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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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08/30/2009

Product Review - Logitech Webcam C600

Category Product Review Logitech Webcam C600
A picture named M2

Through Amazon Vine, I recently received a review unit of the Logitech Webcam C600.  Of all the webcams I've owned and used, this is probably the best of all of them.  They don't work and perform much better than this.

As with most Logitech items, the install was painless.  Put the CD in, plug in the camera when the prompt comes up, and you're pretty much done.  There's an option to Logitech's video mail service, but I passed on that one as I have far too many other mail services already.

When I started the camera, I was impressed with both the video and sound quality.  The video ranges from small standard def sizing to full-screen high-def video.  And with their face-tracking feature, you can actually move around a bit in front of the camera and stay centered in the picture.  The sound was even more of a surprise.  I was able to get excellent recording quality with the cam sitting a normal distance from where I'd be sitting.  I even had a fair amount of residual background noise, and it didn't distract or overrun the volume and quality of the playback.  Very nice...

There were a couple of nice features in the actual hardware, also.  The base features the fold-out stand that allows you to prop the camera up on a variety of video screens.  But it also folds flat enough that you can set it on a desk without it falling over.  The top part of the camera has a flip-down privacy cover, which is highly convenient.  You just slide it down over the lens, and you are assured of complete privacy from inadvertent viewing.

I would highly recommend the Logitech Webcam C600 for anyone who was in the market for one.  For the price and feature set, it's hard to beat.

08/30/2009

Book Review - The Pocket Guide to Magic by Bart King

Category Book Review Bart King The Pocket Guide to Magic
A picture named M2

I've read a number of Bart King's Pocket Guide books, and found them to be quite amusing.  His latest, The Pocket Guide to Magic, is no exception.  If you're interested in the history of magic, the legends and personalities, and a few tricks on the side, this is definitely a book for you...

Contents:
Introduction; Hogwarts Is for Sissies!; Playing the Part; Neat Feats and Florid Flourishes; Timeless Wonders through History; Secrets; Money Magic; Diabolical Magic of the Blackest Sort; Mental Magic; Fortune-Telling; Weird Names and Acts; Card Magic; Battle of the Magicians!; The Voodoo that You Do; Houdini; Delightful Effects; Magicians for Dismemberment; Movie Magic; Merlin and Other Magic Makers

Rather than just a book full of tricks you can do yourself, King delves more into the history and mystique behind magic.  He goes all the way back to 2600 BC and an Egyptian magician named Dedi who decapitated animals.  And to bring you current, he covers Chris Angel of MindFreak fame.  Along the way, you get plenty of tidbits on rivalries, costuming, events, and the different classifications of types of magic.  Oh, yes...  he *does* show you how to do certain tricks that will likely make for quite a few free drinks in bars.  So the book *will* pay for itself. :)

I most like King's writing style.  He certainly doesn't take himself seriously, and his writing can be as wacky as Dave Barry or Tim Dorsey (which makes me wonder if Bart spent time in Florida before settling here in Portland Oregon).  I found myself laughing along with getting educated at the same time.  And as I read about certain tricks, I was already working out where and when I would try them out in front of friends.  My poor friends...

The Pocket Guide To Magic is educational as well as just a lot of fun to read.  Given the size, it doesn't take long to do so.  But you'll enjoy the time you *do* spend going through the pages.

08/28/2009

Book Review - The Year of No Money in Tokyo by Wayne Lionel Aponte

Category Book Review Wayne Lionel Aponte The Year of No Money in Tokyo
A picture named M2

I was contacted by Wayne Lionel Aponte asking if I'd be interested in reading his book The Year of No Money in Tokyo.  He felt I might appreciate it after reading The Upside of Fear recently.  I accepted the offer, thinking I would be getting a book that was heavy on personal growth and overcoming adversity.  While Year of No Money does have some of those elements contained within the covers, it's also described as a travel memoir.  Those tend to be two very different things, and I felt as if they were fighting against each other in terms of what the book was really trying to say.  Because of that, I think the book missed the mark on succeeding completely on either count.

Aponte is a black American who was living and working in Tokyo in the mid-90s, right as the major financial crisis hit the country.  He quit his job, thinking he would have no problem finding another one.  But that was not to be.  He went from living in a nice area of the city with many of the creature comforts you come to expect, to living in a single room guest house.  And we're talking *very* small room, as well as usually sharing it with a roommate who you had no voice in choosing.  He existed in this state for a full year, with no income, living off the kindness of a number of girlfriends he had in various areas.  Sometimes it was a meal, other times it was actual cash and gifts.  On his part, he had but one thing to offer that they wanted... sex.  Some wanted nothing more than companionship and someone to talk with, while a couple hinted very strongly that marriage was their ultimate goal.  It wasn't until he finally landed a job as an English teacher that he was able to start earning his own way, paying off his debts, and building up a nest egg.

Thoughout the book, Aponte expresses disgust over what he's become, and how he feels like he's reached some of the lowest points in his life.  He also is able to talk with quite a bit of authority and candor on what it's like to be a foreigner in a very xenophobic country.  Even worse, he's a black American, who many in the culture view as a barbarian and someone less than human.  That combination was responsible for nearly all of his job interview failures, as very few Japanese companies or bosses were willing to hire someone so "different" than they were.

So where did I end up failing to appreciate this book?  As a travel memoir, it seemed to be trying to get me to change my personal views on life.  As a self-improvement book, I was spending a lot of time reading about his ways of making ends meet by using others.  And when the subject matter did shift solidly to the personal growth message, I felt I had lost any cohesive thread that might have been holding the whole story together.  There *are* insights here that you fail to get in most other books about Japanese culture.  His look under the veneer of politeness and correctness shows that the Japanese culture is far different than conventional thought paints it to be.  And rarely do you get such a hard-hitting look at how non-white minorities in Japan are treated.  These areas make Year of No Money pretty unique in the Japanese culture part of the bookshelf.

I would have done better not knowing anything about the book before I started reading it.  As such I may have been able to keep my expectations from interfering.  But once I was preconditioned to view it as either a travel book or a personal growth book, I felt that the book tried to do too much, and as such missed the chance to do either one well.

08/28/2009

Book Review - Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Category Book Review Bernard Beckett Genesis
A picture named M2

A friend of mine last week recommended that I pick up Genesis by Bernard Beckett.  A novella at 150 pages, he said it was a good read with an excellent ending.  So, the library had a copy available and it was sent to my local branch within a day or two.  I started reading last night, and finished it today.  He was right... it's an interesting read dealing with a fair amount of philosophy, but the ending caught me totally off-guard.  I was even thinking I knew what the ending would be since he had tipped me to a major twist.  Nope...  didn't see that one coming.

An all-out world war started in 2050, and ended with most all the inhabitants of the planet being killed off.  That is, except for those who had followed a leader named Plato who had purchased a group of islands at the bottom of the world.  He set up his own Republic, shaped the society, and built a secure border defense to kill anyone who tried to make it to the island as a refugee.  A rogue leader on the island, Adam Forde, broke this "take no refugees" rule one time when he helped a defenseless young girl breech the sea fence instead of killing her on sight.  The event and the subsequent trial and death of Forde form much of the mythology of the society.

Anaximander is a resident of the Republic, and she's trying to gain admittance into the Academy, the ruling board of the Republic.  She is having her admittance exam in front of three examiners, and she has four hours to expound on a particular topic as they grill and scrutinize her.  She's chosen to discuss the history of Forde and offer up an alternative analysis of his death and its meaning.  Although controversial, her presentation and work in front of the panel is going well until the questioning takes an expected turn.  This new information forces her to reexamine everything she thought she knew about the Republic and the role that Forde played in shaping the life she currently lives.

