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

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IBM to enter "cloud computing" software market... Um, I thought that was what LotusLive was supposed to be? (edited with more info)

Category IBM/Lotus
Reuters is running a story titled IBM to enter "cloud computing" software market.

IBM will sell a suite of Web-based collaboration software for businesses, including contact management, instant messaging and file sharing programs, the computing giant's biggest effort to date to sell software as a service.

The move to be announced on Wednesday pits International Business Machines Corp against companies that are already established in the fledgling market for software as a service including: Microsoft, Google and privately held Zoho.

IBM will charge companies $10 to $45 per user per month for its software suite, which it will host at its own data centers and deliver via the Web, a company executive said in an interview on Tuesday. The suit will be available April 7.

Help me out here...  Was not LotusLive supposed to be the online collaboration offering to compete with Microsoft Live?  Is this the official rollout of LotusLive complete with pricing now?  

If this is the real launch of LotusLive, I'll be interested to see how this is positioned and marketed.  I'll also be interested to see what sort of "migration" might be needed if someone wants to move from Domino in-house to LotusLive in the cloud.  

And if this is *not* LotusLive, then I'm *really* confused...

Edited a couple minutes later...

More details here at cnet.com...  LotusLive Engage: IBM's cloud gets social

So it is that IBM on Wednesday will announce a service called LotusLive Engage, what it bills as an integrated social networking and collaboration cloud service. You can go up on the Web site today and take a tour, but this is a teaser test run. Although the official announcement will take place at the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Conference, which opens in San Francisco, LotusLive Engage becomes commercially available on April 7.

Brendan Crotty, program manager of LotusLive said the project, initially geared at the small to mid-size business market, benefited from often frank feedback by beta testers who told IBM what they liked and disliked about the interface. In the hour-long demo I had Tuesday afternoon, it appeared that IBM's designers had taken those comments to heart. The console layout was lapidary and intuitive. Enterprise users who previously worked with products like Notes or Microsoft Exchange shouldn't have any trouble figuring out what does what.

LotusLive Engage's communications and collaboration tools work both within and beyond the corporate firewall so that employees can interact with clients, partners, or suppliers. IBM's phrase to describe what's going on is "extranet collaboration." The short list of the features include profile and contact management, online meetings, file sharing, instant messaging, and project management capabilities.

Any information warehoused on LotusLive services will live in a cloud managed by IBM. Pricing will range from $10 to $45 per user.

OK, so it's the LotusLive "official" announcement.  Nice to see they've apparently listened to beta testers.  Nice touch to also announce at an O'Reilly conference instead of just at a news event.  

Just a minor observation, however...  Announcing *anything* significant on April 1st is not exactly the way to get taken seriously...


OK... so perhaps Project Match didn't even appeal to expatriates, either...

Category IBM/Lotus
Back on February 16th, I vented about IBM's Project Match, a relocation program offered as an alternative to getting laid off.  In that post, I ran out the following scenario:

I have no doubt that this will appeal to a very small number of people who want an "adventure".  It may also be a great program for naturalized citizens who have considered moving back to their home country, but didn't quite have the ways and means figured out.  But in terms of a program that's supposed to make me feel all warm and fuzzy about IBM's corporate ethics and concern for their workforce?

Apparently "very small" was just that...  VERY small.

In The Industry Standard, there's an article about how IBM is trying to patent a "method and system for strategic global resource sourcing."  Gotta love that phrase.  But what I found interesting was this snippet further down in the article:

Project Match, an IBM offshoring initiative the Standard reported on last month, offers U.S. employees the chance to stay with IBM by relocating to another country, to work in an IBM regional division at local wage rates. IBM has roughly 400,000 employees in 170 countries. As of early February, fewer than ten employees had shown interest in the program.

"Fewer than ten employees had shown interest."  Mind you, not less than ten had gone off to another country.  Just shown interest.

Gotta wonder how much was spent coming up with that program, and whether the person had it listed on their annual accomplishments.  :)


A possible idea... Do you position Notes/Domino as primarily an application development platform?

Category IBM/Lotus
Just one of those things that went whipping through my mind while writing the last blog post...

Most of the "Notes Sucks" attitude is aimed at the Notes client as an email offering.  Conversely, most of the defense of Notes vs. "whatever" is that Notes is so much more than email.

So what if...

Domino and Domino Designer becomes the core focus of the Notes Domino offering.  RAD web development, Xpages, web services, etc.  Make sure that the ability to link to various email services (Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Notes client, etc.) is solid and universal.  The Notes client and Notes mail is still offered, but it's not the primary emphasis for application development.  You offer a package of Domino, Domino Designer, and Domino Administrator as a web development and delivery platform.


Still go with the Notes client/Domino server, but de-emphasize the email offering.  Again, work on close integration with other email platforms via the browser, but push the fact that you can create complex collaborative applications that interact with any mail system *or* other communication channel (IM, Twitter, etc.)  

Yeah, not completely thought out, but I've been home sick on flu meds.  :)


Google Closing In On Major Enterprise Deals (another large Lotus shop)...

Category IBM/Lotus
From eWeek: Google Closing In On Major Enterprise Deals

Google is close to striking a deal for an enterprise-level Gmail implementation with Prudential for 40,000 seats, unseating IBM's Lotus Notes in the process.

This would be a huge win for Google, not least of which because of draconian risk and security policies in place at the financial services giant. Every piece of email sent by a Prudential employee is at least machine-scanned, with searches for words like "guarantee," or for certain types of numbers, and some segment of the Prudential population has each email they send looked at by human eyes.

I find this reported migration rather interesting, as it starts to show migrations for firms which have traditionally taken security and auditing *very* seriously.  The "I don't trust my data to be off-site" argument in relation to regulatory requirements has always been one of the major points in my mind *against* outsourcing your email environment.  If companies like Prudential start to migrate, and *if* they show a solid track record of meeting regulatory standards, it doesn't bode well for the on-premise email infrastructure contingent.  Without a solid offering "in the cloud" to sell to your customers (or new customers), you're at a distinct disadvantage.

Now having said all that, there's a large leap between striking a 40000 seat deal, and the following statement:

According to my sources, Prudential's IT operations are trying to secure corporate approval for a 50-seat pilot.

Do you strike a deal first, and then do a pilot?  Or do you attempt a pilot, with the plan that you'll buy the whole offering if it works out OK?


