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

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07/31/2009

For those who have asked and wondered, yes I'm OK... just struggling a bit right now...

Category Everything Else
I've gotten pinged on the side from a number of people asking if I was OK or if I was doing OK due to periodic stretches of radio silence.  The short overall answer is "thanks, I'm OK", and the longer answer is I'm working through a stressful period right now.

There are numerous things going on at work that make me feel like I'm trying to do far too many things and not being terribly successful at any of them.  I've always lived in multi-task mode, with various things going on, while still responding timely to questions and such.  It seems to have magnified of late, and I'm even letting emails slip that normally would have gotten same day responses.  For someone who used to feel on top of stuff, delivering good customer service, and knew what he was doing, it's been hard.

The anti-depressant med change is still in flux.  I dropped the generic Prozac after about six years to control my dysthymia.  I was starting into the "Prozac poop-out" phase, where the tolerance builds up to such a point that the effects start to diminish.  We switched to generic Celexa at a low dose, and that didn't do much.  The dose was up'd, but it still really hasn't kicked in.  We're going to give it two more weeks.  If at that point it's still not making a difference, then we'll take a different approach.  I'm starting to miss the person I knew I was with the Prozac.

I'll be undergoing a sleep study Monday night to see how bad my sleep apnea is.  I can only keep up these 5 to 6 hour nights for so long.  I know it's weight-related (or at least that's a large part of it, no pun intended).  I really don't want to go down the CPAP device route and look/sound like Darth Vadar every night.  We'll deal with that once we get the results back.

On the fitness front, the stress has taken its toll.  The work facility has been closed down for a remodel, which means I have to use alternatives (which I *do* have available to me).  But I talk myself out of stuff far too easy due to fatigue, and I end up missing stuff.  And stress eating has reared it's head.  I'll have my 12 week check-point on Monday, so I'll report back here, good bad or otherwise.

I'm not even writing as much as I used to (and my reading volume is down)!  I have about four books to write reviews on, and each night after work it's close to all I can do to just settle down with a good book and read.  Forget about trying to put down coherent thoughts on a page about a book I've already read...

Given all that above, you can see why I may not be too inclined to be sympathetic to all the sniping in the Lotus community right now...

Anyway... such is the life of Duffbert at the current time.  Thanks for all who have expressed concern.  I'm not looking for sympathy here.  It just helps me when I can dump my thoughts and struggles out here to get them out of my mind and give them some space of their own...

07/26/2009

Book Review - Energize Growth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company by Lisa Nirell

Category Book Review Lisa Nirell Energize Growth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company
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I had the distinct pleasure of receiving an advance copy of Lisa Nirell's new book Energize Growth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company.  I've read a number of business books on how to "energize" growth and build your company, but all too often they read like a theoretical, academic methodology that would take a rocket scientist to follow and implement.  Nirell avoids that problem with simple, down-to-earth steps that, if followed, will definitely place you on the right track for moving your business to the next level.  It'll also position you well to be able to exit your company properly with a sale or acquisition in the future.  Regardless of how you view your end-game, you'll be much better off for having read and followed Nirell's advice.

Contents:
Running on Empty; Brains, Beliefs, and Growth Blunders; Say No to the Good, and Yes to the Great; Increase Your Wealth Quotient; The Path to Planning; The Inside Job; What's on Your Dashboard; Design Your Dashboard; Plan Your Brand; More Revenues, Fewer Clients; Future Energy Sources - How to Grow Your Wealth Quotient with Social Media; Appendix A - Sample EnergizeGrowth Plan; Appendix B - Sample ProfitCents Report; References; About the Author; Index

There were so many ideas in Nirell's writing that stood out in her approach.  One of the biggest was the imperative to "write down your plan."  She recounts many situations where business owners had various "good ideas" about where they wanted to go, but were stagnating in the process of getting there.  The simple words "show me your written business plan" was all it took in many cases to uncover the fact that the owner had no concrete ways to get to where they needed to be.  Once that task was tackled, often the growth started immediately, as the person had a plan to follow and track.  Seems very simple and intuitive, but all too often is left undone.

