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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CD Review - Hangisphere by Matt Venuti

Category CD Review Matt Venuti Hangisphere
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I received a copy of the CD Hangisphere from the publicist for Matt Venuti.  I was moderately interested once I visited Venuti's website and heard a clip of the music produced by this odd instrument called the "hang".  Now that I've heard the CD in its entirety, I'm hooked.  The sound produced from the instrument is incredible, and Venuti uses it to its full musical advantage.  In short, I'm now a Venusian fan.  :)

The best way to describe the look of the instrument is to imagine someone cutting the top off of a steel drum... actually, *two* steel drums.  Take one of the concave surfaces, flip it over, and join it to the other surface.  You now have a "flying saucer" that makes beautiful music.  Much like the steel drums used in my imaginary construction, the sound is reminiscent of what I hear when I visit the Caribbean.  But instead of a reggae beat, Venuti uses the hang to create a New Age sound that spans a number of feelings and emotions.  Some of the numbers, like "For Virginia", are a bit haunting and emotional.  Others, like "Elephunk", are more playful and jazz-like.  In all cases, the instrumentals are soothing and calming, both as ambient music in the background or a primary listening experience.

Normally I'm not one much for having music playing as I'm working on computer code or writing material for books and presentations.  But Hangisphere is apt to change that, in that I could have this playing as a filter for surrounding noise, while at the same time relaxing me for better productivity.  Now all I have to do is pick up the rest of his works... :)

Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free


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

Category Book Review J. D. Robb Kindred in Death
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As usual, J. D. Robb's (aka Nora Roberts) latest In Death novel went to the top of my "to be read" piles when it arrived at the library...  Kindred in Death.  Not sure if it was due to a lot of busy-ness going on in my life or what, but this one didn't seem to jump out and grab me like the others have on a consistent basis.  Nothing overtly wrong with it... it just seemed to be missing that "something" that makes each Eve Dallas crime mystery such a treat for me.

Dallas is actually taking a full three day holiday as Kindred starts.  In fact, she's quite happy, feeling decadent, and may even allow herself to be talked into going away to a small island for a day or two.  Easy enough when your husband Roarke has all the money in the world.  But crime doesn't take a vacation, and Dallas is tagged by name to take the lead on a particularly gruesome case.  A police captain returns home from vacation to find his teenage daughter brutally murdered in their house.  He wants the best person in the force to find the killer, and that means Dallas.  Dallas has to bury her own history of abuse as a child to handle the raw emotions and cold cruelty of the killer.  But as soon as Dallas and her team get close, they realize that the killer has lead them astray with yet another false identity.  Unless they can figure out why the targets were chosen (and who will be next), they'll be powerless to stop the killing in time to save one or more lives.

So why didn't Kindred pop for me?  The closest I can come to figuring that out is the underlying plot that is driving the killer.  It strings out quite a ways, and when it does become clear I didn't find myself buying into it very deeply.  The secondary plot involves Dallas getting roped into being the maid of honor for a close friend who is getting married, and of course she's completely out of her element when it comes to expressing anything approaching hospitality and emotional friendship. :)  It's typical Dallas, and it does tie back into previous storylines, but again I just wasn't as deeply involved as I normally find myself.

I still like the In Death series, and by no means am I thinking this is the beginning of the downward slide.  I'll just chalk this one up to being slightly off as well as coming at a time where I wasn't as fully interested as normal.

Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed


Book Review - The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Category Book Review Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler's Wife
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Ok... I actually took a little humorous flak for reading a "chick lit" book... The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  True, I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own, but it came recommended by someone who has a good track record in recommending books for me to read.  And again they were right...  I didn't see the novel as something that would only appeal to women.  Yes, there is a strong romance undercurrent to the story, but the constant time traveling and event shifting made it highly interesting.  There was also the question of what you would tell people if you knew what their lives would turn out to be.

Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire have a unique relationship.  Henry is a time traveler, someone who is thrown around in time and space without rhyme or reason.  While married to Clare, he travels back to meet her when she's six and he's 36.  But it's a strange meeting, as he appears from nowhere, and he always does so without any clothes (they don't time travel with him).  They have a special spot in the meadow behind the house where she stores clothes for him to wear, and he becomes a regular part of her life as he can tell her when he'll appear next.  He has to balance telling her how her life plays out (and the fact that they're actually married already) against letting her live the life out on her own.  There are also times when the Henry that shows up is one that hasn't yet met her in his later life.  That makes some of the meetings rather awkward, but they work it out as he knows it's possible given what he's been through already.  The story works up to the climax of how his own life will turn out, and how it will affect Clare and their daughter.

I must have really liked this book, as I was taking time to read and savor it (as opposed to rushing through it in three days).  The story shifts back and forth between Clare's and Henry's point of view (and voice), as well as between various points in time.  Since Henry has no control over when he might shift out of the here-and-now, every important event is a stress point to see whether he'll make it through without disappearing.  And since his reappearances can be anywhere (as well as sans clothes), the time travel isn't exactly safe.  In fact, it can be deadly.  And how do you explain to those you work with why you keep showing up naked and roaming the halls when you're supposed to be giving a lecture somewhere else?  In terms of a story involving uncontrolled time travel, Niffenegger does a pretty good job coming up with a realistic view of how it would play out.

The Time Traveler's Wife worked on many different levels for me... I'm even more impressed given it's the author's first novel.  This is one of the few books I'd probably want to read again in the future, and for me that's saying something...

Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed


The next book I'll be writing before Lotusphere 2011... :)

Category LS10
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I'll be a bit busy at Lotusphere2010 this year with two sessions...

Category LS10
Acceptance emails went out today, and I found out the true meaning of "be careful what you ask for, as you may get it."  :)

I'll be doing two sessions this year, and I'm looking forward to both of them.

The first one is with Kathy Brown and is a Jumpstart session:

The Top Things All New Notes Domino Developers Need To Know

Are you a newbie developer?  Are you just getting started in the world of Notes and Domino?  Do you wish you had someone to tell you the top mistakes to avoid?  What about the top tips you need to know to create successful applications?  Join Kathy and Tom as they show you the important things all beginning developers need to know.  They’ll explain what they are and why you need to know them.  They’ll also share some stories of their past pain and mistakes and how they learned these tips the hard way, so you don’t have to!

The second one is with Marie Scott, and is part of the Show And Tell track:

Tivoli Directory Integrator (TDI) - the best free Domino tool you need to know about!

Did you ever want a tool that would allow you to connect Domino to external directories – LDAP or AD? What about synchronizing a Domino application with data from a relational data source? If so then have we got the tool for you – and it’s free! Join Marie and Tom as they introduce you to Tivoli Directory Integrator (TDI).  Watch as they step through the installation and setup of TDI. They’ll cover both simple and complex data transformation, event triggers, and change logging.  Not only will you leave with the knowledge about how to set up TDI, you’ll have the skills to start using it immediately in your own environment – as an administrator or a developer.  So why not leverage the best free tool for Domino you’ve never heard about?

Let the writing begin!


Have YOU tried to read and understand all the rules in hockey?

Category Everything Else
Short of my son Ian (no pun intended there) who is a hockey referee, there's few people I know who has tried to read AND understand all the rules in the hockey rule book.  I can now add a coworker, Samantha Meese, to that rare category.  She has a blog, 87 in 107, that is an interesting project:

It’s pretty simple, really. I have avowed to learn all the official rules to hockey. There are 87 rules in the NHL 2009 – 2010 rulebook. There are 107 days until the opening of the Winter Olympics at Whistler on February 12. 87 in 107 is my attempt to learn all of the rules before I depart for Vancouver to see the games. I have the NHL Network in hi-def and the NHL Center Ice package, so be warned you may be reading the highlights of more than one game.

So when she gets up to Vancouver in a few months, she'll be able to yell at the refs with *authority*!!!

I'm adding this one to my RSS reader, and I have no doubt that a few of her entries will end up as argument material between Ian and I...


