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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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04/27/2009

Book Review - The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective by Andy Andrews

Category Book Review Andy Andrews The Noticer: Sometimes all a person needs is a little perspective
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I've always loved books that weave their message into a story, such that it makes it very vivid and memorable once you turn the last page.  Andy Andrews is an expert at that, and his latest book The Noticer is no exception.  His message of perspective is one that anyone can benefit from, and quite frankly everyone should do more of...

The Noticer is told from a first person perspective of "Andy", who from prior reading appears to be Andrews himself.  Jones, an ageless "drifter" who seems to have no past or future (only the present), confronts him under the bridge where Andy is living.  Jones' message of perspective, looking at what you can be rather than where you are or where you came from, changes Andy from a down-and-out loser to a successful addition to the community.  Many years down the road, Jones shows up again after a long absence, and Andy realizes he's not the only one who has benefited from his wisdom and insight.  The briefcase that Jones always carries around is found abandoned in a parking lot, and everyone from town ends up coming together to share their stories of what Jones did for their lives.  When they finally get up the courage to open the case, hoping to find some clues as to what may have happened to Jones, they read his final message to them, one of carrying on the things they've learned and experienced, as well as passing that along to others.

There are a number of nuggets that one can take away from The Noticer.  For me, it was the lesson on worry and perspective.  40% of what you worry about won't come to pass. 30% of what you worry about has already happened and can't be changed. 12% are imagined health problems that aren't real. 10% involves what other people think, and you have no control over that.  That leaves 8% for legitimate concerns, and you now have much more time and energy to think about those now that 92% of what you worry about isn't worth it.  You can quibble with the percentages, but the general concepts are solid.  Far too much of my time is spent worrying about things that either can't happen or that I have no control over.  Focusing on those things I *can* change is far more effective.

The Noticer is short, and it won't take you long to read it.  But you may find yourself drifting back over some of the pages for additional consideration.  I certainly did...

04/26/2009

IBM really needs to have a response to this "Comparing Lotus Domino/Notes and Exchange Server 2010" piece...

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft
So out on Microsoft's website, we have this: Comparing Lotus Domino/Notes and Exchange Server 2010.

Both vendors should be expected to do this type of material, and in a tight competition they should be very focused on advantages over the competition.  You know this webpage will be referenced by sales engineers looking to make a business case to stay with or convert to Exchange.  But where is the comparison paper from the standpoint of Notes/Domino?

Those who work with Notes/Domino can find plenty to pick apart here.  The entire first half of the paper doesn't even mention Domino.  The "standing ovation" quote needs to have similar Exchange to Notes quotes from customers.  Unified Communications provided within the single Exchange "product"?  That makes it sounds like it's a single server product.  Is that *really* the case?  "Notes continues to play catch-up..."  I *know* the laundry list for Exchange catchup would be just as long is not longer...

Mindshare is all-important in this competition between the two dominant premises email vendors.  If you're not making the statements, your competitor is...

04/26/2009

Book Review - Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions that Will Help You See It and Seize It by John C. Maxwell

Category Book Review John C. Maxwell Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions that Will Help You See It and Seize It
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I have always enjoyed John C. Maxwell's books on leadership and personal development, as they are practical to the nth degree.  Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions that Will Help You See It and Seize It is no different, and I'm using it to guide a dream that I want to realize.  It's a perfect framework for attaching the personal commitment to the nuts and bolts of doing the work necessary to make the dream happen.

Contents:
Introduction: What Is Your Dream?; The Dream Test
The Ownership Question: Is My Dream Really My Dream?
The Clarity Question: Do I Clearly See My Dream?
The Reality Question: Am I Depending on Factors within My Control to Achieve My Dream?
The Passion Question: Does my Dream Compel Me to Follow It?
The Pathway Question: Do I Have A Strategy to Reach My Dream?
The People Question: Have I Included the People I Need to Realize My Dream?
The Cost Question: Am I Willing to Pay the Price for My Dream?
The Tenacity Question: Am I Moving Closer to My Dream?
The Fulfillment Question: Does Working toward My Dream Bring Satisfaction?
The Significance Question: Does My Dream Benefit Others?
Conclusion: Looking Back... Looking Forward; Notes

Too many dreams are really nothing more than daydreams or pie-in-the-sky dreams, things that will never go beyond the confines of the dreamer's skull.  Maxwell lays out a series of questions that can, if honestly answered, can separate daydreams from potential life-changing dreams.  If your dream survives all ten of the questions listed above, then you know you have something that can make a huge difference in your life.

And Maxwell's material isn't just ethereal touchy-feely stuff.  In the Clarity Question, he relates the story of Michael Hyatt, the current CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.  When Hyatt took over the publisher role at Thomas Nelson, he inherited a division that was in more trouble than he knew.  It would have been easy to just fold things up and focus the company's resources on areas doing much better.  Instead, he stepped away from the situation and came up with a vision for what Thomas Nelson would become.  Not necessarily *how* to make it happen, just what the end state would be.  By clarifying that vision, he was able to enlist others to commit to the dream, as well as coming up with ideas on how best to get there.  The outcome far exceeded the vision, but it was because he had done more than just daydream about the possibilities.  He made it a clear vision in his mind that could have an actual outcome.

I have some health and fitness goals that are becoming critical in my life.  The appearance of this book in my life at this particular time is more than just coincidence.  I already feel more confident and focused with Maxwell's insights.  Good stuff here...

04/25/2009

Microsoft: The Decline Begins

Category Microsoft
From BNET: Microsoft: The Decline Begins

Been catching a few stories from BNET in my Google news alerts.  Seem as if they hate IBM/Lotus and Microsoft equally.  :)  Anyway...

Microsoft disclosed that sales fell 6 percent during its third fiscal quarter ending March 31, its first ever year-over-year quarterly sales drop, and the start of an inexorable demise. Rome didn’t decline in a day, and neither will Microsoft, but the graffiti is on the wall.

Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell sounded funereal during yesterday’s earnings call, citing the toughest economic climate the company has seen in its 30 years, and cautioning analysts that while conditions had stopped worsening, he hadn’t seen any indication that they were improving.

But unless Liddell has been living in a cave, or getting his news using a Windows Mobile smart phone, he knows that a range of tech companies, including Apple, Amazon and Google, described a much rosier outlook for the future. The difference is those companies are still at the front, while Microsoft is near the end of its life cycle of relevancy.

I know it's media sport to predict the decline and fall of Microsoft.  I know I've done it on this blog, and been pretty wrong on a consistent basis.  But there are some troubling shorter-term factors in play here.

Microsoft’s performance would have been catastrophic were it not for annuity income from its Servers and Tools division — licensing revenue that came up for renewal during the past quarter. And while those renewals were stable, customers weren’t adding products as they usually do, nor were they adding seats; indeed, because of layoffs, many of them were in fact reducing seats.

Microsoft’s fourth fiscal quarter, ending June 30, is the really big one for annuity renewals. If Liddell hasn’t seen any improvement in business conditions — and he says he hasn’t — that bodes really badly for Microsoft’s annuity business and thus the company overall.

Liddell projects that the company will have really great products coming to market in the next 12 to 18 months, yet they don't see things improving before then.  Much like any other company dependent on per-seat licensing, they have to be concerned that large companies are cutting staff (and seats) and delaying purchasing the newest toys in the window.

Macs are becoming ever more mainstream, the entertainment division will never recoup the billions in losses they've incurred over the years, and how long have we been waiting for the payoff in all the online investments to occur?  Not good signs, and no one like Gates is at the helm to pull a sea change a la the internet memo.

If it weren't for the billions in free cash flow Microsoft has coming in, they'd be forced to do major cutbacks across the board, slicing many of these side businesses that haven't delivered.  As it is, their cutbacks pale in comparison to choices and decisions facing industries like the automakers.  

It may be a slow decline, but it's a decline nonetheless.  I'm not sure any single company will dominate the computer industry again like Microsoft has in the past.  The barrier of entry for new products has become more of a speed bump than a hurdle, and there's far too alternative (read: cheap) products for just about every major offering that rakes in the bucks for the big boys.  It'll be interesting to look back in a decade and see how obvious some of this was in hindsight...

04/25/2009

Book Review - The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

Category Book Review Rosamund Stone Zander Benjamin Zander The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life
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I'm not sure I would have picked up The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander without some external motivation.  That happened when I had the opportunity to see Benjamin Zander present the material at a conference I attended.  Within 30 seconds I was mesmerized, and my mindset changed forever.  Reading The Art of Possibility was like reliving the presentation again, and it helped to reinforce all the incredible information I learned.

Contents:
An Invitation to Possibility; Launching the Journey
The Practices: It's All Invented; Stepping into a Universe of Possibility; Giving an A; Being a Contribution; Leading from Any Chair; Rule Number 6; The Way Things Are; Giving Way to Passion; Lighting a Spark; Being the Board; Creating Frameworks for Possibility; Telling the WE Story
Coda; Acknowledgments; A Guide to the Stories; About the Authors

Benjamin Zander is a renowned conductor, and his experiences in that field frame many of the stories and lessons in the book.  For instance, Giving An A comes from his philosophy in teaching musicians.  The competition amongst his students is intense, and anxiety over grades only contribute to less-than-perfect learning.  To remove that barrier, he starts out the class by giving everyone an A. The only thing they need to do is write a letter, dated six months in the future, describing what they did to get an A in the course.  That simple act changes the mindset of the students from competition to possibilities.  Instead of competing with others, they are working towards fulfilling their possibilities.  Another one I benefit from daily is Rule #6, which is "don't take yourself so ********* seriously."  It's natural for the calculating self to be on guard for any indications that their importance is being diminished. That locks you into situations where you don't think anything can change.  Instead, you can set aside the calculating self and let the central self shine through.  Rule #6 allows you to let the internal calculating self lighten up, thereby releasing the pressure and "importance" of the moment.  Then you can explore options that may not have been present so long as you're trying to remain "important".

I would have gotten a lot from this book had I not seen Zander live.  But reading the book after experiencing the live version only makes the material that much better.  It's impossible to have your mind go back to "normal" after reading The Art of Possibility.

04/25/2009

Book Review - They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer

Category Book Review Milton Mayer They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45
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From the outside looking in, the vast majority of world opinion on Hitler's regime identifies it as evil.  But what about the people who lived within the system?  Did they realize the path they were going down? Did they have choices? And after the fact, have they changed?  Milton Mayer examined those (and many more) questions in his 1955 book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45.  I found it a fascinating read, not necessarily as an indictment on German behavior, but as a warning that we are susceptible to the same trap.  And I wouldn't immediately disagree with the assertion that we're already well down that path.

Mayer found ten typical Germans in the town of Kronenberg in the early 50's, spanning a range of occupations and status.  He became friends with them over the time he was there, and had many talks about their thoughts and views of what had happened in Germany with Hitler and the National Socialist party (more commonly known as the Nazis).  Someone outside of Germany, looking at this after the passage of years, would think that the people would be contrite and ashamed over all that had happened.  I would think that there would be an acknowledgement that the Jewish people were treated wrongly, and that one man's hatred of the Jewish race led to six million deaths.

And of course, that would be my national, ethnic, and cultural bias projecting onto others, and it would be incorrect.

It's impossible to make a blanket statement about *all* Germans (just as it's impossible to accurately stereotype any group), but there was a common feeling that Hitler was one of the "little people", and that he properly represented the goals and aspirations of the common population.  Coming out of the depression, he and his party fed the people and boosted employment.  Those who were not actively political looked at their lives as benefiting from the ruling party, and as such tended to downplay the incremental decisions and actions that ultimately led to the occupation and division of the country after World War 2.  Even more disturbing was the attitude of "those people" (the Jews) being responsible for many of the problems of society, and the ready acceptance that relocating them to other areas would be to their own benefit.  Yes, there was probably something going on with camps and genocide, but it was best not to ask or talk about it, for fear that you yourself could get caught up in the issue.  Best just to mind your own business and let everyone else take care of themselves.