Book Review - SharePoint 2007 Development Recipes by Mark E. Gerow

Category Book Review Mark E. Gerow SharePoint 2007 Development Recipes
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In nearly all the technologies I work with, I like to see working examples of code that I can "R&D" (Rob & Duplicate).  This holds even more true for new stuff I'm learning, and SharePoint 2007 Development Recipes by Mark E. Gerow is a great book that's already given me ideas for routines I need to build.

Site Management; Working with Users; Working with Lists; Working with Web Parts; Working with Event Handlers; Working with Templates; Modifying Pages with JavaScript; Advanced Dishes; Index

As stated in the title, Gerow takes the "recipe" approach to this book, in that each chapter is loaded with working code that is detailed and complete for a specific task.  You can then use the code "as is", or you can start with it as your base program for whatever twist you need to add.  Each solution includes the type of application it is (like ASP.NET web app or web part), the assembly and class library references you'll need, the classes that will be used, along with any special considerations that need to be kept in mind for this particular program.  The preparation section gets you set up to start, and then you have the "recipe" in VB *and* C# (so you can use whatever is most familiar to you).  The wrapup has the instructions on how it runs (along with any applicable screen prints), and any variations you might want to consider.  There's also a piece in there that I love, which is the process flow of the solution.  It's a simple flowchart that outlines in plain language what is occurring, as well as all the decision branches that are made along the way.  I find this invaluable when you're first starting out, as you may not yet be adept at reading code to see the overall flow.  Consider the flowchart the "Cliff Notes" of what is going on in the program.

Even as a beginner, this book works well for me.  I was impressed to see the author's statement as to whether this was a beginner or advanced book.  He's more interested in whether the book gave you information you didn't already have, or made the information you had much more usable and accessible.  It's that bent towards practicality that drives the entire book, and it's one that I'll be using time and time again as I continue working my way through the SharePoint jungle.


Book Review - Essential SharePoint 2007 by Scott Jamison, Mauro Cardarelli, Susan Handley

Category Book Review Scott Jamison Mauro Cardarelli Susan Handley Essential SharePoint 2007
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When you're making a jump to SharePoint from some other platform (especially a non-Microsoft offering), the sheer size of the package can be daunting.  And being dumped into the bits and bytes of SharePoint doesn't help much when you don't have any context for most of it.  Essential SharePoint 2007 by Scott Jamison, Mauro Cardarelli, and Susan Handley was the perfect "first book" for me to get my mind wrapped around all that is SharePoint.  It's also perfect for the higher level technical user who wants to do more than just the basics.

Your Collaboration Strategy - Ensuring Success; Office SharePoint Server 2007 - High-Impact Collaboration Across the Extended Enterprise; Introduction to the 2007 Office System as a Collaboration and Solution Platform; SharePoint Architecture Fundamentals; Planning Your Information Architecture; Planning Your Move from SharePoint 2003 to 2007 - Upgrade or Build?; Disaster Recovery Planning; Sites, Blogs, and Wikis; Enterprise Content Management - Documents, Records, and Web; Enterprise Search; Making Business Processes Work - Workflow and Forms; Office 2007 - Offline Options for MOSS 2007; Providing Business Intelligence; Appendix A - SharePoint User Tasks; Appendix B - OS/Browser/Office Compatibility; Index

I'm switching from developing applications in the Notes/Domino platform to doing the same in SharePoint.  But where Notes/Domino is somewhat self-contained, SharePoint has a ton of moving parts (Office, WSS, MOSS, SQL Server, etc.)  As such I was having a hard time trying to figure out how to group everything in my mind.  Essential SharePoint 2007 turned out to be the perfect way to start my journey.  The authors write their material towards technical architects and business analysts who will need to know how to set up and use SharePoint to accomplish their many processes.  The specifics of how to use certain features and web parts are detailed enough that you could use it as a first line of training for those who want to do more than just look at pages.  The chapters on architecture, disaster recovery, and rolling out SharePoint are perfect for your administration and architecture staff who will have to become responsible for building and maintaining the infrastructure.  There are also chapters comparing SharePoint 2003 to the latest version (2007), but if you're familiar with 2003, you might well already have a grasp on much of the material.  Fortunately for me, I'm starting with 2007, so migration is not a consideration...

While this wouldn't be the only SharePoint book on my shelf, it definitely needs to be there.  It won't teach me how to program and customize SharePoint at the level I'll need to be able to down the road.  But for getting a good grasp of the overall fundamentals of setup, administration, and use of SharePoint, it's hard to beat.


Book Review - Nuclear Jellyfish by Tim Dorsey

Category Book Review Tim Dorsey Nuclear Jellyfish
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What can you say to describe a Tim Dorsey novel?  As with all the other Serge novels, Nuclear Jellyfish is a bizarre, crazy, frenetic dash through Florida history, crime, and culture.

Serge has a new career running his own online travel site.  Of course, what Serge looks for in terms of quality travel destinations wouldn't necessarily fit with anyone else's ideas (unless you're obsessed with Elvis).  His search for new material has him running down the coast of Florida, meeting coin dealers, diamond couriers, diamond thieves, and other assorted characters that you'll only encounter in Dorsey's version of Florida.  Mahoney, the detective trying to bring Serge in for just about every crime you can imagine, is hot on his trail.  But compared to everyone else who wants a piece of him, that's the least of Serge's problems.  "Eel" (aka Jellyfish) wants him dead in a rather gruesome fashion, but getting Serge pinned down in one location is far from easy...

If you've read a Dorsey/Serge novel before, you know exactly what you're in for.  If you haven't, words are hard to find to describe the craziness that takes place.  As warped as it sounds, I think I most enjoy seeing the "unique" ways that Serge dishes out justice to those who deserve it.  Death by garden soaker hose was different, as well as timed releases of expanding insulation foam.  Add in all the unique Florida trivia you pick up along the way (Lynyrd Skynyrd, anyone?), and you have a niche that only Dorsey can occupy.  Nuclear Jellyfish is yet another fun ride in the sun-soaked state of Florida, and now I can only wait until the next installment comes out.