Another common pitfall for the small business owner is the idea of delegation.  Generally, the owner is the commodity being sold, be it a consultant or a professional position.  Time spent doing non-value-added tasks takes away from time that could be spent billing clients and growing the business.  You may *like* to do the billings or the books yourself, but you could hire someone to do it for less than you'd bill.  Therefore, saying "no to the good, and yes to the great" can offer up an instant spike in your time and energy that can be devoted to growing your business.  This concept also applies to figuring out what your business offers that is better than anything else out there... your "hedgehog."  Once you know where your most profitable parts of the business lie, then you can start trimming out the parts that don't contribute to your growth.  

Obviously, there are many more parts of Nirell's plan, and I could go on about it for a long time.  But suffice it to say that her advice is practical and personal, and has been validated with many of her clients over the years.  This is a book that will stay on my business shelf for personal reference.  Should I ever find myself truly running my own business, I plan on getting things started on the right foot with Energize Growth NOW.

07/25/2009

Book Review - The Hobbit: or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien

Category Book Review J. R. R. Tolkien The Hobbit: or There and Back Again
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Normally this wouldn't have made my reading list...  J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: or There and Back Again.  I was well aware of Tolkien's books, but I wrote them off because "I don't do fantasy."  Elfs, dwarfs, hobbits...  just not my thing.  But I'm also a techno-geek, and as such the Lord of the Rings books and movies are required in order to maintain your geek cred membership card.  I 'fessed up on Twitter that I hadn't read any of them, and immediately was pilloried by my peers...  Then I was subjected to the debate as to whether Hobbit or LOTR should be read first.  My peers even went so far as to send me BOTH of them via mail (thank you, ladies).  Since I had both at the same time, I decided to start with Hobbit.  

Having explained the backstory as to *why* I read this, the question becomes did I enjoy this.  And the answer is yes, I enjoyed it very much.  Bilbo Baggins was quite human in his personality, and I could relate to his struggle between wanting to be left alone vs. living up to the expectations that others had of him.  Watching him go from a timid hobbit afraid to do much of anything to a leader able to stand up to anything others could throw at him was something you could definitely learn from.  And of course, his traveling companions mirrored much of society... totally behind you when you have something they want, but also ready to throw you under the bus moments later if fortunes turn.

My friends didn't tell me until after I was done that this is technically considered a "children's" book.  Could have fooled me. :)  I enjoyed it, and it was probably the best way to get my mind wrapped around the LOTR concepts and imagery (since it's not a normal genre for me).  We'll see how well I fare when I get to the "adult" version of the stories.  But at least I conditionally have my geek cred card back...

07/25/2009

Book Review - Vanished by Joseph Finder

Category Book Review Joseph Finder Vanished
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I've *really* been looking forward to the latest by Joseph Finder...  Vanished.  I actually received an autographed copy from him (yeah, yeah, full disclosures and all that stuff), and it was immediately moved to the top of my "start reading" pile(s).  A day later, it was done.  REALLY good!  Nick Heller, the main character in Vanished, is someone who can go in so many directions in future novels.  I can see him becoming a franchise character for Finder much like Coben has Bolitar and Lee Child has Reacher.  

In Vanished, the story starts out with Roger Heller, Nick's estranged brother, disappearing after his wife is mugged when they are out for a dinner together.  Lauren Heller wakes up in the hospital with no clue as to what happened (or why), and no answers as to what happened to her husband.  Her son, Gabe, calls his uncle, Nick, to help find his stepdad.  It's a good choice, as Nick works for a investigation firm that has incredible resources at their beck and call.  Regardless of how Nick feels about Roger, he starts hunting for Roger more for Gabe than anyone else.  It appears that Roger disappeared due to something he uncovered in his job as a mergers and acquisitions expert for a worldwide company.  But the deeper Nick digs, the more things don't add up.  And it may well be that more than one group is involved in Roger's disappearance, or at least wants to find him in order to make sure he's dead.