In no way do I think I have any insight or wisdom into the German psyche, either from the 50's or now.  Others can debate as to how much has changed.  But what this book *does* do is point out how easy it is for a nation to be led down a path of decreasing freedoms and increasing abuse of power.  Far too many citizens want to be fed and entertained, and beyond that they don't really care much.  They will buy into the prevailing attitudes told to them from on high, never questioning where it all may lead.  They Thought They Were Free is an excellent study to apply to our own nation, making the correlations between the past and the present.  If read thoughtfully, it should deeply trouble you as to where we're headed...

04/23/2009

One thing that will ALWAYS be a clear winner in Notes/Domino... backup/restore

Category IBM/Lotus
The architecture of Notes/Domino is simple.  If a database breaks or goes corrupt, you restore *just that NSF!* No resyncing dozens of servers, indexes, software stores, etc.

One NSF...

I'm not looking forward to the first time SharePoint breaks...

04/21/2009

Give yourself an "A" when writing your Lotusphere abstracts for 2010...

Category IBM/Lotus Lotusphere2010
At the LS09 closing session, we were mesmerized by Benjamin Zander and his life rules from the book The Art of Possibility.  One of those particular rules, Give An A, hits me as the initial prep work you should do before writing the first word of your Lotusphere abstract...

When Zander teaches, he starts out the class by saying that everyone gets an A.  That removes all the grade pressure from the students.  The only thing they have to do to get the A is to write a letter looking six months into the future, describing what they did to get an A in the class.  By looking at the end state first, it becomes much more clear to see what one would have to do to earn that end state.  Your enthusiam and passion about your "A" is what will drive you to get there at the end.

Imagine what that would translate into with Lotusphere abstracts.  Instead of throwing a dozen submissions at the judges, hoping one topic would stick, you assume that your abstract was accepted, the evaluations were returned, and you got the highest ever ratings for a speaker at Lotusphere.  Then write a letter to yourself dated February 1st, 2010, describing the steps you took and the attitude you had to get that "A".  Describe the effect the material had on the audience, and how you changed them professionally.

Once all that is solidified in your mind, the abstract becomes much easier because you *believe* in the session you "already" gave, you know how well it went over, and you can see the benefits that the attendees took away.

So what did *you* do to present the most valuable session ever at Lotusphere 2010?

04/20/2009

I'm having a hard time seeing where Windows 7 Starter version for netbooks is going to work...

Category Microsoft
I'm not to the point of following Microsoft product releases the same way I follow Notes/Domino upgrades, so I haven't been keeping track of all the different variations of Windows 7 that will probably end up being released.  But yesterday was the first time I had heard about Windows 7 Starter, a scaled-down (some would say "crippled") version of the operating system for netbooks.

From ZDNet: Living with the limits of Windows 7 Starter Edition

If you’ve read anything about Windows 7 Starter Edition, your first reaction was probably the same as mine: Is Microsoft nuts? This ultra-cheap edition is intended for use on netbooks, but its biggest restriction sounds like a complete deal-breaker: it only runs three applications at once.

But I prefer to form my opinions based on facts, not press releases. So, for the sake of research, I’ve spent the last three weeks running Windows 7 Starter Edition on an ultra-portable Sony notebook. Here’s what I learned.

I realize that netbooks (small and *cheap*) are growing as a viable hardware option, and that Linux (the "cheap" option) has been doing quite well.  And when you look at retail costs of Windows operating systems (does *anyone* pay retail for those?), you can end up spending as much on the OS as the hardware to run it.  So Microsoft really does need to have an option in this area...

But a crippled version of Windows 7 that only runs three apps at a time?  This sounds reminiscent of the stripped down versions of Windows that Microsoft offered to other countries in order to combat piracy.  It also seems to follow the model of shareware apps...  "Ok, you've used the application x number of times. If you want to continue using the application, please pay us for it."  Fine for a particular application, but would I want to run my entire operating system in that mode?

Time will tell as to how Windows 7 "trial edition" plays out.  But I can't think that this will meet with too much approval in the geek world.  The other option would be to have it accepted by default as that's the only option available (or the upgrade price is real cheap).  But with Linux as a viable alternative and geeks/road warriors being the initial primary market for netbooks, that doesn't seem to work well either.

Ah, the trials and tribulations of protecting cash cows...

04/20/2009

Can some math major break out the Lotus growth numbers from this?

Category IBM/Lotus
From an eWeek story on the IBM revenue announcements yesterday:

Meanwhile, revenues from IBM's Software segment were $4.5 billion, a decrease of 6 percent compared with the first quarter of 2008, and revenues from IBM's middleware products, primarily WebSphere, Information Management, Tivoli, Lotus and Rational products, were $3.6 billion, a decrease of 5 percent. But for the WebSphere family of products alone, revenues increased 5 percent year over year, while revenues from Rational software, IBM's integrated tools to improve the processes of software development, increased 9 percent.

Math was never my strong point, and it's FAR too early in the morning for me to even try.  But if we know that the "middleware" segment (WebSphere, Information Management, Tivoli, Lotus, and Rational) was down 5% at 3.6 billion, and two parts of that group, WebSphere and Rational, were up 5% and 9% respectively, where might that leave the Lotus brand in terms of revenue growth?

Or, to look in the back of the book, is there another story out there that carries the rest of the product numbers?  And no, I don't expect to see specific "Notes/Domino" revenue numbers.  I know those aren't broken out and reported separately.  I'm just looking for Lotus as a brand.

I'll be curious to see how the Information Management area evolves over time, as it appears that the new Business Analytics and Optimization Services will play in that area...

Moreover, Loughridge said as IBM adjusts following its drop in first-quarter results the company will be making a "transition toward higher-value software and services." This will include moves such as IBM's Smarter Planet initiative, business analytics and new computing models such as cloud computing. Loughridge also said he expects more positive results from IBM's Cognos and Ilog product lines, which performed well in the first quarter.