In terms of plot, there isn't a lot of action.  There's the singular event that caused all the initial problems. Everything after that is dialogue and philosophical discussions, both on the part of Amaximander and in the recreation of Forde's life behind bars after being arrested.  The topics are interesting, however, and watching Forde being broken down bit by bit was fascinating.  But what made the book for me was the ending.  After finishing the book and digesting the end, I almost wanted to start the book over again and reread it with the new perspective.  I'm sure the book would have been just as interesting the second time around...

08/23/2009

Book Review - A Hero Behind Every Tree - The Non-Technical Reasons Your IT Investments Fail by Steve Caudill and Russell Mullen

Category Book Review Steve Caudill Russell Mullen A Hero Behind Every Tree - The Non-Technical Reasons Your IT Investments Fail
A picture named M2

I live and work in IT. I've done so for 30 years.  And I've seen MORE than my share of projects that either fail or don't live up to their original expectations.  Why is that?  Steve Caudill and Russell Mullen look at the reasons for this in their book A Hero Behind Every Tree - The Non-Technical Reasons Your IT Investments Fail.  This book is chock full of wisdom and experience that they've gained in their time working for a vast array of different companies and organizations.  You would do well to learn from them and avoid making the same mistakes yourselves.

Contents:
Introduction; Hero Syndrome; Our Tools; Our Top-Ten Issues; Believing the Hype; Solving the Wrong Problem; Using the Wrong People; Measuring the Wrong Things; Hope as a Risk-Management Strategy; Round Is a Shape (Not Keeping Fit); Ignorance as a Defense; Ostrichism (Ignoring Complexity); Giving Perception Sway (Not Communicating Reality); A Hero Behind Every Tree; Taking Action; Appendix; Bibliography; About the Authors

The title of the book is a play on the general feeling that all IT departments need heros who are willing to sacrifice nearly everything to pull off a miracle.  There's a good chance you've been a hero a time or two during your career.  But Caudill and Mullen contend that needing a hero on an IT project means you've failed.  A hero is needed when the original plan is in disarray, there's no chance of making the project deadline, and all "normal" work efforts have failed.  It's true that IT tends to attract those who can play the hero role quite well, but as a regular business practice, heroic efforts are not a good sign.

Caudill and Mullen go on to cover a number of reasons why projects fail, mainly from the people and business perspective.  For instance, you may get marching orders from some higher-up who says they want <InsertDemandHere> to start happening.  IT runs off and figures out how to build or improve the system to do that.  But when it comes time to demo, the project sponsor is still unhappy.  Generally this is repeated a couple more times before someone comes up with the bright idea to sit down with the sponsor and ask them what they are  REALLY trying to accomplish.  Turns out there was a gap of misunderstanding between what they asked for (and what IT heard and did) and what they want to achieve.  Knowing these situations exist and planning for them up-front means you can cut directly to the chase and cut out the need for a hero to step in and bail out the project at the last moment.  The authors also share a number of tools they've used over the years to help you avoid the problems they reference.  Risk-matrix charts, low-fidelity prototyping, and peer reviews are just a few of these.  Nothing hard, nothing complex...  Just a solid, concrete way of trying to avoid that call for the hero in the bottom of the 9th inning when it looks like all is lost...

A Hero Behind Every Tree - The Non-Technical Reasons Your IT Investments Fail is a book that may well change the way you look at the IT department (and probably yourself) when it comes to projects.  You could very well find that you start to deliver on projects without the need for a hero.  And while it won't necessarily have that air of the dramatic when it comes time to move it into production, it'll do wonders for maintaining your work/life balance.

08/23/2009

Guest Post: Worrying is Not a Business Plan by Albert J. Weatherhead

Category Albert J. Weatherhead
Worrying is Not a Business Plan
          By Albert J. Weatherhead


In your kitchen you probably have a spice or powder-filled container with a plastic top that has two tabs – one for pouring or spooning, and one for sprinkling. That top is most likely derived from the original Flapper my company invented.

Today there’s an entire line of Flapper products used by over 150 companies, including Durkee, Cremora, San Giorgio, Ronzoni, and McCormick. Thanks to that initial success, over the years I’ve been able to build a multimillion-dollar manufacturing company that provided me with the means to be a major philanthropist, endowing hospitals, universities, and charities that offer valuable help to thousands of people.

I tell you this not to brag, but to make the point that the tips I share with you in this article concerning leveraging adversity to reach new heights of professional success in a tough economy have stood the test of time.

These tips will help you stop worrying and start doing… Remember, when it comes to all types of adversity, taking positive action with the ideas you believe are the wisest at the moment, (knowing that things may change for the better or worse tomorrow), can’t help but lead to eventual success.

Let’s start with the first and fundamental rule of successful management through good times and bad.  It’s one, tragically, that executives often forget…

Management and employee success are intertwined

I can gauge the health of any business in the faces of the employees, for beyond all the mechanics of the place there is one truth: a viable business is a collective human endeavor. Indeed, much of what is wrong in a good deal of current business theory – and which has come to the surface now that times are hard – is the failure to recognize that the heart of any business beats to the rhythms of its employees.

The bottom line must not be profit, because profit can only come as a fruit of the health and dreams of the human endeavor the business represents. Management’s training and development responsibility, then, is to cultivate within the work place an environment which lends itself to creativity, dreams, and collective spirit larger than the sum of its paychecks and mechanical parts.

For example, at one of Weatherchem’s first staff meetings we discussed company benefits. As we knocked around ideas to promote productivity, commitment and creativity, the plant controller asked, “Why bother? People are like cattle. You can herd them any way you want.”

I fired him. Of the original handful of employees, he was the only one who did not stay. From that day forward I made sure everyone at Weatherchem understood my lifelong fundamental conviction: everyone deserves to be loved, respected and honored; we all win or lose together.

This brings me to the second tip I want to share with you concerning how to survive the current economic adversity we’re all experiencing and strengthen your business for the future:

                    Make collaboration with employees your path to success

It’s far better to collaborate.  I’ve always preferred to plant seeds in other’s minds while they plant seeds in mine. Some germinate and some don’t. But those that do tend to sprout and bloom for me in wonderful ways.

So if your business is currently suffering, walk around and talk to all your employees.  Ask: How can we improve this place? What’s wrong here?  

I guarantee you will get more valuable information in just a few hours than you could possibly act upon in a year!  Allow me to share with you a personal reminiscence to illustrate my point…

Fifty years ago at the age of 30, when I was working for my father at the Weatherhead Company, I sat down with the 15 members of the AFL-UAW Local 463 union negotiation committee led by its president, John Allar, to discuss the financial hardships we were suffering.  

We were in a helluva pickle. Annual sales at the Cleveland plant were $9 million and we were down $2.7 million.  I said to Allar, “Rather than be at each other’s throats as we sink, let’s work together – collaborate – and figure out how we’re going to get out of this mess…”

You know what?  The Weatherhead Company and the union did get out of that mess – by working together.

To his day I don’t understand why Congress had the top executives of the auto industry come to Washington to participate in hearings, but didn’t call in a union negotiating committee from one, two or all three car companies.  Why would Congress not want to hear the union side of things?

For that matter, why didn’t Congress have the smarts to invite a contingent of assembly line workers to share viewpoints from the factory floor? (Those hard-working, blue-collar folks would probably have put forth the most valuable testimony of all!)  

The bottom line is that Congress and the Executive Branch may have comprehension of the problems facing the auto industry, but they don’t have practical knowledge on how to rectify what’s wrong.  

Don’t you make the same mistake: Talk to your employees.  Discover what’s running through their minds, and be sure to let them know what you’re thinking, and that you want their help because you’re all in the same boat.  