Book Review - OPUS: 25 Years of His Sunday Best by Berkeley Breathed

Category Book Review Berkeley Breathed OPUS: 25 Years of His Sunday Best
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Bloom County is in my top five favorite comic strip list (keeping Calvin & Hobbes company). And when you talk about Bloom County, you're talking about the lovable penguin, Opus.  Berkeley Breathed has compiled all the full color Sunday strips in the book OPUS: 25 Years of His Sunday Best.  Everything from 1980 through 2005, from Bloom County through Outland and finally to just plain Opus.  Great walk down memory lane, and it's amazing how well those strips hold up over time.

Breathed goes into some of his rationale behind his break between Bloom County and Outland, how Outland was started as a Sunday-only strip, and how he came back from retirement once again to do the Opus strip.  He confesses that trying to stay creative and motivated is hard over time, and it's why he chose to walk away instead of letting the strip deteriorate.  I have to respect that, as I've seen more than a few strips that have overstayed their welcome and are merely rehashes of the same old thing.  

The only thing I wish Breathed would have done here is have a small date reference on each strip.  Some of the humor is topical, and it would have been nice to have a date to remember what else was going on.  Still, it's a tribute to Opus that even without dates, the humor and commentary loses none of its power.  This was an hour of time well (and enjoyably) spent.


Book Review - Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

Category Book Review Alfred Lansing Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
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I have this strange attraction to books that revolve around survival in inclement weather conditions.  Books like In Thin Air both fascinate and unnerve me, in that I can't figure out *why* someone would want to go through that potential experience.  But all those mountain climbing books pale in comparison to the incredible story of Ernest Shackleton's expedition to cross the Antarctic on foot.  Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing takes you along on a two year journey that captures man's will to survive in conditions that are unimaginable.

Shackleton started out from England in August of 1914 with a ship laden with the supplies they'd need to make it to the South Pole.  From there, they would use supplies stored by another ship in preparation for the rest of the trip to the other side of the continent.  Tragically, they never even made it to the coast to start their expedition.  January 1915 found them stranded in pack ice, with no way to free the ship to continue or escape.  The ship became their home for the next 10 months as they wintered through the dark Antarctic nights, ever vigilant for potential escape or danger from their ice floe breaking up.  The extreme pressure of the ice pack finally won out, and the Endurance was crushed and sunk.  This left the 28 men stranded with three smaller boats, dwindling supplies, and little hope of long-term survival.

The breaking up of the ice pack forced the group to launch the boats to make an attempt to reach an inhabited portion of land in order to be rescued.  But even that didn't go as planned, as the weather and seas conspired to push them away from the more probable points of rescue, finally stranding them on a small sliver of land known as Elephant's Island.  Again enduring harsh weather, the decision was made to send a small group out on the last seaworthy boat to make an 800 mile journey to the nearest whaling station.  Shackleford pushed off, knowing that his own survival chances were slim, much less those of the group that was being left behind on the island.  But against all odds, they were able to make it to South Georgia, cross a number of inhospitable mountains, and arrive at a whaling station...  four very grimy, tired, and left-for-dead individuals.  Even more surprising, they were able to secure a ship, head back to their shipmates and rescue *all* of them.  No one was lost on a two year ordeal that should have killed them all.

I was amazed at what Shackleton and his crew were able to do in order to survive.  Nearly a century later, with technology and gear that would be unthinkable back then, I'm not sure you would be able to put 28 people in the same situation and have them survive.  What they did could be considered miraculous.  I was even more struck about how far we've come in terms of transportation and communications since then.  There were no search parties to send out, nor could you radio for help.  The fact that you hadn't shown up anywhere in over a year was proof enough that you had been lost at sea, and your story would never be told unless some explorer came across your remains years later.  

This would be a really good book if it were a fictional adventure novel, although we'd say it was a bit over the top and not very realistic.  The fact that it was a *real* story just makes it all the more incredible.  Great read...


Book Review - Vanishing America: The End of Main Street Diners, Drive-Ins, Donut Shops, and Other Everyday Monuments by Michael Eastman

Category Book Review Michael Eastman Vanishing America: The End of Main Street Diners Drive-Ins Donut Shops and Other Everyday Monuments
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I seem to have a fascination with older photos, especially pictures of architecture and buildings that tell endless stories.  Our local library just got a copy of Vanishing America: The End of Main Street Diners, Drive-Ins, Donut Shops, and Other Everyday Monuments by Michael Eastman, so I got on the list to check it out.  While it's not the old black-and-white photos of 80 years ago, Eastman has captured images of America that we pass by every day without a second thought.  In context, the buildings and store fronts may not stand out.  But isolated in a picture, they take on a certain quality that we wouldn't otherwise notice until they're gone.

The book is divided up into chapters covering theaters, churches, hangouts, doors, signs, stores, services, automobiles, hotels, and restaurants.  After a brief one page somewhat philosophical description of the chapter matter, the rest of the chapter is nothing but full color photos of different places, from east coast to west.  For instance, the theater chapter has a beautiful picture of the Fremont theater in San Luis Obispo, as well as a picture of the candy counter inside, evoking memories of when going to a movie was a big deal.  Some of the theaters are abandoned, such as the Diamond theater in Tuscaoosa, but others are beautifully appointed interiors like the Paramount theater in Oakland.  It's fascinating to see all the different styles, colors, and conditions laid out in successive pages.

What I found interesting in the book (and in photos in general) is that Eastman can take a run-down building that most of us would consider an eye-sore and give it a personality.  The Arcade barber shop in Paducah would not win any awards for style, fashion, or even upkeep.  But isolate it in a photo, and it takes on a whole new light, a completely different story.  At some point, sites like these will be torn down for some other development project.  Many will not even remember what was there to begin with.  But Eastman is able to capture those glimpses of America that either are in their current glory, or perhaps are only reminiscent of better days.

Vanishing America won't take you long to "read", but it's an enjoyable walk across America's distant and not-so-distant paths...


IBM draws criticism for job cuts, outsourcing

Category IBM/Lotus
From CNN.com: IBM draws criticism for job cuts, outsourcing

IBM's reported plans to lay off thousands of U.S. workers and outsource many of those jobs to India, even as the company angles for billions in stimulus money, doesn't sit well with employee rights advocates.

IBM employees are being dealt a double blow, said Lee Conrad, national coordinator for Alliance@IBM, a pro-union group that has been fighting IBM's outsourcing for years.