Vanished starts off fast, and doesn't slow down much.  The interaction between Nick and Gabe is quite authentic given the characteristics that Finder gave them, and Nick's continually shifting view of Lauren kept me on edge as to how much she may or may not know about what actually happened.  Nick has a perfect mix of hard-nosed attitude and realistic humanity, which made it easy to root for him as the hero.  And twists?  They just keep coming... I didn't know how this one was going to turn out until the very end.

If you've read Finder's previous novels, you'll want to read this one too.  If this is your first intro to Finder, you're in for a treat.  And since this is the introduction of a new character, you don't have to pick up any of his previous novels in order to jump in.  But you'll want to get those after this one...  :)

07/25/2009

Book Review - ePublish: Self-Publish Fast and Profitably for Kindle, iPhone, CreateSpace and Print on Demand by Steve Weber

Category Book Review Steve Weber ePublish: Self-Publish Fast and Profitably for Kindle iPhone CreateSpace and Print on Demand
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There's a good chance that if you want to write and publish a book, you'll struggle to find a publisher who can and will take you on.  It's even worse if you're a first time author, or if your subject matter is rather narrow.  Steve Weber shows how you can explore alternatives in his book ePublish: Self-Publish Fast and Profitably for Kindle, iPhone, CreateSpace and Print on Demand.  What you quickly learn is that you *can* be published with little money at risk, and the margins at which you can make worthwhile money are not as high as you might think.

Table of Contents:
Introduction; Dive Into Electronic Text; Publish To The Kindle Store; Target The Mobile Reader; Give It Away And Prosper; Ready, Aim, Format!; Weave Your Web; Wag The Long Tail; Rise Above The Noise; Graduate To Print; Write Off Your Expenses; More Resources; Index

The rise of electronic publishing makes the barrier to entry much lower than in the past.  Weber explains how devices like the Kindle and the iPhone can be leveraged to prepare and publish your book electronically, and how formatting and pricing comes into play.  There are pros and cons of each different platform, and a single formatting option will not cover them all.  You'll learn what choices you'll need to make, and how they might affect your eventual monetary return on your time and effort.  I also like how he covers something often left out... publicity.  If you go the self-publishing route, you'll be responsible for all your own press.  Using web sites, reviewers, affiliate sites, and the like can overcome that "lost in a crowd effect", and there's plenty of ideas in here.  And for the "dead tree" crowd (of which I am a member), he covers the requirements to go down the Print On Demand route.  This is perfect for many authors in that they don't have to pre-order a ton of copies.  The books are printed when ordered, so your cash outlay and risk is minimal, and the margin of profit on each sale is much higher.  Add into all this content his advice on how best to protect your rights and tax implications, and you have a very valuable book well worth its cost (which isn't much).

As with many books like this (how to make money doing <whatever>), the success stories used are such that you may feel you have only to write a couple hundred pages and money will start rolling in.  Not true... If your writing is garbage and the material is not well-edited, it doesn't matter how much you publish...  it won't sell.  But assuming you *do* have good content worth reading and buying, ePublish will help you make that transition from idea to reality.  I am already starting to think of a few ideas for this option...

07/20/2009

Pictures from the Tucson Air Museum and Boneyard, along with the Nuclear Missile Silo Museum

Category Everything Else
You can find them out here on Flickr...

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07/11/2009

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

Category Book Review J. D. Robb Promises in Death
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I finally got to the top of the hold list for J. D. Robb's latest, Promises in Death.  I've made no bones about the fact that the In Death series written by Nora Roberts (writing as J. D. Robb) is a guilty pleasure of mine.  I love the characters, the plots, the whole police/crime novel set in the near future with a nice touch of sci-fi.  She cranks these out at a phenomenal rate, and I don't know how she does it without becoming stale.  All I can say is that I'm happy she hasn't hit that point, and Promises is one of the best ones in the series.  I really enjoyed this one.