"Information management is a key component of our new IBM Business Analytics and Optimization Services," Loughridge said, speaking of the new consulting practice IBM announced on April 14.

04/19/2009

Book Review - Rich Like Them: My Door-to-Door Search for the Secrets of Wealth in America's Richest Neighborhoods by Ryan D'Agostino

Category Book Review Ryan D'Agostino Rich Like Them: My Door-to-Door Search for the Secrets of Wealth in America's Richest Neighborhoods
A picture named M2

Unique concept, but I'm still surprised that people talked to him...  Rich Like Them: My Door-to-Door Search for the Secrets of Wealth in America's Richest Neighborhoods by Ryan D'Agostino.  He decided to bypass all the hyped stories of self-made millionaires and physically go door-to-door to see what people would tell him about how they got rich.  In order to pull this off, he used a company called ESRI to determine the 100 wealthiest zip codes in America.  His plan was to go to these particular locations, find a neighborhood or two with very nice houses ("proof" that they probably had money), introduce himself and his project, and then listen and take notes.  500 doors and 50 interviews later, he had a wide array of first-hand information about how people got themselves to their comfortable financial position in life.  And not surprisingly, there's no one single way that everyone gets rich. But there are common practices and mindsets that raise your odds significantly.

I personally got the most out of the chapter on obsession.  Too many people try to go into a business or career with the thought of making lots of money.  But if that's the main driver for someone, it won't last long term.  If you're doing something you love, and there *is* money to be made in the field, the money will almost always show up automatically.  While I don't consider myself "rich", there is some truth in my life to that secret.  D'Agostino also had one interview that rang very true for me.  If you look forward to going to work, that's a good sign that you'll do well financially.  The ability to work long hours because of your passion and obsession means that you'll end up creating the opportunities that others call "luck".  It was encouraging to see that I was doing some things correctly, while I found plenty of other areas where I could improve.

If you're looking for a 12 step "get rich now" formula, Rich Like Them isn't the book you're looking for.  The author doesn't have any secret program or agenda to push.  What  you end up with is, in my opinion, something far more valuable.  You get advice from people who are not much different than you, except that they've worked hard to get to where they are.  And long term, that's the information that is most valuable.

04/18/2009

Book Review - Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners by Alan Emmins

Category Book Review Alan Emmins Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners
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This is truly a "dirty job" that no one thinks about, and for good reason...  Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners by Alan Emmins.  Emmins leaves his home in Denmark and travels to San Francisco to follow Neal Smither on his rounds.  Smither is the president of "Crime Scene Cleaners", a company that comes in when someone has died and cleans up afterwards.  While you often read about grisly deaths in the paper or see them on TV, you really don't think about what happens after the crime tape comes down and the room needs to be returned to a usable state.  That's the world that Emmins writes about in graphic detail.

Smither is an interesting character, someone who sees death as his path to financial independence.  He's crude, aggressive, and doesn't flinch at much of anything.  He has no problems walking into a room where someone has committed suicide via rifle to the head, making a rather crass comment about the mess, negotiating a price to clean it all up, and then digging in. But as gruesome and revolting as it may be, he's fanatical about making sure *no* remaining traces of body fluids or parts are left behind to be discovered weeks later by others. Emmins undergoes a transformation during his month-long stint as a crime scene cleaner.  He starts with the reactions that you'd expect... nausea, dry heaves, bizarre dreams. By the end of his trip, he's diving into cleanup operations like a pro, more irritated at the mess than grossed out by what happened.  He also has to come to grips with the feelings of wishing someone would die so he'd have more material for his book, realizing that he's become somewhat jaded by the experience.

In terms of being exposed to a hidden world, Mop Men was OK. But it's less of a technical read than an exploration into what drives people who deal with death on a daily basis, as well as a large side trip into one particular murder crime scene involving a person living in an apartment with a dead body that was decomposing for about a month in the bathtub.  He goes into the cleanup a bit, but he also tracks the investigation and trial of the person accused of the crime.  I felt that part of the book strayed somewhat from the main subject, and as such had me skimming a bit to get back to the main story.

Mop Men is a very different read, and not one to start if you are at all squeamish.  You probably won't look at news stories involving dead bodies quite the same way again, either...

04/15/2009

IBM Should Ditch Lotus (this is an article title, not personal commentary... :) )

Category IBM/Notes
From BNet.com - IBM Should Ditch Lotus

Had to add that piece to the title lest I be accused (and probably rightfully so) of being an ASW...

The problem for IBM isn’t the quality of its products, or the impressive amount of research it puts into adapting Web-based collaboration for the enterprise (IBM doesn’t break out its research budget by category, but reports an annual R&D budget in excess of $6 billion on research and development). The problem, rather, is its corporate approach to piecing together application suites to suit its own goals rather than customer needs — never mind its clear lack of Web savvy.

While I don't agree with the "lack of web savvy" statement, I think there is an element of truth to the "piecing together" statement.  LotusLive incorporated a number of technologies that were purchased shortly before Lotusphere.  On one hand, you can say it shouldn't matter as the users are using cloud services.  On the other hand, it's not like the Notes/Domino flagship product was the core foundation of the offering.  And there's always the guessing game as to whether new Lotus products are going to run on the Domino platform or the WebSphere platform...

His observations about "enterprise" collaboration tools also bears some consideration.  Rarely do our collaboration needs end at the company firewall.  They also don't limit themselves to partner organizations.  My collaboration group consists of hundreds of people across the globe, working for a wide array of companies.  While Sametime has a use for me within the organization, my true collaboration environment involves Skype, Yahoo IM, AIM, and Twitter in addition to the Notes client.  If you try and bolt on these services and put boundaries on them, you'll never meet my true needs.

But while I think he makes some interesting points, his "solution" leaves much to be desired...

It’s time for IBM to move on. It could probably get good value from either spinning off its Lotus division as a separate company, or selling it to a competitor that would know how to get the most value from the products.