Book Review - Don't Just Roll The Dice - A usefully short guide to software pricing by Neil Davidson

Category Book Review Neil Davidson Don't Just Roll The Dice - A usefully short guide to software pricing
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If you've created software for sale, you have dealt with the all-important question... what do I charge for it?  Neil Davidson does an excellent job in helping you figure out the answer in his book Don't Just Roll The Dice - A usefully short guide to software pricing.  He doesn't tell you *what* to charge.  Instead, he give you a short lesson on how to come up with the best pricing strategy given your situation.  And best of all, he does it in a concise 73 pages.  I was impressed!

Contents: Some - but not too much - Economics; Pricing Psychology - What is your product worth?; Pricing Pitfalls; Advanced Pricing; What your price says about you (and how to change it); Product Pricing Checklist

It's tempting to think that the cheaper you price your software, the more you'll make.  But Davidson puts that misconception to rest right at the start.  Depending on your target audience, cheap pricing may either leave money on the table or cause people to perceive your software as low-value.  Davidson helps you understand your market and develop a pricing strategy that can maximize the profit you receive from your hard work.  He also outlines a number of mistakes that are common and lead to people turning to alternatives without considering your product.  For instance, some companies try to throw a variety of different feature combinations at a purchaser, all with different price points.  But unless it's easy to assign value to the different features, too many combinations can cause the purchaser to either buy the cheapest or most expensive combination just to save the mental anguish.  That means that potential purchasers may again bolt for other alternatives, or you could end up leaving money on the table.

This is an inexpensive book and a quick read, but don't be fooled into thinking that it's of limited value.  Don't Just Roll The Dice may well pay for itself with the first copy of software that you sell.  And it will *definitely* give you a much better chance at avoiding pricing errors that could be hard to overcome in the market.  

Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free


Book Review - House of Reckoning by John Saul

Category Book Review John Saul House of Reckoning
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Generally speaking, I like John Saul's work.  Supernatural thrillers tend to work for me, and I can easily get wrapped up in one.  But his latest, House of Reckoning, left me wanting.  The plot had potential, and I kept turning pages, but I never felt like I got the answers as to *why* all of this was taking place.  By the end, I felt as if I had been cheated a bit or I got a version of the book that left out a few important chapters.

Sarah Crane is the main character, a teenager trying to grow up in a small town without a mother.  Her father is also struggling with the death of his wife, and unfortunately commits a crime during a drinking binge that lands him in jail.  Sarah ends up in foster care, under the roof of a dysfunctional family who only wants her for the monthly check (and her servitude).  Her life is pretty miserable, with the only bright spot being her art class and a teacher there she really likes.  But the whole town has branded the teacher a witch, and Sarah is forbidden by her foster family from having anything to do with her.  Of course, that's pretty much a guarantee of disobedience when it comes to a teenager.  Complicating her life a bit more is her new friend, Nick Dunnigan, who also has his own demons to deal with.  He was committed to a mental institution for a time due to voices in his head, and his classmates torment him incessantly.  When Sarah and Nick get together, the voices and her unique art ability take on a supernatural quality that points back to an old house where Bettina Phillips, Sarah's art teacher, lives.  Tensions escalate in the town to the point where Nick and Sarah are accused of killing the local cop's son, and the only safe place they can go to Bettina's place.  But the ghosts that haunt her house could either protect or harm them, and they have no way to tell what's going on and how it will all turn out.

So... the storyline wasn't bad.  I felt for Sarah and how she was unable to turn to anyone for some help in her situation.  Nick was pretty good also, as he struggled with the voices he couldn't control, even through medication.  But many of the other characters were pretty shallow and stereotypical.  Sarah's foster mother is the deeply religious woman who hates what Sarah represents.  The foster father is a sloth who backs up the wife, expects Sarah to wait on him hand and foot, and is only in it for the monthly check.  The classmates are all cliquish and bullying.  Fine, I could overlook that if the story was good.  But that's where I *really* had issues.  Bettina's house, Shutters, has a history as a prison and mental hospital.  The ghosts are related to that period of time.  But as the ghosts claim each victim, it's never explained *why* these victims were chosen and why the prior occupants were targeting them.  Granted, they may have been deserving of their punishment, but the linkage between the evil they did in this world and the punishment they received after passing through to the other side was a mystery to me.  I wondered if I had glossed over some chapter that linked the current town residents to ancestors who worked, ran, or resided in the old institution.  If it was there, I missed it.