The main plot here is that a female cop from a different precinct, Amaryllis Coltraine, is murdered.  She's hit with a blaster that does a lot of damage but doesn't kill her.  The killer then revives her, apparently spends a bit of time talking to her, and then finishes her off with her own issued stunner.  Dallas pulls the case, and takes it even more personally than normal as it was a fellow cop.  She was also involved with Morris, the chief medical examiner in Dallas' office, and it's torn him up.  Dallas starts investigating Coltraine's fellow officers, which they don't take kindly to.  Dallas also ties Coltraine to Alex Ricker, the son of a notorious killer that Dallas put away on a prior case.  Dallas has to determine if Ricker had her murdered, if Coltraine was aware of Ricker's ties, or even the possibility that Coltraine might have been on the take.  Regardless of which it is, Dallas won't give up until the truth is uncovered, no matter who it may hurt...

Even though I find all the In Death novels interesting and entertaining, some of them work better than others.  This one is perfect.  There's a solid crime right up front that establishes the plot.  Dallas has to sort through a number of false leads and dead ends to establish some solid suspects.  Even then, the picture keeps changing.  Roarke uses his considerable skills to help dig out information, as well as keeping Dallas grounded in reality.  And for good measure, there's a bridal shower that Dallas has to attend, a fate worse than death for her.  All the elements that make for a great Eve Dallas adventure.  

It only took me a couple days to start and finish this novel.  Now it's back to waiting for the next one.  Which, with Robert's pace, won't be long... :)

07/11/2009

Book Review - A Murder of Quality by John le Carre

Category Book Review John Le Carre A Murder of Quality
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So now that I'm starting to read John le Carre, I figured I'd take all his book from the beginning in sequence.  I reached back a few years and got A Murder of Quality from the library.  Keeping in mind I don't have a full history of his work to draw upon, I must say that I found this one rather slow and confusing.  I know that le Carre is touted as a great spymaster writer, and I guess I got that in my head as to what to expect from the George Smiley character.  Instead, this was more of a detective novel, and more of an accidental detective at that.  Couple that with a very strong British flavor to the writing style, and it didn't work very well for me.

The story revolves around Smiley's attempt to solve a murder that occurred in a small English village that housed the Carne School, a very well-known institution.  He was led to the case by a friend who received a letter to the newspaper for which she worked.  A long time reader claimed she was about to be killed by her husband, and that this was a very real threat.  As a favor, he heads to Carne to inquire.  When he starts asking questions and digging around, he finds a number of very strange and eccentric individuals who work for the school, and none of them appear to have had any direct connection or motive for the murder.  But the deeper he digs, the more disturbing some of his findings become, and he has to tread carefully to get the murder to expose him or herself.

As I'm finding with le Carre's novels, he condenses a lot of information into very few pages.  He paints his images well.  But in A Murder of Quality, I never found myself caring for the cast of characters, and until the end I didn't even have a motive for the murder.  Granted, in some books that missing motive drives the story.  Here, it just left me wondering "why do I care?" Also, there are plenty of British references and phrasings here that are not familiar to the average American reader, given the culture and the passage of time (written in 1962).  

I'm not about to drop my effort to go through le Carre's bibliography, as I've been told (by very reliable sources) that the next few are really good.  But in this particular case, I wasn't overly engrossed in the material.