If you must cut salaries, for example, also make sure your employees know that there will be a firm salary restoration date or make clear the company performance criteria/metrics for reinstating full salaries.

While we’re on the subject of cutting things, be it salaries or the number of your employees, let me tell you that the word “cutting” is negative, and for that reason I dislike using it or even thinking it.

Don’t speak or even think in terms of cutting, instead, use the term saving.   For example, I would position a company-wide salary cut as a company-wide salary savings.  

It may strike you as mere word-play, but trust me, substituting the positive imagery of “savings” for the negative connotation of “cutting” will help to rally your employees and persuade them to view you as a caring and compassionate leader doing your best to fairly and evenly spread the pain – which, I hope you truly are!

Finally, we come to my last tip, which is to pay extra-close attention to your customers.  Here, two rules of marketing/sales during times of economic strife come into play:
  • It’s easier/cheaper to keep a current customer than to find a new one.
  • You get 80% of your business from 20% of your customers.

(The tried and true 80/20 rule is actually called the “Pareto Principal” after the Italian economist who first recognized it in the early 1900s. It applies to many areas: 80% percent of contributions come from 20% of a charity’s donors... and so on.)

Chances are, many of your customers are going through the same economic turmoil you’re experiencing, and are looking for ways to realize cost cutting (I mean cost savings, of course.)  
Your timely customer service visit, telephone call or email might be just the ticket to let that 20% treasure-trove of current best customers know how much they mean to you and get them thinking they would be better off reducing – or eliminating – the business they do with some other company, as opposed to yours!

Use these tips and build upon them one after another, and you will be the ultimate master of your adversity during tough economic times – as well as when financial prosperity once again returns, which I’m confident it will.

 A picture named M2                                      
Albert J. Weatherhead is the author of The Power Of Adversity and chairman and CEO of Weatherhead Industries, a private manufacturer of plastic closures for food, spice, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products.  Please visit www.powerofadversity.net or www.weatherchem.com for more information.

08/22/2009

Book Review - Emotional Bailout! : Nine Principles for Rising when Your World Is Falling by Cathy Holloway Hill

Category Book Review Cathy Holloway Hill Emotional Bailout! : Nine Principles for Rising when Your World Is Falling
A picture named M2

Emotional Bailout! : Nine Principles for Rising when Your World Is Falling by Cathy Holloway Hill is one of those books that hit me at just the right time in my life in terms of impact and receptivity to the message.  Her message is one of internal change, and how you can change your attitude and mindset to move into places you never dreamed possible.  Even though I've heard many of the items before, the overall package struck me as something I've let get away from me over the last year.

Contents:
Principle 1 - Who Are You?; Principle 2 - If You Think It, You Become It; Principle 3 - Think Again; Principle 4 - Clear the Clutter, Chaos, and Confusion; Principle 5 - From Vision to Victory: What You See Is What You Get; Principle 6 - Financial Literacy; Principle 7 - Lifelong Learning; Principle 8 - Support, Networking, Mentors; Principle 9 - Fueling Your Inner Fire, Keep Rising!; Appendix 1 - Learning Resources; Appendix 2 - Motivational Quotes; Appendix 3 - Income Earning Websites; Appendix 4 - My Personal Goals Worksheets

Hill approaches her message from the standpoint of the economy... how to come up with your own "bailout" to survive this particular recession we find ourselves in.  Many feel trapped in situations where they have no control or can't make any changes to improve their position.  Hill argues to the contrary.  The principles she puts forth are framed to have you sit down, take a deep look at who you are and where you want to go, and then plan a detailed approach to getting there.  History is replete with people who have come from normal or disadvantaged backgrounds, and have risen to accomplish things that the world looks at with amazement.  You are no different, and learning the proper mindset can start you on that path and adventure.

Personally, I needed to hear the messages about vision and motivation.  I've made the mistake of thinking about what I want, but not putting it down on paper and really thinking about how that would look and feel.  Also, motivation has been lacking due to stress and health issues.  Refocusing on these items have helped me launch a couple of dreams that I had always put down as "that'd never happen."  There's no reason *why* it shouldn't happen to me, and it's up to me to make it happen.

For me, this was a great book that has already paid benefits.  If you're willing to be open to change, I can't help but think it would do the same for you.

08/22/2009

Book Review - Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages by Federico Biancuzzi and Shane Warden

Category Book Review Federico Biancuzzi Shane Warden Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages
A picture named M2

So you don't get to be a mastermind behind a widely used programming language without having a pretty deep knowledge of computer science (and quite a few other things).  But you *certainly* don't have to agree with other masterminds on what works and what doesn't.  This shows very clearly in the book Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages by Federico Biancuzzi and Shane Warden.  They interview a number of the people behind some of the popular and influential computer languages and record those interviews for the reader.  I think what I found most interesting is that there's no "right" answer about what works and what doesn't, and much depends on what niche the language will end up covering.

Contents:
C++ - Bjarne Stroustrup; Python - Guido von Rossum; APL - Adin D. Falkoff; FORTH - Charles D. Moore; BASIC - Thomas E. Kurtz; AWK - Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan; LUA - Luiz Henrique de Figueiredo and Roberto Ierusalimschy; Haskell - Simon Peyton Jones, Paul Hudak, Philip Wadler, and John Hughes; ML - Robin Milner; SQL - Don Chamberlin; Objective-C - Brad Cox and Tom Love; Java - James Gosling; C# - Anders Hejlsberg; UML - Ivar Jacobson, James Rumbaugh, and Grady Booch; Perl - Larry Wall; Postscript - Charles Geschke and John Warnock; Eiffel - Bertrand Meyer; Afterword; Contributors; Index

I found this wasn't the easiest book to read, as it got deep into some very esoteric topics, and the interviews were likely to go off in many different directions.  As such, it wasn't as if there were a set of questions that everyone answered so that you could directly compare and constrast topics and background.  Still, I found a couple of ways in which the book worked for the reader.  If you're into language design, Masterminds gives you some of the inner thoughts of people who have successfully built and rolled out a computer language that has been adopted for use by others.  One of the most revealing topics is how they all have dealt with the issue of upgrading and enhancing the language without breaking stuff that has been previously built.  As a language ages, it has more and more "cruft" from older features that are kept around for backwards compatibility.  The language developers are always walking that fine line between adding new features and making sure it will be supportable going forward.  You don't really get a chance to start over and correct your mistakes once they are part of a published version.

The second way you can read the book is to use it as a personality study of a language designer.  Geeks are not always known for being the most socially adept or "normal" of humans, and language designers seem to take that a step beyond.  These individuals appear to be totally consumed with their computer passions, and as such have very definitive personalities and viewpoints.  One designer might state that object-oriented programming is without a doubt the biggest scam pushed on developers in the last decade.  Others might state with equal conviction that OOP has been the revolutionary turning point in computer science.  And what one designer finds as the "must-have" concept in a language, another designer will brush off as hubris.  You'd think after all these years, there'd be some points of truth that just aren't arguable.  But at least in language design, that certainly doesn't seem to be the case...

Obviously, it's not possible to cover every single language that's ever been written, and I'm sure many will quibble over why a certain language was included or excluded.  Regardless of that, Masterminds is still a good read if the topic is one of interest to you.  You may not agree with some of the views expressed by the designers (hey, they don't agree with each other!), but at least you'll have a better understanding of why a certain path was followed.

08/22/2009

Book Review - Medusa by Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos

Category Book Review Clive Cussler Paul Kemprecos Medusa
A picture named M2

I picked up the latest collaboration from Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos at the library the other day.  Medusa is one of those novels that is fine if you're looking for a bit of an escape with cliffhanger plot points.  I'm not as enamored with the non-Dirk Pitt series that Cussler does with other writers.  Basically you're reading a novel by the "other writer" that follows the basic Cussler formula.  Medusa continues this trend.  Not nearly as good as classic Cussler, but OK if you don't go in with high expectations...