Normally I complain that a popular author tends to pad their page count so that the book looks "epic".  In the case of House of Reckoning, Saul's 300 pages could have used about 50 to 100 more pages to fill in some of the blanks and characters.  For mind candy, it's not a bad read.  But if you end up thinking about the story too hard (especially at the end), you'll likely wonder if you should have spent the time reading something else.

Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed


Book Review - The Defector by Daniel Silva

Category Book Review Daniel Silva The Defector
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Even with all the reading I do, I still feel like I need a whole 'nother 24 hours a day to read all the stuff I'd *like* to catch up on.  A friend and reader of my blog recommended I read Daniel Silva's The Defector, so I picked it up at the library.  I have read one other Silva novel with the Gabriel Allon character (2006 - The Messenger), and I remembered the basic makeup of Allon.  The Defector would have been a bit more enjoyable had I at least read the previous episode (Moscow Rules), but it wasn't a show stopper.  Defector was a good espionage thriller that had solid characters and an interesting plot.

Allon is pulled away from his honeymoon and an art restoration project to track down Grigori Bulganov,  a Russian defector who has disappeared in England.  Allon would have told the Mossad no on this assignment for a number of reasons, but he kept coming back to a promise he made to Bulganov many years ago, a promise to not let him die in an unmarked grave should anything happen to him.  Rescuing Bulganov sends him back into Russia to go head-to-head with a powerful Russian crime lord, a confrontation escalated when Allon's wife is drawn into the drama.  Allon is willing to sacrifice everything to save the one he loves, and he really doesn't care who ends up dying in the process.  The tension continues to escalate to a final showdown in a snowy Russian forest, next to an unmarked mass grave...

Not having read all the other novels with the Allon character has its pros and cons.  On one hand, I'm not up on some of the character nuances that may deepen the plot.  There wasn't anything overtly obvious that I felt I missed, but I'm sure there was a layer of color that would have made the story even better.  On the other hand, not reading all the other books means I'm not burned out on the plots or characters.  It's not unusual for that to happen over time, feeling like you've read the general plot before and wonder what, if anything, is going to happen that you haven't already seen.

Overall, I thought The Defector was good, solid, and entertaining.  And like I said at the end of The Messenger, I really *should* go back and catch up on his earlier stuff.  Now to find the extra hours I need...

Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed


Book Review - The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Category Book Review Dan Brown The Lost Symbol
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Ok, it would have been hard to just flat-out ignore Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol after The Da Vinci Code was so popular.  I wasn't one of the ones who had to read it immediately, so I put myself on the hold list at the library to get it whenever I got to the top.  After finishing the book, my overall reaction is... meh.  It's mildly entertaining, and I was interested to see how it would end.  But it seemed to repeat the same scene formula over and over.  In addition, it could have been at least a third shorter without losing any impact.  The best thing I can I say is that I won't have to see the movie the first weekend it opens... :)

Brown has another novel here that's similar to Da Vinci Code, only using the Masonic legends as the secret sauce.  Robert Langdon is called by his friend Peter Solomon to deliver a speech to a group in Washington DC.  But when he gets there, he finds the meeting room empty.  A phone call sheds light on the situation... he's been tricked into coming to DC in order to help solve a mystery involving hidden clues in Washington that will reveal the ultimate "Hidden Word" in Masonic lore that will open up the Ancient Mysteries.  The mystery caller has Solomon held hostage so that Langdon will deliver.  As clues are uncovered, more and more people get pulled into the action, with the possibility that certain secrets could be revealed that would constitute a national crisis.