07/08/2009

Make the Switch from Lotus Notes: Google Apps saves money and streamlines IT

Category IBM/Lotus Google
So I'm catching up on my Google News Alerts, and I come across a hit under Lotus Notes:

Make the Switch from Lotus Notes: Google Apps saves money and streamlines IT

Since it doesn't seem to be attached to a story, I click on it and get taken to a Google page that makes the case for switching from Notes to Google Apps in a simple, clean, and easy-to-understand single page format:

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For a few moments, put aside your "but Notes can do so much more", "what about when the network goes down", and "it's not ready for prime-time" arguments.  I know them, you know them...  But the CxO/technology manager/small business person doesn't live in the same world we do.  They see:
  • Promise of lower cost and little/no infrastructure
  • A video showing how a large enterprise moved over and it's working for them
  • A way to start a free trial of the software with no hassle
  • An easy way to contact Google to start the conversation

Large shops switching from Notes to Google will continue to field the arguments of dubious cost savings, hadn't upgraded since 5.0, didn't consider LotusLive, political decision, etc.

The larger danger in my opinion are the 50 to 500 person shops who have run Notes in the past, but probably run it at less than optimum configuration due to support costs.  Yes, they could go looking for LotusLive, if they know it exists.  They *do* know that Google Apps and Gmail exist, and that option is easy to find.  Try getting an IBM rep on the phone for a 50 person decision.  That is, if they even *make* the call in the first place assuming they know there are alternatives.  

If company X is using Notes for email and template applications like discussion or teamrooms, the Google alternative is quite seductive.  If they don't have Notes developers/administrators who have developed web apps and other cool custom apps, it may be far closer to an apples-to-apples comparison than we've admitted in the past.

Google has been nibbling away at the low-end niche where IBM/Microsoft had little profit.  They are now positioned quite well to start taking considerable bites out of the mid-range areas, finding profits due to their cost structure learned in the low-end markets.  IBM and Microsoft can try and retreat to the high-end markets that are still very profitable, but Google isn't that far away from staking major claims there.  

This most definitely changes the competitive landscape for all players...

07/05/2009

Book Review - The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Category Book Review Michael Ondaatje The English Patient
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It's true that most of my recreational reads are action/adventure/mystery with a lot of movement. But I really am trying to get a bit more introspective and appreciative of different writing styles.  It was recommended by a friend that I read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.  In a word, wow.  It was far from my normal fare, but I quickly got drawn into the imagery and way that Ondaatje was able to take four separate individuals with different stories and weave them into a single plot.

I did have to take my time and trust a bit that it would all come together.  The first scene involves Hana, a fatigued nurse holding vigil over her last patient, a severely burned pilot known as "the English patient".  While the end of World War II is almost there, she remains at the converted hospital, just her and the patient, amid the rubble of bombings and shellings.  There's not much background as to who they are and why she refuses to leave.  In the second scene, Caravaggio, a thief who's hands were mutilated as punishment, arrives at the hospital, and tries to figure out who the patient is in real life, as well as how he feels about Hana.  And finally, Kip arrives at the hospital.  He's an Indian "sapper", one who goes in and disarms unexploded ordinance.  He's never allowed himself to be close to anyone due to his particularly short life expectancy.  But Hana is under his skin, and he has to start understanding someone else aside from only himself.  

Once all the characters are given their time and space as individuals arriving at the hospital, the stories start to merge.  Caravaggio thinks the English patient to be someone else entirely.  Caravaggio teases the story from him, learning exactly what role he might have played in the war.  And via the wireless, they all hear news that completely changes their view of everything they stood for and believed in.  And that causes their own shared universe to go spiraling out of control once again...

I enjoyed this far more than I expected I would.  I learned to slow down my pace and just let the story flow over me and unfold as it wanted.  I also had to trust that it was all going to come together in a way that was not going to make me regret the time I had spent reading it.  I also learned quite a bit on how a good author can paint the surroundings with words, and put you right there in the middle of the scene, complete with the appropriate emotions and atmosphere.