"We're outraged that jobs cuts are happening in the U.S. and the work is being shifted offshore," Conrad said. "This comes at the same time IBM has its hand out for stimulus money. This to us is totally unacceptable."

I'm having a hard time with this layoffs/offshoring/stimulus money scenario.  Especially when followed up by statements such as:

"In the research we've done working with the transition team, we know that $30 billion could create 1 million jobs in the next 12 months," IBM CEO Sam Palmisano said in January.

The problem is where those jobs would be, said Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

"This is really a question of policy," Hira said. "IBM is doing what's in its best interest, and in this case it's not in the best interest of America. And that's why you need policymakers to step in to ensure that this money gets spent to create American jobs."

OK...  I'm reading that to mean that IBM could help create a million jobs if they got $30 billion in stimulus monies to work on upgrading power grids, moving to electronic medical record summaries, and furthering the use of broadband.  But IBM is not an electrical company stringing wires, so it must be the software to control the grid to make it smarter.  Same with Meidcal Record Technology. They aren't doctors, but they make all those medical computers run.  Furthering the use of broadband can mean so many things, from better chip sets to more cell towers. But all these technologies are really hardware and software

While IBM is still considered an American company, they do have global players all over.  But the focus seems to be that the American worker, hard working and paid well, is finding himself Increasingly in the target sites of senior management.  They're looking for numbers...  How they can have more resources to do more with less.  And it appears to do that you need to lay off our trained US citizens to go find one of those "high-skill' possibilities that exist overseas.

Our federal stimulus packages are set up and designed to take from one US taxpayer and give to another so that the money being spend is still in our circulation.  It's not to give to companies so that they can write, design, and service software in another country to pump it up instead.  I still believe that AIG is the grossest example of greed and complete lack of ethics, taking billions of *bailout* money to pay execs millions in *bonuses*.  IBM is moving up on my personal list pretty fast, pushing for stimulus dollars to benefit IBM, not necessarily to create jobs here in the US.  And of course, getting billions in stimulus money means the end-of-year financial results will look pretty sweet, leading to... you guessed it...  bonuses for executives.

(To be clear...  the attitude expressed here has *nothing* to do with how I feel about Lotus software, people I work with at IBM/Lotus, or even the technology produced by IBM.)


Reports: Layoffs Coming In IBM Services

Category IBM/Lotus
From ChannelWeb: Reports: Layoffs Coming In IBM Services

Great...  here we go again...

IBM is set to cut as many as 5,000 jobs from its global business and global technology services, according to published report by Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

The move comes after IBM eliminated an undisclosed number of jobs— believed to number at least several thousand—back in January. Those cuts were primarily in the company's Software Group.

While a spokesman acknowledged in January that IBM was "reallocating our skills and resources," the company has largely been silent about the scope of its workforce reductions. An IBM spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on reports of the latest layoffs.

The reports indicate that some of the service work performed by the laid-off employees would be shifted to IBM employees in India.

But not to worry...  I'm sure those 5000 will be thrilled to jump at the opportunity to travel abroad and keep working for Big Blue.

I think we can pretty much conclude that IBM is no different than any other manufacturing company, and has decided that the US is too expensive in terms of resources.  Hence, just ship all the jobs overseas so the cost of doing business in the US is cheaper.  I can somewhat see the day when the US IT industry is no different than the US automakers...  Unless it involves selling or repairing software, it's just too expensive to do it in the US.  

And it still dismays me that IBM chooses to keep the cuts below a level in which they are required to announce what's going on.  At least Microsoft had the cojones to say "yes, we're cutting people, here's how many, and here's when it will be."  I have my problems with *that* also, given the state of the economy and the amount of cash flow they have coming in.  Still, it's much more up front than the continual "no comment" and PR spin of one-way offshore relocation assistance.


Book Review - Russian Roulette by Austin S. Camacho

Category Book Review Austin S. Camacho Russian Roulette
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I may have to add Austin S. Camacho to my list of authors to follow and catch up on after reading his latest novel, Russian Roulette.  I received the book for review before I left on vacation, and I would have been perfectly happy to have all of the Hannibal Jones series with me to read.

Jones is minding his own business, going along on his detective duties, when a new client shows up in his office...  with a gun, an assignment, and a threat if Jones doesn't take the case.  The client is a Russian assassin with contacts to the Russian Mafia.  His love interest has decided to marry a person who purports to be a rich African businessman.  The assassin isn't buying it, and wants Jones to see if this guy is really who he says he is.  Jones has little choice, as *his* love interest might be hurt or killed if he doesn't take the job.  But Jones quickly finds that very few of the players in this mystery are really who they appear to be.  The African businessman has as many layers as an onion, the girl may have just as many layers and connections in her past, and the longer Jones digs, the more people start to turn up dead or missing.  What starts out as an assignment he has to take turns into one that he can't put down until he figures out just who is who.

I enjoyed the character of Hannibal Jones much more than I expected.  I probably would have gotten a bit more out of the book and character had I read some of the previous installments.  For instance, there's a level of tension between Jones and his girlfriend Cindy Santiago.  I'm pretty sure there's a back story that explains their love interest as well as the employer/employee relationship that appears to exist.  But even without knowing that, the story was complete enough on its own.  Plenty of mystery, suspense, and excitement to keep the pages turning.

Now all I have to do is track down the earlier installments to get caught up, and I'll be happy...


Book Review - Seahawk: Confessions of an Old Goalie by Bruce Valley

Category Book Review Bruce Valley Seahawk: Confessions of an Old Goalie
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Hockey wasn't always the high-tech, indoor game that you see on TV today.  It used to be contested on outdoor ponds, games at the mercy of weather conditions, cars surrounding the rink to provide illumination for night games.  Bruce Valley learned the game under those conditions in the 50's with the Rye Seahawks playing goalie at the tender age of 14.  He recounts those memories in his book Seahawk: Confessions of an Old Goalie.  For anyone with a love of hockey and a sense of history, this is a great introspective read that takes you back to a simpler time in our collective history.