We already tried the "Lotus as separate company" many years ago.  Notes would be non-existent had that continued.  Selling Lotus to a competitor?  Novell? Sun? Like *that* would be better...  Sell to Microsoft?  Not with SharePoint around, although I'd love to see Microsoft-level marketing muscle push the Notes/Domino product.

No...  For better or worse (depending on your point of view), Lotus *is* part of IBM and I don't see that changing without a *major* landscape change...

04/14/2009

Is Your Career with Lotus Notes Safe? (Part 2) (from Mr. Greyhawk)

Category IBM/Lotus
From Intranet Journal: Is Your Career with Lotus Notes Safe? (Part 2)

As always, John Roling nails the truth in his latest article:

In the Notes and Domino world I've seen a lot of specialization over the years. Many people are just Notes developers, or just Domino administrators. These people tend to be experts in that one aspect of Notes while eschewing most other talents. Nowadays, that is a huge liability as many companies are looking to get more out of their employees for less.

This means that you need to learn more things BEFORE your company asks it of you. If you are developer in Notes, you should really learn AJAX web development, Java and up-and-coming technologies like Adobe Flex.

Granted, you may not need it now, but what happens if you are let go? Only knowing Domino will really limit the amount of jobs you are qualified for.

I know it's hard to find time to learn new skills, but if you don't you WILL pay for it later. Turn off the TV, step away from Facebook and start playing around with other technologies. Learn as much as possible, and it will help you immensely in any job hunts you may have to endure.

This is so right on so many levels...  

You could pretty much apply paragraph #1 to my previous 13 years.  Good in Notes/Domino, eschewing many other talents.  I'm fortunate in that I've been given the opportunity to learn new stuff *without* having to switch jobs or get laid off, and I really need to make the most of that opportunity.  Yeah, I've had to rethink many of my prior stances, and I've had to say (on more than one occasion) that I wasn't fully informed on the entire technology picture.  Basically, Microsoft doesn't suck as much as I thought, and Notes/Domino isn't as perfect as I always felt it was.  Ultimately it comes down to "are you delivering value to the companies and customers you work with."

That's why I can't tell you who is on American Idol, I don't know where Survivor is being filmed this year, and Dancing with the Stars is a complete mystery to me.  Ok, I *do* know that NCIS's Ziva David is played by Cote de Pablo...  Cut me some slack.  :)  But the drive to learn *is* why I have piles of books around my basement, and why I tolerate my obsession with reading.

Great article, John...

04/13/2009

Book Review - Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know Instructions for Life From the Everyday to the Exotic

Category Book Review Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know Instructions for Life From the Everyday to the Exotic
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Another interesting library pickup...  Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know Instructions for Life From the Everyday to the Exotic by Derek Fagerstrom, Lauren Smith, and "The Show Me Team".  Anytime someone tells me there's 500 things I should know how to do, I'm naturally curious as to how ill-equipped I might be to make it through life.  While I would quibble a bit on the "should know" piece, this really is a good book and one that I may end up ordering from Amazon just to have around.

The chapters are divided into the following basic categories: Make, Eat, Drink, Style, Love, Nest, Grow, Thrive, Go, Survive, and Wow.  Rather than go into lengthy text descriptions of each "how to", they've opted to use diagrams with as few words as possible.  So under Drink, you learn how to properly open and pour a bottle of wine, how to remove cork bits from wine, how to evaluate a wine, and how to "dazzle with sabrage".  Yeah, I didn't know about that last one either.  It comes from Napoleonic times, when soldiers would use their swords to open a bottle of champaign by striking the lip of the bottle where the seams meet.  This removed both the tip of the bottle *and* the cork, and was quite the show.  Granted, I don't know how many of you have a decent sword on hand to entertain your guests, but if you do...  

Not all of the how to's are quite that spectacular.  You learn how to tie a bowtie and a windsor knot in a regular tie.  There's how to hem jeans (a constant in our family of short people), how to sew on a new button, and how to iron a button-down shirt.  Of course, that's all prefaced by how to wear a kimono and how to decode kimono styles.  The first part of that list I'd find very useful.  The last part? Not so much if I'm not heading over to Japan anytime in the near future.  But I now know how to create water in the desert, use my pants to stay afloat, wrestle an alligator (useful for my next DisneyWorld trip?), and how to get up on a elephant, camel, and horse (again, probably not immediately useful for my near-term future)...

Yeah, you really do need to take some of these as very tongue-in-cheek, as the odds of needing to know how to get out of quicksand probably wouldn't make my top 500 list.  But the illustrations are great, the range of topics is impressive, and it's quite amazing how much they end up conveying without paragraphs of explanation.  You'll know how to do some stuff already, you'll never need to know other items, but I'm pretty sure you'll come away from Show Me How wanting to try out a few new skills.  Personally, I want to try the "open a beer with another beer" trick...  :)

04/13/2009

Enjoying my ASP.NET class at Netdesk here in Portland...

Category Microsoft
I'm taking a week-long ASP.NET class in Portland this week at Netdesk.  It was supposed to have been an *actual* class in Portland in March, but it had to be cancelled due to lack of signups.  This particular class is actually being taught in Seattle, where they have about 10 attendees.  My coworker and I are the only two in Portland, and we're taking the class remotely.

Now a week-long class is normally something I semi-dread.  You're on the schedule of the person teaching, some parts lag, etc.  But this is rather nice.  On top of the content being pretty good so far, the environment is sweet.  Dual monitors, so that you have the instructor's screen on one side and the virtual machine for the labs on the other.  Jane and I each have our own row.  I have my personal laptop plugged in via ethernet cable, so I can call into work if I need to (as well as stay plugged in to the virtual world).  We have the phone on mute, so we can talk back and forth without disturbing anyone, and bounce ideas around.  And the view...  21st floor of the US Bancorp Tower, with a panoramic view of the Willamette stretching to the north.  

Couple that with free diet soda, and I'm really liking the setup.  