The basic plot revolves around research into creating a vaccine for a killer flu strain that has broken out in China.  The spread of the virus beyond China's borders will happen within a couple of weeks, and the vaccine is the only hope for saving the lives of millions.  The research base is deep underseas, as the vaccine is made from a toxin found in a special type of jellyfish called the Blue Medusa (hence the name of the book).  When the lab goes missing, NUMA is called in to track down the lab and find the people who are trying to hijack the vaccine for their own purposes.

The book is very readable, and I knew what the formula was when I picked it up.  And since I was in the mood for some mindless entertainment, it worked well for me.  The characters aren't overly developed, nor are you likely to come away with any deep philosophical insights into medicine, research, or anything else.  If you're willing to just go with the flow, it's a fun ride.

08/17/2009

The Lotus Knows campaign... reflections on what I heard on today's conference call...

Category IBM/Lotus
I had the pleasure of being on the Lotus Knows blogger call this morning, where Kristen Lauria and Ed Brill covered the new Lotus Knows campaign that will be kicked off this week with the IdeaJam this Wednesday.  This is the campaign that was announced at IamLUG, and now it's got more flesh on it.  Credit to Lotus for pulling in the blogging community to help carry the message forward in the social media space.

A number of interesting points came out of this call, ones that helped me to understand exactly what the target market is that Lotus is going after.  The target is the "pacesetter" in an organization.  This may or may not necessarily be an IT person, but it is a person who is comfortable with new technology and how it can help them get their jobs done easier and faster.  These are the people who are looked to for technology recommendations because they seem to have their finger on the pulse of what's going on.  They are 25 to 54, tend to travel as part of their jobs or for personal reasons, and they make use of digital media to get their news.

Keeping this target in mind, Lotus is focusing on ad placement that will appear in places that would be seen often by this person, and in the correct context.  Lotus Knows what the weather is where you're going on something like The Weather Channel website.  Lotus Knows the quickest route to your hotel on cabs.  Things like that... The website that will collect further inquiries will also be far different than the normal IBM sites, in that there will be case studies, BP and user-generated videos, and distinct calls to action.  The goal is to get those who think they know what Lotus is to rethink their view, and to get those who don't know what Lotus is to start asking the questions.

Some more positives... this isn't a quarter-long initiative that will be dropped after three months.  It's a long-term plan to put Lotus back out in the collective mindset of technologists.  Lotus is also working closely with the business partners and blogging community to help spread the message beyond just the web site and ad media.  Some might say that this is IBM getting cheap/free work from their partners, but I disagree.  I see it as recognition that a healthy community supports a strong software offering, and that all the good ideas do not originate inside the walls of IBM.

The "elephant in the room" question was asked, and that was "what about TV ads."  In an answer that will probably meet with some dismay, there are not going to be any TV ads to start with.  On the other hand, the answer surrounding that was quite positive.  They don't want the Lotus Knows ads to collide with the "Smarter Planet" ads, but to partner with them.  Since they have different looks, it could be confusing to see both styles running together.  They also found that the "pacesetter" target audience doesn't tend to spend that much more time watching TV as they do getting their information from online sources.  Given that finding, Lotus can get many more impressions per target than trying a blanket coverage on some TV show.  And most encouraging, Kristen explicitly said that TV is not off the table for future direction.  It just won't be there to start with.  

Another point that may create some dissention is the US-only start of the campaign, perhaps followed by a rollout in Germany.  They are planning on an international rollout also, but the US market is the starting point.  If they follow through quickly with other countries, this shouldn't be an issue.  But if it stalls out anywhere along the way, there are going to be some unhappy groups that will think they didn't get the "air cover" they were promised.

My overall impression is one of guarded optimism.  This is much more than we've seen in the last five to seven years of marketing, so I'm very happy on that front.  And as a starting point *and* given that they are listening to other sources than their own internal staff and the ad agencies, this could continue to evolve in a positive way.  There are plenty of single points that could be quibbled over... Is 25 to 54 too broad an age range?  Is 25 too late to get the mindshare of the people heading into startups and businesses?  Are we still missing the rank and file that use Lotus Notes every day, but don't see anything on TV about it?  Will the Notes client get the same level of attention as other things like LotusLive, Sametime, Quickr?  

If we spent all our time debating those individual questions, we'd never get the campaign started and off the ground.  Given what I've seen and heard, I think this is the best start one could possibly hope for, and it lays the groundwork for immediate attention and future possibilities.  That's a huge jump from where we've been, and I'm happy that we've finally gotten to this point.

08/15/2009

The update on better living through pharmaceuticals...

Category Everything Else
A short time back I shared that I was going to switch from my generic Proxac (fluoxetine) to the generic version of Celexa (citalopram).  I had been on fluoxetine for about the last six years, and its effectiveness seemed to be waning.  After consulting with my doctor, he agreed that a switch might be in order, so we decided to stay in the same family of anti-depressants and give citalopram a shot.

Well, after about two months, I can say that citalopram isn't the right answer for me.  

Nothing dramatic or dangerous, mind you.  I just seemed to still be in that "struggling" pattern that fluoxetine had seemed to eradicate.  Granted, there's been a lot going on at work and such, and so it might well be that things would have been disastrous without the citalopram.  Still, I kept thinking things could be better.

I'm now in the tapering down period for the next 10 days, and then I'll start ramping up on the generic version of Effexor, also known as venlafaxine.  My guess is that this is going to take effect (or *have* an effect) much faster, and is a different class of med.  Hopefully this will get me back to the effective and motivated Duffbert I was used to...

08/15/2009

Book Review - Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

Category Book Review Lee Child Gone Tomorrow
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Jack Reacher is one of my favorite novel characters, so I'm excited when Lee Child puts out another installment in that series.  In Gone Tomorrow, Child delivers a classic Reacher mystery, putting Jack in the middle of something that has numerous layers and plenty of danger.  While Reacher's "I don't live anywhere or own anything" philosophy doesn't get a heavy workout here, his persistence and sense of duty certainly does.  This was not a read that I easy put down until I finished.

Reacher is on a subway train headed into New York, and he sees a woman that triggers all the checkpoints on the suicide bomber behavior checklist.  As a former MP, he decides to approach her in an attempt to keep her and himself alive.  Instead of carrying a bomb, she has a gun and proceeds to commit suicide as Reacher is trying to talk her down from her obvious distress.  This death triggers more than just the local police, and when the feds and a mysterious 3rd party start asking Reacher for the information she was supposedly in possession of, he decides to act like he *does* have the information, just to see where this all leads.  As the different layers and characters emerge, Reacher soon has entire organizations, both federal and international, trying to get his information and then "erase" him from the scene.  The question becomes which one(s) are telling the truth, and which ones will he trust with the final answers.

Child kept the pacing on this one tight.  Anywhere that Reacher showed up, there was a good chance that some group was already there ahead of him, wanting to take him out of the action.  Child was able to use Reacher's lack of roots effectively to keep him moving and flowing with whatever the changing environment threw at him.  His street fighting strengths also came into play, as most of the groups who wanted to "interview" him didn't care to play nice.  The fight scenes were well-detailed, and getting the look into Reacher's mind as he took on the killers made for interesting reading.  And finally, I was intrigued by Reacher's ability to take a normal scene or situation, and draw out tactical and strategic information to be used to get the information he needed.  Most people would miss 90% of what actually is going on.

All in all, an excellent installment in the Reacher series, and I'm already looking forward for the next one.