Valley grew up in Rye in the 40's, a small town on the east coast, struggling to survive in the post WWII era.  One day as a youngster, he looked out the window of his house and saw something he had never seen before...  a bunch of men skating on ice with sticks, batting around a little rubber disk.  His father explained the game of hockey to him, and his life was never the same.  Without much else to do in a cold New England winter, Valley took up the game with a passion.  This adhoc game turned into an official team in an actual league, and the Rye Seahawks became a dominant force in the area.  Valley ended up joining the team at the age of 14 for a two year stint towards the end of the team's existence.  While the outdoor version of the game was drawing to a close, Valley continued to make hockey a critical part of his life and passion.  Thru his eyes, you see a side of the game lost to today's youth, and a piece of history that was played out every winter in small towns all over the Northeast part of the country.

I really liked this book.  Valley writes with a clarity that puts you right on the ice, temperatures close to zero, picking up the shovel to clear the ice for the next day's games.  He supplements his stories with scans of actual news clippings that reported the game results, treating the team and the games as high-profile sports entertainment.  All in all, it's an introspective look into what the game of hockey means to someone, coupled with a step back into nostalgia.


Book Review - Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple by Kaoru Nonomura

Category Book Review Kaoru Nonomura Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple
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From Amazon Vine, I received a review copy of the book Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple by Kaoru Nonomura.  I expected to find a story about how the writer came to find himself in the peace and serenity of a Buddist temple.  Not so much...  Yes, he did learn much about himself in the process but it was far from peaceful and serene.  Cruel and brutal is closer to the truth.

Nonomura decided at the age of 30 that he was at a dead end in his life.  Although he had a job, girlfriend, and family, he struggled with who he was and what meaning his life should have.  In a surprising move to many, he decided to join the Eiheiji template to become a Buddist monk.  Eiheiji is known as the most extreme and severe of the Zen temples, and Nonomura wasn't sure what to expect, other than the fact that his life would be changing.  How much he'd change wasn't something he imagined beforehand...

He arrived in February on the steps of the temple, waiting to be admitted.  After waiting in the cold and snow for days, he endured the start of what would be a brutal existence over the next 12 months.  Screaming, beratings, beatings, and sleep and food deprivation became his hourly reality.  Absolutely everything done in the temple, from sleeping to eating to cleaning, even going to the toilet, is ritualized with exact motions and chantings.  Even the smallest violation earned the offender beatings and humiliation at a level we'd expect from a deranged cult leader.  But through it all, Nonomura endured and found freedom and peace in the smallest moments in life, learning to just exist rather than to strive to win in life.  After being there for a year, he decided he didn't want to continue the training as it didn't hold any long-term purpose for him.  But he took those lessons and attitude changes back into society and shares them here for others to see and understand.

In terms of telling his story, Eat Sleep Sit does an excellent job in going behind the walls of a monastic experience to show what it really means to lead the life of a Zen Buddist monk.  I was amazed at the beauty and history of the traditions, while also being repulsed at the violence and apparent meaninglessness of it all.  While I don't believe in this particular philosophy, it was good to read in order to examine my own life for meaning and purpose.  Sitting and staring at a wall for "personal enlightenment" doesn't do much to improve the conditions of others.


Book Review - A Margin of Error: Ballots of Straw by Lani Massey Brown

Category Book Review Lani Massey Brown A Margin of Error: Ballots of Straw
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Based on an author request, I accepted a copy of A Margin of Error: Ballots of Straw by Lani Massey Brown for review.  The premise was certainly pulled from the headlines of today's elections...  Electronic voting machines are forced on a state by officials that may not be totally impartial in the decision.  The main techie who is responsible for an error-free election is outspoken over the fact that no means exist to audit the results.  But she has to do the best with what she has, and document every procedure and process they have.  As the elections get closer, a series of prank/obscene/threatening phone calls escalates for both her and one of her female staff members.  A "spy" from the governor's office shows up to make sure she doesn't create waves as the election is manipulated.  But the spy gets a case of ethics, sides with the techie (and falls in love in the process), and decides to work with her to blow the lid off of the whole corrupt establishment.

In terms of a plot that may be closer to the truth than we'd like, this book scores.  Even as late as this week, it was discovered that one of the main electronic voting machines (all models) have had no audit trail to show when votes were deleted.  Of course, the official explanation is "we didn't know, and we're working to fix it now".  The truth may well be totally different.  Unfortunately, the dialogue of the characters left something to be desired.  Cady (the techie) and Neil (the spy) end up using each other's name in almost every sentence, and it makes for some pretty stilted conversational flow.  If I'm talking to my boss, I'm certainly not using her name in every other sentence when I'm talking to her.  It also took a bit of time to get into the story, as you're not really sure who the voyeur and phone caller is and/or why he's there for quite awhile.  I almost felt as if there was an earlier episode that I had missed.

While Margin is not the best novel I've ever read, it was worth it to explore the issue surrounding the transparency and ability of American voters to participate in a free and honest election.  We shouldn't let the lessons of Florida and 2004 go to waste.


Book Review - Christianity In Crisis: The 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff

Category Book Review Hank Hanegraaff Christianity In Crisis: The 21st Century
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I received the book Christianity In Crisis: The 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff recently, not knowing exactly where he would be going with his material.  Turns out that he takes on the whole "Faith Movement" belief system, sometimes referred to as the prosperity doctrine.  By researching and documenting the teachings of people like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and others, he reveals a brand of Christianity that is far different than what's been practiced for the last 2000 years.  And while it's easy to just flip over the channels where these people teach their brand of faith, it's far more dangerous not to know the background and dangers involved...

Part 1 - Turning Truth Into Mythology: Cult or Cultic?; Charismatic or Cultic?; Cast of Characters; Charting the Course
Part 2 - Faith in Faith: Force of Faith; Formula of Faith; Faith of God; Faith Hall of Fame
Part 3 - Little Gods: Deification of Man; Demotion of God; Deification of Christ; Demotion of Christ
Part 4 - Atonement Atrocities: Re-creation on the Cross; Redemption in Hell; Rebirth in Hell; Reincarnation
Part 5 - Wealth and Want: Cultural Conformity; Cons and Cover-Ups; Covenant-Contract; Context, Context, Context
Part 6 - Sickness and Suffering: Symptoms and Sickness; Satan and Sickness; Sin and Sickness; Sovereignty and Sickness
Part 7 - Back to Basics: A = Amen; B = Bible; C = Church; D = Defense; E = Essentials
Epilogue; Appendix A - Are "God's Anointed" Beyond Criticism?; Appendix B - Apologetics - The Defense of the Faith; Appendix C - The Three Universal Creeds; Scripture Index; Subject Index; Bibliography; Notes

Hanegraaff takes on the prosperity preachers and the "Faith Movement" in all areas here.  Using documented sources such as interviews, books, television appearances and more, he strips the veneer off of preachers like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and many others.  He goes beyond the praise Jesus and send us money stereotypes to dig into the doctrine and belief systems that these people espouse.  And that theology is dangerous.  Beyond the "we deserve to be rich and prosperous" message lies more deadly teachings such as God can't do anything until we ask, we're no different than Jesus, and all illness is a sign that you are harboring sin in your life.  Single verses are taken out of context to support their activities, while whole other passages are ignored that would correct their errors if only they were considered.  And if they don't like the implications of a particular verse, they just rewrite to say something completely different.