I may get more out of this class than any other I've ever taken.  I would have liked to have had more Visual Studio experience, but so far I've been able to hack out the solutions without too many problems.  And, after searching for something for five minutes, you tend to remember it the second time around.

I think this is gonna be a good week...

04/06/2009

Book Review - Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss by Martha I. Finney

Category Book Review Martha I. Finney Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss
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Now here's a timely book for our current economic mess...  Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss by Martha I. Finney.  I got this book by request from Amazon Vine, as I know far too many people who have had to go through the "we're sorry, but you've been laid off" turmoil.  I also still remember my (fortunately) one time of unemployment at the start of the dot.com bust.  I would have done *much* better had I seen this book before those fateful words...

Contents:
Part 1 - The Inner Game of Getting Laid Off: What to Expect When You're No Longer Expected; New Career Realities and New Career Rules; You're Still in Control
Part 2 - Preparing for a Layoff: Are You on the Layoff List?; Financial - What to Do Before You Get Laid Off; Set the Tone for How You Leave; Plan Your Exit
Part 3 - Know Your Rights: What You Can Expect from a Severance Package; Stop! Just Say No; Ask for Special Treatment; A Word About Noncompete Agreements; Not That It Matters to You, but It Hurts for Them, Too
Part 4 - When You've Been Laid Off: Financial - Control Your Spending; What Do I Do with All This Rage?; The Kids Can Handle the Truth; Good Things to Remember
Part 5 - Landing Your Next Job: The Importance of Having a Plan; Learn to Love Networking; Using Social Networking for Your Job Search; Build Your "A" Player Status Even Though You Are Not Employed; Talking About Your Job Loss in Interviews; How to Evaluate the Job You've Been Offered; Should You Take a Job with a Company That's Laying People Off?; Go! Just Say Yes; Start Your New Job with Confidence; Never Be in This Situation Again
Part 6 - Appendixes: Step Away from the Fridge! Reach for This Instead; Greg and Martha's List of Automatic No's
Resources and Suggested Reading
Index

Finney doesn't try to make job loss a minor thing or paint it as all sunshine and roses.  It hurts, period.  She acknowledges that in the very first chapter, along with the fact that having a job because you show up and do what's expected doesn't mean anything in today's job market.  Even critical "A" players are being shown the door, but it's important to know and understand that ultimately you're in control of what you do.  Part 2 of the book is best read and digested *before* you get the phone call from HR, as it deals with what you should be doing while you still have a job, as well as how best to make your physical exit with grace and dignity.  It's tempting to want to give in to your emotions (be they tears or rage), but remember that quite often you end up working with the same people over and over.  Don't burn your bridges...

Parts 3, 4, and 5 are where you're going to be living after you've walked out (or been walked out) the door.  She gives you the information you need to get the most out of your severance agreement (and how you might even be able to accommodate special situations).  Living on a reduced income, working your network, and getting ready for that next interview follow, with (in my opinion) the right mix of compassion, humor, and reality.  The tone is more like a good friend helping you stay focused instead of a dry, formulaic method that "guarantees" you'll get a job.  I also enjoyed the "best thing to do"/"worst thing to do"/"first thing to do" summaries at the end of each chapter.

Because a fair amount of this material deals with things you should know *before* the "resource action", it would be beneficial to read it now (assuming you're still employed) so that you don't make emotional mistakes.  Or at least you'll know what they are when you make them.  It's a fast read, and one that will make a difference if/when you need it.

04/05/2009

Book Review - The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton

Category Book Review Robert I. Sutton The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't
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It's rather humorous (and sad) that a single rule could improve workplace life so much...  refuse to hire a**holes.  That was the premise that Robert I. Sutton started from with his book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't .  When I think back on my nearly 30 years in the workforce (longer than that if you count summer jobs), I realize that this rule is ignored far too often, much to the dismay of those who are actually trying to get along and work together.

Contents:
What Workplace Assholes Do and Why You Know So Many; The Damage Done - Why Every Workplace Needs the Rule; How to Implement the Rule, Enforce It, and Keep It Alive; how to Stop Your "Inner Jerk" from Getting Out; When Assholes Reign - Tips for Surviving Nasty People and Workplaces; The No Asshole Rule as a Way of Life; Additional Reading; Acknowledgments; Index

Sutton defines this creature as someone who uses various tools and techniques to put others down, as well as to assert their authority and/or superiority over others (either as a regular matter of course, the true a**hole, or on occasion if they are pushed or not thinking straight, the temporary a**hole).  He identifies twelve techniques that are often used to accomplish this: personal insults, invading one's 'personal territory', uninvited personal contact, threats and intimidation, sarcastic jokes and teasing, email flames, status slaps, public shaming, rude interruptions, two-faced attacks, dirty looks, and treating people as though they were invisible.  Everyone has done one or two of these (at least!), so that's why he separates the temporary a**hole behavior from the true a**hole personality.  And you can probably remember being on the receiving end of far more than a couple of these...

After showing how this behavior plays out in the workplace, as well as how much money it can cost a company, Sutton goes into material on how to deal with these types on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, most of the defense mechanisms involve changing yourself and the way you view the person and the behavior.  Lowered expectations, developing indifference and emotional detachment, and limiting your exposure are three of the major ones.  It'd be nice if there were some way to get the person to actually stop behaving the way that s/he is, but some things are completely out of your control...

I got the most out of the section on living out the rule in every day life.  It's amazing how many people will sit around and put up with rude behavior and not confront the person in question.  In a number of cases, it may only take a brief interaction to put the person back in their place and turn the situation around for everyone else.  I had a situation on a cruise excursion that fit this "no a**hole" rule perfectly.  Unfortunately, I read the book the day AFTER the trip instead of the day before.  Otherwise, I think the trip would have ended up far more pleasant for everyone concerned.

I don't know that you'll come away from the book with all the tools  you'll need to armor yourself against the a**holes of the world.  But just being aware and labeling their behavior helps, and you can then take it from there.  Or better yet, if you see yourself while reading (which I think everyone will see the temporary form of a**holeness from themselves on occasion), start thinking about what you can do to change...
 