08/15/2009

Book Review - The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Category Book Review Susan Orlean The Orchid Thief
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The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean was another recommendation from a friend in terms of a book I would enjoy.  And overall, I did enjoy it.  Little did I know that a simple flower could have such history and obsession behind it...

This is a true story that covers Orlean's trip to Florida to meet John Laroche, a strange and quirky person who figures as the criminal referenced in the title of the book.  Laroche was brought to trial for removing protected plants (orchids) from the Fakahatchee swamp area in Florida, a protected piece of land.  He was working with the Seminole Indian tribe at the time, as the land is located on their property.  His plan was to get the orchids and start cloning them for sale by the reservation, thereby making "millions" by his estimate.  But like many of his quirky plans and schemes, it never quite came to fruition.  Orlean follows him around for a period of time, meeting the personalities that make up the orchid world, tramping through swamps up to her waist (and higher in places), and falling in love with the flower that has driven so many people over the years.

The story started off very strong.  Her writing is humorous, and Laroche is a character that's easy to laugh at.  She captures his bizarre nature and appearance perfectly, and I felt like I knew him quite well by the time the book was done.  A large part of the middle portion of the book goes into the history of the orchid along with the history of the people who gave birth to the orchid industry as it is today.  That's where I thought things slowed down.  The style went from crazy people and interactions to history going back over decades and centuries.  While I appreciated the history lessons, it was a noticeable departure from the earlier tone I had expected and enjoyed.  It picked back up at the end as she was trying to finish her quest with a sighting of the ghost orchid, and the flavor of the earlier chapters once again emerged.

Overall, it was a good read.  And like many good books, my view and perception of the orchid will never quite be the same.  I'll appreciate it much more, and wonder what craziness brought that particular flower to that particular time and space.

08/13/2009

Got the sleep study results back yesterday...

Category Everything else
... and the answer is...  YOU SUCK AT SLEEP!

ahem...  

The writeup report I got is pretty cool, actually.  Numbers all over the place.  The diagnosis is moderate sleep apnea with breathing stopping on average 16x per hour.  Probably the more telling number is the REM sleep percentage.  Normal is 20 to 25%.  I had... 2.6%.  

So everyone who's asked over the years if I ever sleep?  I guess we know the answer now...  no.

I'm going to go back in late September for another sleepover with the CPAP machine hooked up.  Oh, joy.  Yes, I know I've heard from many who have assured me it's not as bad as it looks, and it's made a world of difference.  Still...

I also should lose weight (duh!) and... cut down/give up caffeine.  GASP!  That magical drug that gets me through the day! And apparently guarantees that I won't make it through the night, either...  I could "cut back", but this is probably one of those decisions that would be better as black/white.  I know... heresy on par with never having read LOTR... and I call myself a geek.

I'm still laughing at the EEG results, though...  It measures the number of times your sleep is interrupted or you pop back up a level.  They call this an "arousal."  Mine were "spontaneous" in nature and no reason could be found as to why my "brain was arousing."  I was having 53.7 of these "arousals" per hour.

I'm glad SOME part of me seemed to be having "fun"...  :)

08/11/2009

A walk down memory lane... Team-TSG

Category Team-TSG
When Joe Litton and I used to present together, we branded ourselves as Team-TSG... Two Short Guys.

We even did Cafe Press with the logo, along with all the different things you could buy... shirts, caps...  thongs.

And I'm glad to say that sales reports showed that NOBODY ever bought the thong... although it was threatened a few times...  :)


A picture named M2

08/09/2009

tr.im is now in the process of discontinuing service, effective immediately.

Category URL trimming services
At the tr.im site:

Statistics can no longer be considered reliable, or reliably available going forward.
However, all tr.im links will continue to redirect, and will do so until at least December 31, 2009.
Your tweets with tr.im URLs in them will not be affected.

We regret that it came to this, but all of our efforts to avoid it failed.
No business we approached wanted to purchase tr.im for even a minor amount.

There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening -- users won't pay for it -- and we just can't
justify further devleopment since Twitter has all but annointed bit.ly the market winner.
There is simply no point for us to continue operating tr.im, and pay for its upkeep.

We apologize for the disruption and inconvenience this may cause you.

I remember when these services started to appear, there was discussion about what would happen if/when they ever shut down...  Guess now we'll see...

Make sure to change your twitter client options to use a different service, like bit.ly or is.gd (or any of the others out there).

08/08/2009

Issues with gender in IT... Go read Francie's post...

Category Gender in IT
Damned if you do...

This is just to make sure that people can't claim they never saw the post or didn't know there was a problem.  No commentary here, other than I agree with everything she says.

08/08/2009

Book Review - Who Killed Health Care?: America's $2 Trillion Medical Problem - and the Consumer-Driven Cure by Regina Herzlinger

Category Book Review Regina Herzlinger Who Killed Health Care?: America's $2 Trillion Medical Problem - and the Consumer-Driven Cure
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One of the major problems facing America right now is the health care system as it currently exists.  I felt that a bit of reading was in order to start to educate myself on the various views and proposed solutions.  Regina Herzlinger takes the position that consumer-driven health care is the best solution in her book Who Killed Health Care?: America's $2 Trillion Medical Problem - and the Consumer-Driven Cure.  While I think she makes some strong arguments (and while I think this is one of the better solutions), I think she's somewhat naive on a couple of points.

Contents:
Part 1 - Who Killed Health Care?: The Day Health Care Died
Part 2 - Death By A Thousand Cuts: Killer Number 1 - The Health Insurers; Killer Number 2 - The General Hospitals; Killer Number 3 - The Employers; Killer Number 4 - The U.S. Congress; Killer Number 5 - The Academics
Part 3 - The Right Medicine - Consumer-Driven Health Care: How It Works; Consumer-Driven Benefits - Lessons From Other Countries and Industries
Part 4 - How To Make It Happen - The Carrots, The Sticks, The Laws: The Carrots; The Sticks; A Bold New Consumer-Driven Health Care System
Notes; Index

Herzlinger uses the metaphor of a dead patient to explain the parts of the US Health Care system that "killed" him.  "Jack Morgan" needed a kidney transplant, and had a donor (his daughter) all lined up.  But all the "killers" conspired to contribute to his death.  Insurers did so by delaying authorization for coverage of the procedure to increase their profit.  Hospitals did so by hiding their prices, and then charging him the highest rates if he had the procedure without insurance coverage.  Employers did so by restricting coverage choices to lower their costs of insuring their employees, even though they're using *your* money to buy the coverage.  Congress contributed to Jack's death by thinking it knew better on how to spend money on his care than Jack did.  Therefore, money only went in the direction Congress dictated.  And finally, the academics played their part by dictating "smart policy" for heath care professionals, even though they had never been on the front-lines practicing medicine.  Health care can't always be reduced to spreadsheets and cookie cutter processes.

Ms. Herzlinger advances the solution as consumer-driven health care.  Competition and transparency in pricing would force prices down, saving large amounts of money.  Spending choices would be put into the hands of consumers, allowing them to make choices based on their needs, not the needs of groups that employ or insure them.  Laws should be changed to allow for smaller specialty practices to exist to focus on particular health concerns, such as heart disease or kidney issues.  In short, medicine should be operated more like other businesses where pricing is known, competition rules, and innovation and entrepreneurism is permitted and encouraged.

I personally feel this is a much better option than many others I've seen proposed.  But even with that, I think that Herzlinger doesn't take into account the propensity for corporate greed.  While less government regulation would be good, many regulations came about to address fraud.  And no matter how you structure the changes to health care, there will ALWAYS be some group that will look for ways to get as much as possible while supplying as little as they can.  Add in kickbacks and other "creative accounting", and you have an area ripe for abuse. So while many of the things that Herzlinger proposes make sense, none of them can be complete answers in themselves.