Of course, now I need to see the movie version of it. :)

07/04/2009

Book Review - Long Lost by Harlan Coben

Category Book Review Harlan Coben Long Lost
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I absolutely love the Myron Bolitar character in Harlan Coben's novels.  Wise-cracking, able to take care of himself, surrounded by an eclectic but useful cast... When Long Lost was released, I immediately added it to my library hold list, and it finally came in.  While I enjoyed the read, it didn't quite measure up to prior episodes in the Bolitar story.  I think it was due to the plot being rather opaque for long periods of time, and I had trouble getting to the point where I actually cared about what happened.

The base plot is that a former lover of his calls him after a decade of no contact and asks him to come to Paris to see her.  She won't tell him the reason, and it's complicated by the fact that Myron is involved with someone else now.  But his sense of protection towards her wins out, and he flies over to see what's going on.  Turns out her ex-husband had something to tell her that would change her future, but he was murdered before they could meet.  Now the French police want her and Myron on suspicion of murder, and they have to go on the run to remain free until the truth sorts itself out.  The driving force behind the secret seems to involve a daughter she thought dead from a traffic accident, and terrorists who somehow don't want any part of that secret uncovered...

Part of the fun of a Bolitar novel is all of the side characters, such as Esperanza. But she plays a pretty minor role in this story.  Really, Win is the only sidekick that plays a significant role.  I also thought his love interest at home didn't do much for the story either.  Personally, I'd have to read the last Bolitar novel to see if that was included as part of the ending.  But it's been long enough, and I frankly don't remember.  Finally, in terms of the plot once he got to Paris, I found myself more confused than riveted.  I felt as if the whole daughter issue just continued to be drawn out, and after awhile I found I didn't much care...

Was Long Lost worth reading? Yes, even with all the things I just listed above.  I'm still a Bolitar fan, and I love his way with conversation.  Was it the best one I've read? No.  I just hope that the next one is soon, and that I can get lost in that installment...

07/04/2009

Book Review - Entrepreneur Journeys: Bootstrapping: Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction by Sramana Mitra

Category Book Review Sramana Mitra Entrepreneur Journeys: Bootstrapping: Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction
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Having been near the front lines of the dot-com boom (and bust), I remember how much money was being thrown around at ideas that were utterly ridiculous.  And if you could get venture capitalists to fund you long enough, you could then shift to an IPO and cash out for big bucks.  Those days are gone, and now you have to be much more self-sufficient to get yourself started and maintain your momentum.  Sramana Mitra looks at a number of entrepreneurs who have gone the bootstrapping route with great success in her book Entrepreneur Journeys: Bootstrapping: Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction.  This is a good source of personal stories and input on how to do it on your own without giving up control of your idea and hard work.

Contents:
Prologue
Doing More With Less: The Real VCs Of Silicon Valley; Fund Envy; Bootstrapping, Montana Style (Greg Gianforte - Right Now)
Getting Started with Little or No Capital: Passion and Leverage (Cree Lawson - Travel Ad Network, Beatrice Tarka - Mobissimo), Barack Obama's Finance Lesson (Om Malik - GigaOM, Rafat Ali - paidContent, J. R. Johnson - Virtual Tourist, Guillaume Cohen - Veodia, Wayne Krause - Hydro Green Energy); Weapon of Mass Reconstruction (Scott Wainner - SysOpt & ResellerRatings, Ramu Yalamanchi - hi5)
Validating The Market - On The Cheap: Carts Ahead of Horses (Murli Thirumale - Ocarina, Manoj Saxena - Webify)
Resurrecting The Dead: Silicon Lazarus (Lars Dalgaard - SuccessFactors)
Epilogue

Mitra structures Entrepreneur Journeys as a series of interviews with people who have started businesses and willingly (or unwillingly) went without massive funding for the first part of their histories.  The ranges of personalities are rather astonishing... everything from veterans of startups who have "been there, done that" to youngsters who happened to be at the right place at the right time, and organically grew an idea into a money-generating website.  Some of the individuals couldn't get a venture capitalist to listen to them, and others decided not to go that route in order to retain control.  But in all cases, these entrepreneurs were able to successfully negotiate that tightrope between growth and funding.