04/04/2009

Book Review - Lessons from San Quentin: Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned in Prison by Bill Dallas and George Barna

Category Book Review Bill Dallas George Barna Lessons from San Quentin: Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned in Prison
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I've often wondered what it would be like to end up in prison for a white collar crime, and how I would adapt in an environment so hostile and foreign to what I know.  Bill Dallas found that out firsthand when he was convicted of embezzlement and sent to prison for five years.  He shares his key learnings in the book Lessons from San Quentin: Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned in Prison.  Dallas' view of God and the role He played in his life was something that didn't come into play while the living was good and the money was flowing.  But when the bottom fell out of his life, Dallas had few other places to turn.

Contents:
Life in the Median Strip; I Am H64741; Embrace your Trials; Cling to Hope - Even When You Can't See It; Express Yourself through Your Work; Choose Sustaining Faith; Get Your Self-Image Right; Get Rid of Self-Absorption; Shape Your Attitude; Give Respect; Persevere until You "Get It"; Let Life Come to You; Find Freedom in Forgiveness; Life after Prison; He Was Always in Control; Endnotes; Discussion Guide; About the Authors

To say that Dallas did not take to his new surroundings would be an understatement.  Self-pity, helplessness, and total collapse were the keywords.  Help came from an unlikely source... members of the Lifers' Club.  These hardened criminals were actually the most open and caring of the inmates, as they knew they weren't going anywhere for a long time.  They had come to grips with what they were and what they had done, and their faith was based on reality and daily dependance on God.  One of the members helped Dallas get a job in the video studio of the prison, and things started to improve.  While it wasn't an easy life, Dallas now had a purpose and something to keep him active.  He also started to explore his faith with the help of those within the walls, and he turned around his entire lifeview.

While there is a strong Christian tilt towards the writing and lessons, it's not *just* focused on Christian outcomes.  Each chapter ends with a "Transforming Principle", and those can be applied regardless of where you are in your life in terms of spirituality.  Some things will resonate deeper than others.  For me, I took a lot from the chapter on making life simple.  Too often I try to complicate everything around me.  Being put into a prison environment guarantees that the busyness and clutter disappears quickly.  Learning to focus on the essentials is key, and I hope that I would learn those lessons short of having it forced on me like Dallas did.

Given all the ethical crimes we've see in the last decade, I wonder just how many others in positions similar to Dallas are learning these same lessons.  I'd prefer read the book now and internalize those lessons before it's too late.

04/04/2009

Book Review - The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Sterns

Category Book Review Richard Sterns The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World
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There are few books that have made me examine my Christian faith more than this one...  The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Sterns.  Sterns is the president of World Vision, and he tells his story of how he went from high-powered corporate CEO to the head of an aid agency that affects the lives of millions.  It was not a path he traveled comfortably, but it's a journey that has changed his life forever.  Moreover, he lays out how the average American Christian has neglected a core message of the Bible, and how we need to change to respond to the needs of our planet.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Hole In My Gospel - And Maybe Yours: A Hole in the Whole; A Coward for God; You Lack One Thing
Part 2 - The Hole Gets Deeper: The Towering Pillars of Compassion and Justice; The Three Greatest Commandments; A Hole in Me; The Stick in Your Hand
Part 3 - A Hole In The World: The Greatest Challenge of the New Millennium; One Hundred Crashing Jetliners; What's Wrong with This Picture?; Caught in the Web; The Horsemen of the Apocalypse; Spiders, Spiders, and More Spiders; Finally, the Good News
Part 4 - A Hole In The Church: A Tale of Two Churches; The Great Commission; AWOL for the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of All Time; Putting the American Dream to Death; Two Percent of Two Percent; A Letter to the Church in America; Why We're Not So Popular Anymore; A Tale of Two Real Churches
Part 5 - Repairing The Hole: What Are You Going To Do About It?; How Many Loaves Do You Have?; Time, Talent, and Treasure; A Mountain of Mustard Seeds
Study Guide
Notes

Richard Sterns was a successful corporate CEO, working at Lenox, when his life started to change.  A good friend of his was convinced that Sterns would be the next leader of World Vision.  Sterns was less than enthused with that "vision", however.  While he was involved in his church, he had no feeling of a call to serve as a leader of a Christian relief agency.  He barely knew where Africa was, much less understood what was going on there.  He tried just about everything he could to avoid making the move, but God and circumstances had other plans.  He finally came to the point where he surrendered to the leading, and was forever changed.  He was brought face to face with the unthinkable needs and human suffering in places like Africa.  And it's there that this book issues a call to action...

The American Church has been too inwardly focused on their own lives and needs, which in nearly all cases don't even begin to compare to the soul-crushing situations in third world countries.  We've ignored the calls to feed the hungry and care for the homeless and orphans.  We've latched on to salvation by faith, but we've completely minimized the role of works in our Christian life.  Even if we're faithful in giving, it's often used in ways that don't address the necessity to be involved in the needs of our world.  And don't even get me started about the whole "prosperity gospel" preaching that places our own riches as the highest calling of our Christian lives.  In short, we've abdicated our responsibility as Christians, and we'll be called to account for it.

If you can read this book and not feel the need to make changes in your life, you're not paying attention.  I have to make some serious changes in how I view my role globally and what I do about it.  

04/03/2009

The Messaging is The Medium: survey results are in - IBM is down, but not out

Category IBM/Lotus
From The Register: The Messaging is The Medium: survey results are in - IBM is down, but not out

Messaging is a thread that runs through IT from top to bottom, from humans exchanging information with each other, down to software and even hardware exchanging status messages and information packets. This report, which is based on feedback from readers of The Register provided during our last annual Barometer Survey, concentrates on asynchronous information exchanges where at least one human is involved. This enables us to rule out synchronous activities such as IP telephony and videoconferencing and the more technical message exchanges which are hidden from human view.