So why isn't this a "must-read"?  Obviously with an author of Dan Brown's stature, you have high expectations.  After Da Vinci Code, he had a high standard to meet.  But it seems as if the hidden secret society genre has been played to extremes lately, and another novel along the same lines doesn't leave much room for new directions.  Brown has Langdon in a predictable pattern throughout Lost Symbol.  He's presented with a puzzle, he doesn't know the answer, pressure mounts, and then a revelation occurs.  Have something bad happen, and then repeat the series of actions... over and over.  Furthermore, it seems like about a third of the book in the middle covers the same ground repeatedly without advancing the story or the revelations much.  As such, the 510 pages could have been done in about 300 with much better results.  It also doesn't help that you're never quite sure where the line between truth and fiction lies in his interpretation and recitation of facts and figures.  Are there mystery basements and subbasements under the Capitol?  Did a number of major historical figures belong to Masonic societies?  Were structures like the Washington monument built with Masonic symbols in the design, or is it all just numeric manipulation after the fact?

I don't regret the time spent reading The Lost Symbol.  I expected mind candy and entertainment, and that's what I got.  I simply think it could have been much better than it actually was.

Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed


Yes, it's true... I'm going to be writing an actual BOOK!

Category IBM/Lotus Book Writing
I'm about to embark on something I said I'd never do... write an actual book!

I'm proud to announce that Marie Scott and I will be writing a book together on IBM Lotus Sametime 8.  This book is being published by Packt, and will be written from the perspective of getting a user familiar with and up-to-speed on Sametime 8 and all the features they can use to be more effective and productive.  No administration or programming stuff here...  Instead, it's a book you can put into the hands of your customers and users so they can learn what Sametime is and how best to use it.

I'd like to thank Marie for having the faith and confidence to include me in this project.  She was contacted by Packt to write the book based on her blogging and writing style.  After we discussed the pros and cons of doing something like this, she asked if I would be interested in co-authoring with her.  Although I've always said I'd never write a book due to the intense effort and (often) low financial payback, I realized I've reached the point where I was ready for the overall challenge of putting more than 1500 words together in a single article.

As I somewhat mysteriously tweeted some time back, sometimes you find that your entire work and interests to date have led you to the point of doing something you said you'd never be interested in doing.

I'd also like to thank all those in the Lotus community who have shared, taught, encouraged, and put up with my various ramblings over the years.  Who I am and what I know is based in large part to all of you (yes, you're to blame!).  Thanks also to Packt for coming up with an IBM/Lotus title for a niche that hasn't been covered in the book market, and for taking a chance with two first-time book writers.

Kudos also to Paul, Warren, and Gabs for offering up the infrastructure we'll be using to test out our material and grab screen prints.  This effort would be much harder if not for you all.

So... If you see Marie and I online and up at all (even stranger) hours of the night, you can pretty much figure that another chapter is taking shape...

The great adventure(!) begins...


Book Review - Entrepreneur Journeys v.3: Positioning: How To Test, Validate, And Bring Your Idea To Market by Sramana Mitra

Category Book Review Sramana Mitra Entrepreneur Journeys v.3: Positioning: How To Test Validate And Bring Your Idea To Market
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I've enjoyed volumes 1 and 2 of Sramana Mitra's Entrepreneur Journeys series.  Learning what works and doesn't work from people who have been in the trenches is an excellent way to avoid making the same mistakes yourself.  She's now back with a third volume in the series titled Entrepreneur Journeys v.3: Positioning: How To Test, Validate, And Bring Your Idea To Market.  In here, you'll find out what it takes to position your company and your product to target a specific market niche.  This is vitally important in today's economy, as there's not an abundance of money floating around to throw at ideas to see which one(s) might make it.  Mitra's interviews look at entrepreneurs who have successfully positioned their offering and are making an impact in business.