While I learned a lot from each of the interviews, I also found Mitra's commentary quite valuable.  She points out a number of flaws in our current VC mindset that cause many good companies to die off too early.  Running a company for the first time is hard, and mentoring is even more valuable in many cases than money.  Normal VC arrangements don't do a good job in close mentoring.  Instead, it's a push to build up the value so the VCs can cash out.  Angel investors are more likely to work closely with the business, helping them reach their potential without sacrificing the longer-term potential of the business.  Very valuable advice...

If you're starting your own business in the technology industry, Mitra's book might well give you some perspective on initial funding that you may not have considered.  And given what's at stake, you will want to take the couple of hours you'll need to read this.

07/03/2009

Book Review - Glass Bottom Boats and Mermaid Tails: Florida's Tourist Springs by Tim Hollis

Category Book Review Tim Hollis Glass Bottom Boats and Mermaid Tails: Florida's Tourist Springs
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Continuing in the Florida tourist vein, I got the other book by Tim Hollis that deals directly with the topic... Glass Bottom Boats & Mermaid Tails: Florida's Tourist Springs.  And like Selling the Sunshine State, this is a great read for those interested in that trip down memory lane... specifically to all the "Springs" that drove Florida's tourist industry for so long.

The springs covered here include (with their own chapters) Silver Springs, Silver Springs' Neighbors, Wakulla Springs, Rainbow Springs, Weeki Wachee Spring, Homosassa Springs, and then a grouping of smaller attractions that were ok and not-so-ok.  Instead of being a coffee table book like Selling the Sunshine State, Glass Bottom is much more detailed with history and commentary on each attraction.  This format gives Hollis plenty of space to talk about how places like Silver Springs came into existence, how it turned from a natural scenic site into an attraction that drew local visitors, and how they morphed into vacation destination spots instead of just places to stop for a couple of hours.  I found it amazing how something as simple as a glass bottomed boat could be the key tool for changing a location's fortune.  And you can't ignore how so many sites built on each other's successes to stay even and surpass the competition.  It was very hard to find something *new* that wasn't soon duplicated in a dozen other locales.

I think my favorite chapter was the one talking about Weeki Wachee Spring.  They were the ones who created and perfected the underwater mermaid shows, featuring graceful and beautiful routines performed in a nearly weightless environment.  I also now understand the significance of the adagio position, the signature move that ended nearly all shows and became the signature of Weeki Wachee Spring.  I think of any of the sites covered in the book, this is the one place I would have liked to see in its heyday.

If you're only into looking at interesting pictures, you'll probably find this volume a bit lacking compared to other Hollis titles.  But if you want to go into the history of the Florida Springs, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything better than this book.  And you get good pictures to go along with it. :)

07/03/2009

Book Review - The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

Category Book Review Charlie Huston The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
A picture named M2

This was another one of those "recommended by a friend" books that I generally put on my library hold list...  The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death: A Novel by Charlie Huston.  It's the first Huston book I've read, so I don't have much to compare it to, other than to say that many others say his style is quite "different".  "Different" would be putting it mildly...  :)  Plenty of gore, guts, language, and intrigue to make this about as "noire" as you can get.  I don't know that I liked it so much as I was analyzing his writing style.  It was one of my slower reads as you had to work a bit to follow who was saying what...

The basic plot is that Web Goodhue, a complete and total drifter, is finally forced to find a job before his tattoo artist friend throws him out.  The job happens to be working for Po Sin, a rather large individual who does the haz waste pickup each week.  Turns out that Po runs a company called Clean Team, the people who come in and clean up after someone dies or otherwise makes a mess in departing their earthly existence.  Web is quickly exposed to some of the most gruesome sights he's ever seen, but strangely he decides to go back for another day... and another... and another.  On a particular call where he ends up falling for the daughter of a suicide victim, he unwittingly becomes caught up in a larger crime, one that could leave his new girlfriend and him dead... all over a truckload of almonds.  Web has to play the innocent idiot caught in the wrong place (which he is) while trying to outwit the idiots on the other side (which they are), all while saddled with the the complete nutcase that is the girl's brother.  All these characters and situations wind down to a final confrontation to see who can call who's bluff best.

