Review Wendy Northcutt The Darwin Awards Next Evolution
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You can't help but shake your head and laugh over the incredibly dumb things people do that eliminate them from the gene pool.  Wendy Northcutt offers up her next installment of these gems in her book The Darwin Awards Next Evolution.  It's not a long read (I think I read it in a couple of hours), but it's well worth the entertainment value.  You'll laugh, shake your head, and cringe at how people (usually men) can be so stupid and short-sighted in their activities...

The book is divided up into chapters that cover miscellaneous mishaps, electrical extinctions, vehicle victims, medical maladies, criminal capers, work woes, combustion crazies, and animal antics.  There are both true Darwin award winners (people who either died or made themselves unable to reproduce, therefore cleansing the gene pool) and at-risk survivors (those who came real close to leaving the gene pool, but by some miracle survived to get a second chance).  Northcutt also attempts wherever possible to confirm the story or list it as possible but with no background documentation (like news stories).  So generally speaking, you're getting honest-to-goodness boneheaded plays here.

There's the guy who decided to get drunk by somewhat unconventional means (alcohol enemas, anyone?), and "consumed" three liters of sherry.  Needless to say, the next morning he had the ultimate hangover (dead) with a BAL of .47.  Then there's the two kids in Denmark who took their uncle's car out onto the frozen Baltic Sea, thinking the ice was solid enough to hold them.  It wasn't, but fortunately wasn't very deep.  They followed this brilliant idea by getting a second car out onto the ice to pull the first one out.  Same result.  At least the third time they tried a tractor.  And yes, that one fell through also.  Consider them survivors at risk.  And then there's my favorite (an at-risk survivor)...  Three guys decide to do flaming alcohol shots.  Problem is, no one told them they were supposed to blow out the flame before drinking.  One of the guys finally gets enough courage and downs the shot (flame and all).  The flame goes out, but his mouth is pretty toasted on the inside.  Not to be outdone, his friend fills up a shot glass to the rim and lights it.  Of course, it sloshes and starts his hand and the counter on fire.  To stop the damage, he tries to drink the rest, only to spill it on his sweatshirt and face.  Now *everything's* burning!  His friends stop laughing long enough to beat out the flames with kitchen towels before anyone or anything is too damaged.  No Darwin award, but so funny to image...

Unless you have a soft spot for those of the human species who lack the common sense gene, you'll have a great time reading Next Evolution.  It'll also make you feel much better about your own stupid decisions...

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