Even with my caveats, I think Who Killed Health Care is a very good read in order to increase your understanding of the current environment and possible solutions to our health care crisis.

08/08/2009

Book Review - Relentless by Dean Koontz

Category Book Review Dean Koontz Relentless
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I'm developing a bit of a love/hate relationship with Dean Koontz books.  I finished Relentless a couple of days ago, and I like and dislike it at the same time.  It all depends on what aspect of the book I'm looking at...

In the latest book, we have Cullen "Cubby" Greenwich, a successful author of popular fiction who has just released his latest book.  His wife is also a successful children's author, so they are well into the writing lifestyle.  We also have Milo, their son, who is six going on genius when it comes to working with computers, physics, and all those heavy-duty subjects.  And let's not forget the dog, Lassie... *not* a golden retriever, but still has a unique personality that seems to be hiding a human within.  Cubby gets a series of good reviews on his new book, but one in particular is rather scathing.  It's by a reviewer by the name of Shearman Waxx, who is known for his intellectual ramblings, lack of humanity, and his reclusive nature.  Cubby's agent tells him to just let it go, as does his wife, and as does everyone else.  But he can't resist just trying to get a look at this guy who apparently hates his work.  He runs into him at a restaurant, and the only word Waxx says to Greenwich is "doom".  That starts a psychotic series of attacks on Cubby's family, all heading towards a probable killing of them all.  No matter where he goes or where he runs, Waxx seems to be there, slowly eating away at their security and sanity.  Research on Greenwich's part reveals that he's not the only author who has be targeted after brutal reviews by Waxx, and the parallels to his own situation are frightening.  He has to try and play Waxx's game without knowing all the rules before Waxx takes everything that Cubby values.

On the positive side, I loved the characters.  Cubby is a guy who is great with words, but pretty much inept at anything mechanical.  Both his wife and kid give him endless grief over his lack of skill in that area, and the verbal exchanges are quite fun to follow.  As someone who sort of views himself that way, I could relate.  Koontz is still, in my book, a master at character dialogue and at painting a scene with humor and tension.  But as with a number of his recent books, the plot seems thin in various areas.  Waxx remained a mystery to me, even after the final chapter.  The whole logistical and operational force behind his abilities to show up anywhere was far from believable, nor was I able to catch much of a reason as to why they existed in the first place.  And Milo's endless absorption into his "project" seems to drag on until the very end, when it's a plot device to help Cubby and family escape.  Again, it just seems to pop up out of nowhere, even though looking back there are clues to what might be happening (weak, but they're there).

I don't think Relentless was a waste of time, as I did enjoy it on a writing and character level.  But I do wish that Koontz would once again deliver some of his plotlines that are more solid and believable, even when he's dealing within the "supernatural" genre.

08/08/2009

Book Review - Did Lizzie Borden Axe For It? by David Rehak

Category Book Review David Rehak Did Lizzie Borden Axe For It?
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I had this book on my Amazon wish list for quite awhile... Did Lizzie Borden Axe For It? by David Rehak.  Not that I wanted someone to buy it for me, but I *did* want to read it some day.  It wasn't until I discovered the InterLibrary Loan program that I was finally able to find a copy to check out.  Now, was it worth the wait?  Eh, so-so...

Rehak (an inadvertent name for an author researching an axe murder) is deep into "Bordenia", or those who collect and research the Lizzie Borden case.  For those who don't remember or never read about it, Lizzie Borden was accused and acquitted of the murders of her mother and father in 1892.  This brutal crime gave birth to the rhyme "Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks. And when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one."  Aside from the fact that there were far fewer wounds that that, it was exceptionally horrific and bloody.  Controversy has swirled ever since over whether she had actually committed the murders, or if someone else had snuck in, done the crimes, and then escaped unnoticed.  Even to this day, there are strong arguments on both sides of the issue, and most people who follow the topic have very strong opinions one way or the other.

This particular book takes a slightly different tack than most, in that it doesn't seek to prove or disprove one side or the other.  Instead, Rehak lays out the basic facts, evidence, and arguments for both sides so that the reader can get a true sense of the complexity of the case.  And overall, he does a relatively good job at it.  I found myself going between "of course she was innocent", and "she was *so* guilty" a number of times.  As such, I enjoyed that part of the book quite a bit.

Where it fell down in my opinion, was with the editing and structure.  This has the look and feel of a self-published book that lacked the hand of a solid editor.  The book starts out solid when he sticks to the guilty/not guilty topics.  But then he goes off on "Lizzie Shrines", locations Lizzie frequented during her life.  The book loses a lot of momentum there.  There is also a chapter on related Lizzie articles, fiction pieces, humor, and poetry.  Again, perhaps interesting to the hard-core Bordeniac, but not too relevant as to whether or not she committed the crimes.  By the time I got towards the end of the book, I was more than ready to be done and to move on to something else.

Those who have an interest in the Lizzie Borden case will get a good prosecution/defense sense of what was at stake.  And people obsessed with Ms. Borden will love it.  But for those of us who aren't immersed and have no wish to do so, you'll probably find yourself starting to skim in a number of places...

08/07/2009

Murdoch's ultimatum to Amazon: Give us Kindle subscriber names or else

Category Everything Else
From Daily Finance: Murdoch's ultimatum to Amazon: Give us Kindle subscriber names or else

I had seen reference to this story a day or so ago, and didn't have the time to read it.  But I ran across it again in the Twitter stream and clicked through to answer my curiosity...  What makes Rupert Murdoch think that Amazon owes him the names of any Kindle users?

On News Corp.'s fiscal-year-end earnings call with analysts, the notoriously  shoot-from-the-hip mogul suggested that The Wall Street Journal will cease to be available on the Kindle e-reader unless Amazon starts offering a more generous revenue split and more publisher-friendly policies.

Murdoch acknowledged that the Journal recently negotiated a slightly larger share of the revenues Amazon gets from selling Kindle subscriptions to the paper, "but it's not a big number, and we're not encouraging it at all because we don't get the names of the subscribers," he said. "Kindle treats them as their subscribers, not as ours, and I think that will eventually cause a break with us."

Ah... so Murdoch wants the name of Kindle subscribers to the WSJ.  That narrows down the headline a bit, and makes a bit more sense when viewed that way.  I'm guessing when you purchase a subscription to a magazine using Amazon's website, the actual order is fulfilled by the company who owns the magazine, and hence they have your name.  If that's the case, I could see where a publisher like News Corp. would figure they own the subscription, not the group who makes the paper the content is viewed upon.

I could be convinced the Kindle's subscription model is different, and that Amazon owns the subscriber instead of News Corp.  It's a bit of a new model, and I'm not sure which old school or new school mindset would prevail.

But setting that aside, here's the quote I found fascinating...

"As I've said before, the traditional business model has to change rapidly to ensure that our journalistic businesses can return to their old margins of profitability," Murdoch said. "Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalizing its ability to produce good reporting."

"Tradition needs to change to get back to owning the news and making money."

So what does he want to do?  Start providing a chargeback system on sites that provide content.  Make sure all content is locked behind glass.  You go ahead and deploy that model on electronic web-based fee-for-reading, Mr. Murdoch.  I'm sure you'll have the "right answers" to return to the good old days of large margin of profitability.  Never mind that few (any?) sites have successfully pulled that off, and that you don't have a monopoly on the news.  People will just go elsewhere to get the news.  And given your particular editorial slant on things, I might also venture to say that's a good thing!