The survey itself looked at messaging in a number of guises, primarily as a platform but also in the context of mobility, collaboration and Web 2.0. These nuances are less important than the underlying story which is that of large software vendors such as IBM and Microsoft holding substantial sway over the present and future messaging habits of their customers and prospects. Waiting in the wings, of course, are companies like Google and Yahoo! and various other bit-part players who would like their own slice of the action.

The research examined preferences and activities by organisation size: corporate (over 5,000 employees); mid-market (250-5,000 employees) and SMB (up to 249 employees). Each segment has its characteristics but while the corporate and mid-market are closely aligned, the SMB sector marches to a slightly different drummer.

As with most surveys of this type, it should be no surprise that Microsoft scores highest, while the Lotus brand does not fare nearly as well, with terms like "legacy" coming up far too often.  On the other hand, the writer does acknowledge that IBM has attempted a number of changes, and that the current offerings do bear examination, even if you're already a Microsoft shop.

To me, the most revealing fact is that the farther down the corporate size ladder you go, the less chance you have of seeing either Lotus *or* Microsoft:

Microsoft Exchange, at 57 per cent is still in the lead but, among SMBs, it's clearly far from the 'de facto' choice. This could be for a number of reasons, but the most likely is that a high percentage are not really ‘platform aware’ in the same way that larger organisations are. Only 56 percent claimed to be using an email/messaging platform. Many of the remainder will have their email and their web presence hosted by their ISP and they are unlikely to be aware of the underpinning architecture.

To an SMB, email truly *is* a commodity item, and the easiest/cheapest supplier of said commodity stands a good chance of winning out.  Joe the dentist is just as likely to trust Comcast/Google as they are to trust a Foundation server.

And a side note to the product naming group...  I know you're in a bit of a snit over Microsoft using Foundations Server after you went and launched the Lotus Foundation server.  On the other hand, this line in the story shows there's not much room to throw stones:

However, the Google and Yahoo! figures suggest that smaller organisations are increasingly willing to move to hosted solutions, which is good news for both IBM and Microsoft and their recently-announced ‘Live’-branded SaaS offerings.

Windows Live...  LotusLive...  You'd almost think from this quote that Lotus and Microsoft had collaborated on something...  :)

04/01/2009

Book Review - Contagion: The Financial Epidemic That is Sweeping the Global Economy... and How to Protect Yourself from It by John R. Talbott

Category Book Review John R. Talbott Contagion: The Financial Epidemic That is Sweeping the Global Economy... and How to Protect Yourself from It
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So how did we get ourselves into this economic mess?  Beyond the knee-jerk "it's the bankers fault", what really drove our system to the edge that we now balance on?  John R. Talbott does a very good job in laying out the cause and effect in his book Contagion: The Financial Epidemic That is Sweeping the Global Economy... and How to Protect Yourself from It.  It's tempting to want to believe that it will all work itself out as it always does, but after reading Talbott, it's hard to maintain much optimism over how this will all end up.

Contents:
Bamboozled, What Didn't Cause the U.S. Housing Boom and Bust; What Did Cause the U.S. Housing Boom and Bust; The Contagion Spreads from Subprime to Prime; How Low Will Hosing Prices Go in the U.S.?; The U.S. Economy Was Not in Great Shape to Begin With; The United States Enters a Long Recession; The Global Economy Catches the Contagion; Too Big to Fail - The $400 Trillion Derivatives Market; Local Governments Feel the Pinch; From Wall Street to Main Street; Demographics Magnify Contagion; Which Investments and Which Countries Will Weather the Storm the Best?; Stop the Bleeding; No Future without Reform; A Warning Shot Across the Bow; References; About the Author; Index

I've heard most of the arguments that Talbott lays out in Contagion, but not all in one cohesive package, understandable to the general public.  He starts out with the housing bubble, where prices appreciated far beyond what typical supply and demand would expect.  As all parties became less "responsible" for their actions, the rules became less and less stringent. Banks were able to package their loans to third-parties who assumed the mortgages were AAA grade.  Since borrowers had less at stake in the house, there were fewer ramifications if one wanted to "walk away" from the mortgage.  In effect, they were playing with house money.  Prices go up, you win. Prices go down, you leave it on the table.  When loans started to go bad, the cascade effect started.  Throw in the incredibly high level of risk that credit default swaps (CDS) carried, and the house of cards came crashing down.  Meanwhile, we have a government bailing out the very people and industries that caused the problem, under the explanation that these institutions were too large to fail.  Again, investors ended up with no liability for their risk-taking behavior and greed, and the taxpayer (and future generations) are left to pay the price down the road.  Obviously, there are a number of other factors that play into everything going bad, and Talbott makes a convincing case as to why it happened, as well as the outcome.  Basically, there's no solution that won't cause a large amount of pain.  It's a matter of whether we own up to our failures and start to make things right, or do we instead pass it along and let others figure it out later (because I got my piece before it went bad).

In terms of how best to weather the storm, he recommends cash, TIPS, gold, and investments in China (if you feel compelled to have money in equities).  Whether you agree or not is obviously up to you, but he makes strong points as to why you should avoid certain stock market sectors, as well as most municipal bond offerings.  I think the effect on local governments was the most eye-opening part of the book for me.  When you consider that government budgets are being slashed, workers are being laid off (less taxable income), and property is losing 30% to 50% of its value (less property tax revenue), there's little hope that government spending will be a safe bet for many years to come.

Well worth reading, even if you don't think you agree with the premise.  There's less information on "protecting yourself" from the effects, but it may just be that there are no good answers.  I would like to believe Talbott is wrong, but his math works better than the government's math does...

04/01/2009

Kudos to Mr. Brill for bringing about an improvement in file download names from IBM's site...

Category IBM/Lotus
Definitely a case of kudos for a long-sought and well-received change...  File downloads from IBM's website will now come with descriptive file names instead of just a cryptic identifier.

Since I was vocal about the inconvenience, as was Paul Mooney (not once, but twice!), and many others over the years, the very least I can do is say...

THANKS, ED!

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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