Going Vertical: Web 3.0 - Under Construction (Siva Kumar - TheFind, Venky Harinarayan - Kosmix, Mattias Miksche - Stardoll); Bootstrapped Web 3.0 (Samir Arora - Glam Media)

Cloud Computing: Deconstructing the Cloud (Ken Rudin - LucidEra, Mike Cordano - Fabrik, Kent Plunkett - Salary.com); India, Inc., Beware (Umberto Milletti - InsideView, Steve Adams - Sabrix); SaaS-ing Back at the Economy (Jim Heegar - PayCycle, Brian Jacobs - Emergence Capital); Saas on a Shoestring

Collaboration: Kill the Business Trip (Sharat Sharan - ON24, D. D. Ganguly - DimDim)

Content Publishing: Lost Talent Found Online (Kevin Weiss - iUniverse, Jeff Housenbold - Shutterfly); Gaming the Recession (John Welch - PlayFirst)

Epilogue; Appendix - Clarify Your Story

When first starting out, it's tempting to want to try and hit all the different market niches you can so that at least one of them will pay off.  But by doing that, Mitra shows that the odds of failure increase dramatically.  The company's offering gets diluted by trying to be all things to all people, and as such nobody wants the product or service.  It's either too much for one niche or not enough for another.  A good (successful) example is the Shutterfly story.  They were one of the first online digital photo sharing sites, but by and large they were not differentiated from any other offering in that space.  It's only once they focused on their digital press capabilities that they found their stride.  They don't aim to compete with Flickr for showing millions of photos online.  Instead, they are targeting the consumers and businesses who want to turn their pictures into a book that can be shared with others.  These small-run digital books are perfect for creating ties and bonds, and through positioning they've established their product as the leader in that field.  

I enjoy the way that Mitra has structured the books in this series.  The interview style allows for the personality of each company and owner to come through, and it seems to work much better than a structured analysis of her thoughts and theories.  Hearing the successes and failures coming straight from those who lived them adds a human element to the information that is often lacking from other business books.  It also allows the interviewees to share little pearls of wisdom that they were given as they grew up.  For instance, D. D. Ganguly of DimDim once asked his father a question, to which he got a response, "Men can do what men have done."  In other words, if someone else has done it before you, there's no reason you can't do it also.  It stuck with him from that point forward, and it's been gnawing away at me all day also...

Before you get too far down the line with your "next big idea", a reading of Positioning might do wonders to help you narrow your focus and improve your chances of success.

Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free


Book Review - Conflicts with Interest by Michael Ruddy

Category Book Review Michael Ruddy Conflicts with Interest
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I received an advance reader copy of Michael Ruddy's debut novel Conflicts with Interest.  Ruddy centers his story around the injustice of the legal system when an aggressive law firm decides to focus their attention on a single industry for their own profit.  

T. R. Morgan and his son Ryan own Morgan Homes, a family owned home construction company.  They're doing relatively well until they get drawn into a legal battle with Steve Sanderson, a high-powered lawyer who has a history of winning huge settlements from construction companies.  The particular home in question for this lawsuit should have been settled for a very small amount, but with Sanderson involved, the numbers quickly escalate to a point where hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake.  T. R. is frustrated in that he wants to see justice done, while the various (and growing) legal teams of the insurance companies only want to minimize possible large payouts and settle.  Even more unbelievable to Morgan is that his own insurance companies are doing everything possible to absolve themselves of any responsibilities to pay out by invoking obscure clauses or offering minimal amounts to the settlement pool.  T. R. has to try and navigate between justice and risk in order to come up with a resolution that he can live with.

As with most debut novels, there's a mix of good and not-so-good here.  If you're into novels with a strong legal bent, there's plenty of material here.  It never ceases to amaze me how a system designed to redress wrongs can be used to attack innocent parties.  The dialogue between the different characters is pretty good, too.  Where I struggled was with the peripheral plots in the story.  Sanderson's involvement in illegal alien trafficking for his various ranches seemed to be rather contrived, and only really came into play for the final plot twist.  The drug problems in the firm also seemed to be glued onto the story until the very end.  T. R.'s new girlfriend could have been left out without much impact, either.  Not everything needs to fit perfectly, nor does everything *have* to be essential to the story.  But as I was reading Conflicts, I kept wondering why certain things mattered, and why I cared.  When I *did* find out why they mattered, I was left with the feeling that the author really had to manipulate things to get there.

Given this is Michael Ruddy's first novel, Conflicts with Interest is a decent first effort.  I think with additional maturity and time, Ruddy could become an author that I'd look forward to reading on a regular basis

Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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