And this "return(ing) to their old margins of profitability"...  You have GOT to be kidding me.  I'm sure buggywhip makers wanted to return to their old margins of profitability when the automobile started to catch one.  I'm sure computer makers would like to return to old margins of profitability that they used to have in the 80's and 90's.  Car makers?  You have only to read the newspaper to see their desire to return to old margins.  

Yes, Mr. Murdoch, your business model DOES need to change in order to not collapse completely.  As it stands right now, you're in danger of becoming completely irrelevant in the online world.  But changing the model by charging for things others give away for free is NOT the answer.  It's been tried.  It has failed.  The world where you made your fortune is dead and gone.  You're going to need a LOT of help to figure out how to make it all work in a world you're not familiar with or comfortable in.

08/07/2009

Book Review - The Upside of Fear: How One Man Broke the Cycle of Prison, Poverty, and Addiction by Weldon Long

Category Book Review Weldon Long The Upside of Fear: How One Man Broke the Cycle of Prison Poverty and Addiction
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The Upside of Fear: How One Man Broke the Cycle of Prison, Poverty, and Addiction by Weldon Long is one of those books that looked interesting for review purposes, but I initially said no due to my horrible backlog piles of books to be read.  But after about four different emails from unrelated sources on the book, I thought that perhaps someone was trying to tell me something.  I received my copy and started reading it one night as I was suffering from a bit of insomnia (nothing new there!)  I quickly found that I couldn't put it down, both for Long's story, and for the lessons contained within it.  The book touched me on a number of levels.

In short, Long was a life-long "loser" who drank himself into over a decade of time spent behind bars.  After dropping out of school in the 9th grade, he quickly became an alcoholic who was not willing to work hard at anything in life.  He was always after that next get-rich-quick scheme, while drinking away most of the money that his girlfriend/wife earned at her job.  This constant need for money without effort finally led him to pick up a hitchhiker and plan an armed robbery to get a quick score.  That wasn't the start of his downhill slide (he was already sinking), but it *was* the accelerator that pushed him to even lower depths.

He was quickly apprehended for that crime, and was sentenced to ten years.  As with most sentences, he was able to get out early while swearing to himself he was going to change for the better, in order to be a better father to his baby boy.  But the patterns were already ingrained, and he went back to robbery to get his next cash infusion.  He was pulled over while planning another heist, and the police found him in possession of a firearm along with tools that could be used (and would have been) for his next crime.  This parole violation sent him back into the system, but he was able to dodge any responsibility for the prior crimes as they couldn't tie him to the acts.  You'd think by now he'd start thinking about how to *really* change his life, but that was not to be.  With his next release, he was again back to drinking, drugs, and telemarketing fraud.  All this finally caught up with him, and he ended up back in jail once again, this time facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars.  It was then that a transformation started to occur...

He reached out to a Higher Power and asked for help in turning things around.  It was at that point that he started to understand that *he* was responsible for what had happened to him in life, and he had the choice on how to respond to his circumstances.  He started to read a number of personal improvement books, taking the lessons to heart.  Most importantly, he started to own up and take responsibility for his past actions.  This didn't mean that all of a sudden his life got rosy.  But it did give him a purpose and guiding principles to continue his personal growth and to pursue his life goals he was now focused on.

Long story short, he's now a free man, with all his crimes paid for.  He's met and surpassed his goals he set for himself in prison, such as to become a good father to his son Hunter, to learn how to have a healthy relationship with a woman, to actually purchase and own a home, and to help others learn how to they too can change.  He's gone from a burden on society, a person destined to live and die behind bars, to a productive member of society who is making a valuable contribution in the lives of many others who are walking the same path he was.

As I mentioned in the opening, this was a touching story.  It shows that no one is beyond help or without value, and that it's possible for anyone to turn their lives around if they start to understand some basic principles of living.  I was also once again reminded of the power of written goals, both short and long term.  It's far too easy to make mental promises that don't have any concrete backing behind them.  This is a lesson I still struggle with myself.  And finally, the epilogue actually caused me to tear up a bit.  The scene between Long and Hunter, reviewing the letters he wrote to him while in prison, is so very moving...

Some will probably read this and get hung up on the philosophies from people like Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer.  But the fact remains that there *is* wisdom there, and those things did transform Long's life.  I would highly recommend this on both an inspirational/motivational level and on a teaching level.  If you can get your young teens to read something like this, they might just hesitate a bit before making decisions that will cause them years of heartache and pain.

08/04/2009

Sleep study last night... strange stuff...

Category Everything else
So last night I went in for my sleep study to see what they could find out about my less-than-stellar sleep habits.  I already know a fair amount of the story... fat, out of shape, too much caffeine, etc.  But getting a baseline with actual observation would be a good place to start, so I got the referral and had the actual study done.

The experience was different, to say the least.  I was shown to the room, and it's like a decent hotel room... TV, cabinet for all your stuff, comfy bed, positive ion fan, and best of all...  AIR CONDITIONING!  I love cold rooms for sleeping...  Anyway, after watching a video, they brought in the cart to start hooking me up.  

Side note on the video... I think they are using one of perhaps a thousand different versions of the same story.  In the one they showed me, the patient was a 48 year old male, software developer, overweight, with glasses...  I kid you not...

Anyway... I have a pair of shorts on.  Two leads get threaded down the shorts to hook up to the legs for restless leg monitoring.  A couple go on the chest.  Two elastic straps around the stomach and chest for breathing.  She drew all kinds of lines on my head, and must have stuck about 10 contacts in my hair after scrubbing each spot to the point of pain.  Then contacts on the jaw (each side), next to the eyes, and two breathing sensors under my nose and over my head.  All those wires converged to a pigtail behind my neck, and THEN you get to try and sleep...

Yeah, right...

They film and listen to you all night long.  If you have to go to the bathroom, you just talk to the "voice in the sky", she comes in to detach you, and then hooks you back up when you get back in bed.  I took an Ambien, read for awhile, and then slept from about 9:45 to 2:30 (the time she told me she came in).  Then she asked me to try and sleep on my back as I'm a stomach sleeper.  That didn't go well, so I tossed and turned (and finally rolled over) until about 5 when I decided a bathroom break was in order.  I tried for another hour of sleep after that, but I don't think I was too successful.

They then came in, removed all the wires, I took a shower to get all the stuff off my head, and packed up and went home to start working.  I'll find out the answers and results next week.

I'm glad I took the study, as I'm sure this sleep problem is responsible for a significant degree of my emotional and physical turmoil right now.  I know everyone says the CPAP machine, if prescribed, is a really good solution (even thought it looks like the most awkward device ever).  I was encouraged that they didn't wake me up mid-study to have me wear one, as that's a sign that you're REALLY suffering from severe apnea.  I'm hoping that the wake-up call (sort of no pun intended) will add to my motivation to get in shape...

08/04/2009

Thoughts on the new Lotus Knows campaign...

Category IBM/Lotus
Much to my dismay, I wasn't able to free up the time and resources to make it to St. Louis for the highly successful IamLUG meeting that just wrapped up today.  It sounds like everyone had a fantastic time, and I can imagine there was the vibe that exists at other conferences I've attended, like Lotusphere and ILUG.  It's amazing what can be put together when everyone pitches in to make it a success.

One of the big news items coming from IBM/Lotus was the launching of a new advertising campaign with the tag line "Lotus Knows."  It will span different forms of media, will be much more visible to IT and non-IT personnel alike, and will actually move past the "IBM image branding" advertising that we normally see on TV.  Many of us have complained that the IBM ads are not effective in promoting the Lotus brand, and as such leaves the partner community struggling to overturn perceptions in the market left by competitors.  It's also encouraging to see that rather than being on the outside looking in, there is an effort to include the Lotus community in the message, thereby playing to one of the strengths of the Lotus software... those of us who use it day in and day out.