It takes awhile for the book to get going, as I had no idea as to why Web found himself in this particular situation to begin with.  Was he always a lazy bum?  Reference is made that he used to be a teacher, but it takes awhile before you know how that figures in.  On top of that, *all* the characters are highly flawed and not very likable, but they do tend to be entertaining in their own way.  The hardest part of the book is the mix between dialogue and action.  His lines of dialogue are started with a single dash, and there is no indication as to who is saying what line.  So you may have a line or two of action, then five lines of dialogue, each on their own line, started with a dash.  You have to follow carefully to know who is talking and how the conversation is bouncing back and forth.  You WILL end up rereading some passages, as they didn't make sense the first way you read it as you misidentified the characters.

This book won't appeal to everyone, and even then you'll probably find a difference in what worked for you vs. for someone else.  I'm not sure I'd head back for more Huston titles, as I have so many other things to read that I'd likely enjoy more.  But from a strict writer and stylistic angle, it's worth reading to experience something a bit different.

07/03/2009

Book Review - Selling the Sunshine State: A Celebration of Florida Tourism Advertising by Tim Hollis

Category Book Review Tim Hollis Selling the Sunshine State: A Celebration of Florida Tourism Advertising
A picture named M2

After my review of Dixie Before Disney, I got an email from Tim Hollis letting me know he had additional titles (IN COLOR!) that covered the subject of Southern tourism from different angles.  So, back off to Interlibrary Loan I went, and I soon received a copy of Selling the Sunshine State: A Celebration of Florida Tourism Advertising.  This was probably what I was most looking for when I first read the Dixie title, but that's not to say Dixie Before Disney wasn't good.  Selling the Sunshine State focuses entirely on Florida tourism, and is in full color.  Brochures, maps, advertising, you name it...  Places that exist now, no longer exist, or probably should have *never* existed.  This book took me on a nostalgic trip of what Florida *used* to be before the heavy hitters (like Disney) redefined tourism.

Hollis divides the book up into the following chapters: When You Need It Bad We've Got It Good (overall state), The Miracle Strip, The Big Bend, Florida's Crown, The Grove Coast, The Sun Coast, The Tropicoast, and The Paradise Islands.  After a page or two of intro into the material, you then get the goods...  full-color reproductions of all the material that the state and various attractions used to catch your attention and get you to spend your dollars.  Hollis also has great captions and insets describing each item, which add even more meaning and color (no pun intended) to the overall effect.  It's amazing to think that these placemats, maps, postcards, and brochures were probably gathered up by travelers, poured over by kids, and then relegated to the trash.  It's great that Hollis has saved and preserved so many of them so we don't lose sight of what used to be...

Felt pennants...  hadn't thought about those in years...

I found it most interesting to see how so many of the attractions tended to follow each other in various forms and images.  For instance, *all* of the various "Springs" attractions (Silver Springs, Rainbow Springs, etc) had to have pictures of attractive women in bathing suits.  If you had a marine-themed attraction, you *had* to have dolphins and porpoises adorning your material.  And if you didn't have the required glass-bottom boat picture somewhere, you could just forget about it.  :)  I also now understand the impact that Silver Springs had on the entire tourism industry in Florida.  They were the Disneyworld of their era, and the attraction by which all others were measured.  Yes, it would be considered quite tame today, but step back 40 years or so, and it was *the* place to be.

If this subject at all appeals to you, Selling the Sunshine State is a must-read.  It won't take much time in terms of reading, but you will spend a considerable amount of time just lingering over the pictures and enjoying the images.

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