In some areas, the book seems to require some heavy slogging, as there is so much detail involved.  Also, after a while it's hard to keep the different players straight as they all seem to share much of the same erroneous theology and distasteful practices.  But this type of a book needs to be out there, and it needs to pull no punches when it comes to combatting heresy. This should be required reading for anyone involved in the "name it and claim it" movements, or for those wondering if they're out of God's will because of certain hardships they're undergoing.  While it might be nice to believe that God's going to give us every material want we have, it's deadly to base your entire view of God on that premise.


Book Review - Do Good Design: How Design Can Change Our World by David B. Berman

Category Book Review David B. Berman Do Good Design: How Design Can Change Our World
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One of the books I received from Amazon Vine last month was Do Good Design: How Design Can Change Our World by David B. Berman.  Actually, it was a book I heard about from a few other bloggers who I respect, so getting the opportunity to pick it up for review was perfect.  Overall, I thought his premise was interesting and thought-provoking...  Designers have an obligation to "do good" when it comes to crafting messages, and that our current mindset of mass consumption is not sustainable in the long run.  He shows plenty of examples to back up his views, and you can't help but consider how much "mass deception" we've succumbed to.  But to buy into his message completely, you have to think that most everyone out there is bent on seducing you in ways you haven't imagined.  And I personally don't think that everything is a conspiracy theory...

The Creative Brief - Disarming the Weapons of Mass Deception: Start Now; Beyond Green - A Convenient Lie; Pop Landscape; The Weapons - Visual Lies, Manufactured Needs; Where The Truth Lies - A Slippery Slope; Wine, Women, and Water; Losing Our Senses
The Design Solution - Convenient Truths: Why Our Time Is The Perfect Time; How To Lie, How To Tell The Truth; how We Do Good Is How We Do Good; Professional Climate Change
The Do Good Pledge: "What Can One Professional Do?"
Appendixes: First Things First Manifesto; Excerpt From The GDC's Code of Ethics; Excerpt from AIGA's Standards of Professional Practice; The Road To Norway And China; Notes; Index; Questions For Discussion; Acknowledgements; About The Author

If you're not in the habit of questioning what you see, Berman will open your eyes in the first section on disarming weapons of mass deception.  Yes, you've got the typical ads that are heavy on sex, enticing male viewers to equate the product with fulfillment.  But he also goes after products like Fiji Water that attempt to position themselves as an environmental alternative.  But we're talking about, as he puts it, "shipping water from the South Seas in plastic bottles from China to the US and Europe in container ships".  When you start looking at ads designed with those deceptions in place, you realize that the drain on resources to support that type of selling is not something that can be sustained on a global basis before the environment takes heavy damage.  Coke takes a pretty heavy hit with the ubiquitous use of the familiar Coke logo spread all over the world, cementing their products in people's mind through sheer mass exposure.  He also exposes myths like Bailey's Irish Cream, which tries to evoke the image of centuries of handcrafted excellence, while it's really only about 40 years old and is a result of a corporate campaign to get more young women to drink whisky.

He intersperses these examples with others that show responsible and truthful facts in advertising, such as cigarette warning labels that tend towards the graphic depiction of what tobacco can do to you in the long term. All this culminates in a commitment to the Do Good Pledge: the time to commit is now (immediacy), I will be true to my profession (ethics), I will be true to myself (principles), and I will spend at least 10 percent of my professional time helping repair the world (effort).  In other words, instead of doing whatever it takes to get and keep the large clients, take a principled stand that you will not feed the mass consumption beast and you will instead try to make a difference in the world.

Personally, I got a lot out of the book even though I'm not a "designer" in terms of the audience he's addressing.  We *do* need to change our mindset as consumers, and stop being manipulated by images designed solely to make us want to buy more stuff we don't need.  On the other hand, there's a fair amount of grey area over what constitutes responsible selling vs. manipulative selling, and I don't know that I fall as far to the left of the scale as he does.  But if nothing more, reading Do Good Design will make you look at the images and icons around you in a new light.  And hopefully you'll act a bit differently as a result...


The Flickr photoset of our cruise...

Category Everything Else
A picture named M2

Click the photo above to head over to Flickr and see the whole set...


Recapping the rest of the cruise (a few days late, but who cares?)

Category Everything Else
So as I left everyone in the last installment, I was relaxing in the room with a number of bruises, cuts, and scrapes from my "up close" experience with the rocks in Samana...

Antigua followed Tortola, and we had nothing planned for there.  Sue was rather toasted from her day in Tortola, and was not up for anything major.  I was watching various spots on my body turn colorful shades of black, blue, and yellow.  So it ended up being another rest day...  I must say that I'm missing not being able to take morning and afternoon naps every day now.

Barbados was next, and Sue and I took the Flavor of Barbados tour.  It started at a mahogany craft factory, where all the pieces are done by sanding (no saws or chisels).  They demo'd the process for us (quite fascinating, actually), and then we wandered the gift shop to support the local economy.  I ended up with a very nice mahogany pencil/pen holder in a matte finish.  It looks classy and smells wonderful.  For a stop I thought would be a throwaway location, it was one of the best stops.  Next was Sunbury House, a plantation house from back when they had a full-scale sugar plantation there.  And finally, the Foursquare Distillery, where they make RUM!  Again, interesting stuff to see how they've automated and computerized the whole process, and how it is a carbon-neutral cycle.  I had a hard time not comparing it to the Scotch Experience in Edinburgh, where you see how things are still very much handcrafted.  I think I appreciated the history of Scotch much more than the history of rum...

Our final stop before the two days at sea getting back to Miami was St. Lucia.  That was a highlight!  We hired a van and driver who had rave reviews on the 'net, and paid the extra $20 per person ($75 total per person) to keep it to the four of us (another couple that Sue knows from work).  It was incredible.  The driver used to be a police officer on the island, and now does tours and taxi services.  He stopped at places we normally wouldn't give a second thought to (roadside banana groves where we had bananas straight off the trees), but he knew the people and we got exceptional service.  We went to a waterfall area, had some great jerk chicken, went to the sulfur springs which are part of a volcano (*really* smelly!), visited beautiful beaches, etc.  The best part is that we really felt like we had visited the island and gotten to make new friends rather than just be herded along as part of a tour.

The last two days on board were our final chance to get our sun and relaxation in.  The highlight of those two days was the stage show that the ship had the final night...  Cirque Bijou.  It's modeled after the more well-known Cirque, but it was one of the most adventurous shows I've seen a cruise ship attempt.  Gymnastics, aerial routines with fabric streamers hung from the ceiling, a contortionist who was painfully flexible, singing, dancing, etc.  I would have been entertained had it been a regular theater production in a fixed location.  To pull something like this off on a moving ship in a confined area was incredible.

Reality intruded on Sunday when we had to make the long flight home.  Everything was relatively on time, but eight hours on a plane is not fun, especially when you know you'll get home at around 9:30 pm and have to head to work at 6 am the next morning...  Oh, well...  such is life.

Looking back at the cruise, I think I can say it was a successful vacation.  I came back rested and relaxed, albeit with a few more scabs than I arrived with.  I think I read about nine books, which was about what I was expecting (most of them were in the 150 - 250 page range, not very long).  But I think most importantly, I was again faced with the reality that no matter how bad or "rough" I think I may have it at times, it is nothing compared to what many others deal with on a daily basis.  I don't spend 75% of my day without electricity, nor do I have to go out searching for water sources for the day.  I have a job that pays me very well, far in excess of what one needs to meet bare essentials.  I have a perfectly adequate home, with an abundance of extra space compared to what others have to live in.  No, our health care in America is not free, but it is available and and well-equipped.  And I have opportunities to experience things that others can't even conceive of.  Yes, while compared to others around me, I may be "middle class".  But compared to much of the rest of the world, I have wealth and abundance beyond measure.

It's a reality check that we all need to experience more often than we do.


Cruise recap - days 1 through 3

Category Everything Else
Ah, yes... life is now grand.  :)

Monday morning, 10 am'ish...  Like time matters on a ship.

The overnight flight to get to Miami was smooth, the luggage arrived with no issues, and we got checked into the ship on Friday.  Our room is great!  Aft with a balcony, 9th floor.  You truly can sit on the balcony and watch the world go by.  And the beds are an upgrade from last time with memory foam toppers.  I've slept more in the last three days than I've slept in the last three weeks.  :)

Saturday was a day at sea in full relaxation mode.  Read, napped, read, napped, ate, read, napped...  The evening show was called Band On The Run, a retro stage show covering those hot tunes of the 70's.  Funny that I can't remember to take out the trash, but I knew almost all the words to the songs.  I also sat in on a digital photo lecture, with one of the most obnoxious lecturers I've ever listened to.  In his seventies, sounded half-tanked, off-color "jokes", and material that could have been covered in 5 minutes instead of 45.  He's supposed to do two other lectures on the last days at sea, covering digital editing.  No *way* am I subjecting myself to that (more on Mr. Obnoxious in a bit).

Yesterday was the stop in Samana, and a tour of the highlights as well as a beach stop.  Now, to be fair, they *did* say the roads would be "rough".  That was an understatement.  We were in safari type vehicles, on "main" roads, and seldom got above 20 mph because of all the ruts and ditches.  And when we *really* went off-road, it was even worse.  Two hours or so out, another two getting back, and every bone in your body was moved to places they've never been before...

We saw a place called the Devil's Mouth, a rock formation where the sea shoots up through blowholes.  Quite stunning, as you could walk right up to the edge.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that the rock formations are very sharp, as I took a tumble and sliced up my knee and leg pretty well.  Yes, pictures will be forthcoming when I get back to locations that have better internet connectivity than a 56kb satellite uplink.  The beach was spectacular, and that will be a memorable stretch of sand and waves.  

Oh, and Mr. Obnoxious?  He decided to take the same tour, and unfortunately was in the same safari truck.  He was acting like he was the tour guide, complete with stupid, off-color, AND offensive jokes.  Imagine the nerdy kid in school who keeps repeating the same stuff until someone acknowledges him, and he thinks he's the funniest person there...  Never have I felt the need to comment to management about someone's behavior, but this will be a first.  It was bad enough to listen to him at a lecture.  To be subjected to him as a fellow tourist who thinks he is special because he works for the ship is just too much.  By the end of the trip, everyone was trying to make sure they didn't talk with him or sit next to him....  Other than that, it was a unique trip.  :)

We're in Tortola today, and my wife is going out exploring with the other couple we know on the ship.  My knee is rather stiff from yesterday, so I'm going to take it easy and rest up for the other ports (Barbados, Antigua, and other locations).  I'd love to spend more time on the net, but it's 250 minutes for $100, so it's compose offline, upload, check for emergency emails, and then get off. :)  Yes, I'm going cold-turkey (almost)....

Last observation...  If you think your life is tough, and that the world events are completely overwhelming, consider a visit to a place like Samana.  It's not built-up much, and the poverty level is staggering.  Houses that would be declared "uninhabitable" in the States, housing large extended families.  People sitting around as there's not much else to do.  Goats, chickens, dogs, horses wandering around (no offense meant there, Francie!)  Gas stations are roadside shelves with green wine bottles filled with gas.  Stores are as big as your kitchen, and that's all you have to choose from.  While the tour guide said people are happy the cruise ship stops here now, I couldn't help but think that there was resentment as trucks full of white tourists drove by, brought there by a cruise that costs more than they earn in a year, and we'll be back on board that night eating lobster.

I'm pretty sure that losing 50% in the stock market is irrelevant to them...


At what point does cost savings of cloud trump control of on-premise? It may be lower than I thought (to Lotus/MS peril if you don't have an answer)

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft
I've seen a couple of articles of late that are making me rethink my mindset of "the cloud isn't enterprise-ready"...

From TMCnet.com: Saving Money with Cloud-Based E-mail

Smaller businesses can save significant amounts of money by replacing a "premises-based" e-mail system with a cloud based alternative, say researchers at the Yankee Group. Analyst Jeffrey Breen says a 75-person firm moving from premises-based e-mail and messaging to a cloud-based platform can save $64,000 in the first year and $207,000 within three years.

And Yankee Group based this on their own internal model based on using Lotus Notes as the internal, on-premise mail system.  They modeled a switch to Google Apps Premier Edition.

From InformationWeek: One CIO’s Strategy For Software As A Service

This CIO is embracing SaaS anywhere it’s practical. And where it looks practical to him today is CRM, human resources, and -- probably -- e-mail.Salesforce (NYSE: CRM).com is implemented at the company, Workday HR is just at the starting phase, and e-mail is a question mark. Is Google (NSDQ: GOOG) up to the task? The cost savings are there, and all employees already are used to accessing e-mail via the Web using Lotus Domino. But is Google’s basic functionality today just too basic? Where is its road map headed? He’s visiting Google this month to find out. The big vendors (Microsoft and Lotus) offer online options, but the costs savings don’t look nearly as compelling to him.

While you can't draw generalized conclusions from a single CIO discussion and a single analyst report, I'm becoming more aware (mind share?) of the whole "cloud vs. on-premise" debate.  It seems like we (the on-premise crowd) tend to present the argument for control of data and 24/7 availability (or at least the option to have it), while the cloudies talk about major scalability, no infrastructure cost, and per-user pricing.  I'm still of the opinion that control of data is a *very* good reason to not ship your data off to a 3rd party, but that's being challenged by the "at what cost" arguments.

In a perfect world with infinite resources, you keep your email and data in-house, and maintain 100% control.  But if a *small* company (read: SMB) can save tens of thousands of dollars having someone else manage it, what is that control realistically worth?  And no lofty "it's worth everything" statements...  I'm talking hard dollars that may be the difference between staying in business, turning a profit, or declaring bankruptcy.  And this small business scenario doesn't even begin to address the probable hundreds of thousands of dollars a GSK will save by going to the cloud.

Yes, Domino has an application development platform.  But is a small business going to spend money to have custom apps developed if 75% of what they want can be purchased off the shelf or provided online?  Yes, Foundations is a great option for a plug-and-play server.  But is Joe Dentist going to be more comfortable with a box he doesn't know much about, or a Google URL that he uses on a regular basis anyway?

The cloud is not the answer to every problem.  But much like low-cost countries have taken over entire industries, the cloud concept is following the same model.  Start with a low-cost model, basic services, and attack the very low-margin market.  The high-end players don't care.  Once you have competency there, start carving into the mid-market range.  The high-end players will notice, but will still be set on defending the big high-margin accounts.  Once the battle for the mid-market is lost, then the high-end players notice and start to defend their remaining turf with a vengence.  But by then, the "low-cost" providers know your business as well as you do, they've squeezed out extra cost, they're competent players, and they can offer your level of service for a fraction of the cost.  At that point, it's only a matter of time before you are bought or go out of business.  

A number of people far smarter than I have been stating for some time that IBM/Lotus's main competitor isn't Microsoft, it's Google.  I now understand that much better.  And while I think Microsoft is far too involved in too many things to have the focus it needs, it *has* responded in the cloud world with offerings that are getting noticed and purchased.  In my view, Microsoft is far better prepared to fight Google than Lotus is, and I think Google is starting to carve away at that mid-market range...


GlaxoSmithKline deal highlights Microsoft's overseas launch of hosted collaboration software

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft
From ComputerWorld: GlaxoSmithKline deal highlights Microsoft's overseas launch of hosted collaboration software

Microsoft Corp. officially launched its Business Productivity Online Suite outside of the U.S. on Monday, headlined by a deal with GlaxoSmithKline PLC as its first major customer for the hosted communications software suite.

The London-based drug maker is migrating 100,000 employees from IBM's Lotus Notes to Microsoft's hosted suite, which includes Exchange for e-mail, SharePoint, Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting, all managed from Microsoft's own data centers.

GlaxoSmithKline had been standardized on Notes for the past seven years. It was also using Google Inc.'s Postini for spam filtering, said Eron Kelly, senior director of Microsoft's business online services group, last week.

By switching to Microsoft's online suite, GlaxoSmithKline expects to shave 30% from costs over time, said Kelly. It will also allow GlaxoSmithKline's IT department to offload management of key infrastructure software.

Regardless of how you might want to spin this (shortsighted company, didn't consider other costs, what if the online cloud is down), the fact remains that Microsoft is gaining traction *and* mindshare in this area and offering.  And personally, I don't see Lotus having much of an overall response at this particular point in time.  I know that LotusLive is supposed to answer this, but I'm not seeing any major announcements of Exchange shops moving to hosted Notes (or hosted IBM anything, for that matter).  


Book Review - Ender In Exile by Orson Scott Card

Category Book Review Orson Scott Card Ender In Exile
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It was through the Twitterverse that I found out that Orson Scott Card had written another installment of Ender Wiggin's life in the book Ender In Exile.  This is described as "the lost years", the time after Ender left battle school and started to come to grips with exactly what he had done in terms of destroying an entire species.  While I liked Exile for what it was, I realize that this would have been best read shortly after finishing (or rereading) Ender's Game.  I felt the same way here as I felt after reading many of the follow-up novels in the series...  too much time had passed for me to remember the nuances of the original story line, and I didn't get as much out of it as I could have.

Ender's main quest in Exile is to understand the Formic race, and to figure out why they seemingly let him destroy their species in the Formic War.  While he can understand that they were bent on the destruction of earth, he feels there was something more there, something they were trying to communicate before they were annihilated.  To learn as much as he can, he decides to move to a new colony on a planet once inhabited by formics.  It's there that he finds the answers he's looking for, and it also shapes the path that he wants the rest of his life to take.

I like the way that Card adds so much texture to the person that Ender has become.  The interplay between him and his sister Valentine is excellent, and probably kept me more interested in the book than I otherwise would have been.  This is definitely a welcome addition to the Ender series, and does help to fill out the story.  I just wish I had reread Ender's Game before starting this one, as it would have helped with some of the context.

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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