I'm at a bit of a disadvantage, as I wasn't able to see the cab examples and some of the other items talked about at the Opening General Session, so I have to go on impressions.  But having been part of the Lotus community for over a dozen years, I think this *should* be one of the higher points of getting back to a more overall awareness of Lotus Notes and what it can do in today's business.

Having said that, I'm curious to see if the traditional emotional "dip" occurs within the first month.  Here's my observation... In most Lotusphere OGS talks, there's a stream of news on what's coming, what's planned, and what's happening.  We're excited for news, and generally speaking there's often a positive spin coming from the press and the Lotus community.  And in some cases, we're of the mindset that "this will change EVERYTHING."  Yes, we're drinking the koolaid.  But a strange thing happens within the first two to four weeks afterwards.  The dust settles, the reality sets back in, and people start nitpicking the message and offerings.  This commentary spreads just like the LS hype, and pretty soon you wonder if you all attended the same meeting just one month before.

Sometimes this is a case of "we just can't make you happy, can we?", in that whatever IBM/Lotus does, we want something different/more.  Doesn't matter if what they delivered is what we were clamoring for only six months before... it's just not enough or quite right.  In other cases, details come out that weren't available during LS, and the offering as announced has some considerable drawbacks or isn't quite ready for prime time.  In either case, the Lotus community temperature starts to swing wildly, people line up on either side, and general grumpiness occurs.  And in a few cases, it's not even grumpiness, it's downright hostility and open warfare.

So having said all that, how do I think this will play out?  My opinion and $5 will get you a decent latte at Starbucks (or a couple of cans of Booty Sweat, apparently...)

It's my hope and opinion that this ad campaign will turn out positive.  Some will hate it, some will say it doesn't go far enough, but it's going much further than we've had in the past five to seven years.  That's a good thing.  And so long as IBM/Lotus continues to listen to those on the front lines as they've started to do, there's no reason to believe that things can't continue to improve.

And in about six months, we'll have a very good indication of how it's playing out...

08/03/2009

Sleeping while wired for action...

Category Everything Else
Another step in my "get my act together" takes place this evening as I head in for a sleep study.  I've been told by reliable parties (and they have video... rotten children!) that I can peel wallpaper when my snoring gets started, and that there's definitely some apnea taking place.  So, I made an appointment to undergo a sleep study, where they'll wire me up nine ways from Sunday, and then somehow expect me to relax and fall asleep.  Don't quite know what to expect, so it should be "interesting."

All I know is that going through the day yawning non-stop isn't a good thing...

08/03/2009

Week 12 of "Project Buffbert" - by the numbers

Category Everything Else
So I've been asked how the Kinetix program was going in terms of "Project Buffbert"... I did get an eight week body comp test, but I didn't get around to blogging it (partially busy, partially not the news I had hoped for).  So in order to get back on the right track, I'm blogging the Week 12 check-in which took place today...

2009/05/06
start
2009/06/05
week 4
2009/07/06
week 8
2009/08/03
week 12
Overall Weight (pounds)
246.7
238.5
240.5
239.6
Lean Body Mass (pounds)
129.4
129.6
129.4
130.3
Body Fat Mass (pounds)
117.3
108.9
111.1
109.4
Body Mass Index (BMI percentage)
42.3%
40.9%
41.3%
41.1%
Percent Body Fat (percentage)
47.5%
45.6%
46.2%
45.6%



So this was one of those "bad news, not quite as bad news" stories.  As I shared recently, my stress levels have been really high over the last month or so.  I've definitely been stress eating, and I've repeatedly talked myself out of exercising due to being tired or being too lazy.  All that showed up in the week 8 results when I gained weight (fat, not muscle) and started to slip.  To be honest, I really did expect week 12 to be more of the same...  In fact I was starting to wonder if I had perhaps taken myself back to the starting line...

So the "bad" news is I'm still up from week 4.  The not-so-bad news is that I'm down from week 8 in good ways. I'm at my highest lean body mass of the program (which is saying something given how flaky I've been of late), and I'm only a 1/2 pound up from my low body fat weight.  And I've got some people who have been given express permission to keep kicking me in the posterior to not let me slide.

So, I've mentally regrouped a bit, and it's onward from here...  really.

08/01/2009

Book Review - Faces in the Fire by T. L. Hines

Category Book Review T. L. Hines Faces in the Fire
A picture named M2

I received a copy of T. L. Hines' new book Faces in the Fire from Amazon Vine recently.  I needed some recreational reading, and I enjoyed his prior novels.  Faces is pretty good, rather dark, and done in a unique writing style.  I almost want to reread it "in order" to see how that changes my perception of the book.

The story revolves around a number of people who are given a ten digit number, 1595544534, at various points in their lives.  This number ends up meaning different things to different people, but it always involves something that gives them a power or a way to improve someone's life.  And because this number is passed on from person to person, all these lives are intersecting in one way or another.  They usually don't know what the number means when it's given to them, but shortly thereafter an event happens that sends their life down a completely different path.  For one, it's an item number that gives her a special tattoo ink that allows her to see deep secrets in the lives of her customers.  For another, it's a clinical trial number that may allow his mother to overcome her advanced dementia.  But in all cases, the number is tied back to symbolism related to the catfish, a heroic figure in Chinese culture...

The unique writing style is what kept me going in this book.  Each chapter is numbered, but the numbers are not in order.  Where the book starts is not the beginning of the story.  And where the book ends is not where things wind up.  Along the way, identical scenes play out from the different perspectives of the two individuals involved.  While it's a bit hard to track at first, it soon becomes interesting to see how your view of an event changes based on who was involved.  As I mentioned above, it'd almost be worth rereading the book in chapter order to see how that affects my impression of the stories.

And because I'm a techo-geek, there's a minor demerit here.  One of the scenarios involves a spammer who starts getting emails from an IP address that shouldn't know who she is.  The IP address, 159.544.45.34, is not a valid number, as each element of the address can't be over 255.  I understand that using a phony IP address in the story might keep a real address from getting hacked or bombarded, but using a number that isn't even possible is like trying to give me a nine digit phone number for somewhere in the US.  But even with that, it was an interesting read that required a bit of mental involvement to keep things straight.

08/01/2009

Book Review - The Book of Tea: The Classic Work on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Value of Beauty by Kakuzo Okakura

Category Book Review Kakuzo Okakura The Book of Tea: The Classic Work on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Value of Beauty
A picture named M2

The tea ceremony is something that is uniquely Japanese, but much of the significance of the role tea plays in Japanese culture is lost on the average Westerner.  Kakuzo Okakura attempted to correct that lack of knowledge in his 1906 book The Book of Tea: The Classic Work on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Value of Beauty.  This book has become the defining text on the meanings woven into the ceremony, the setting, and everything surrounding it.  

It's a small book, 155 pages, and that even includes notes and explanations from those who have written the forward and afterword.  Okakura himself goes into poetic detail on each part of the ceremony, such as the history of tea, the role of art and flowers, the utensils, and the teahouse itself.  Since it's written from a perspective of explaining the significance to a non-Japanese audience, it's far more than just a recitation of facts and rituals.  For instance, one whole chapter is about flowers.  Of the 16 pages, the first 11 are odes to flowers, poetic descriptions of the blooms, and the lamenting of how the Western mind minimizes and destroys these plants without a second thought.  Once you get past that, there's a brief description of how the tea-master will select and place the flower in the teahouse.  This is then largely rounded out by explanations of the different schools of thought on the art of flower arrangement, not necessarily on how the flowers are further involved in the ceremony.  This type of writing tends to give you a broader idea of the Japanese mindset and culture, but not necessarily anything specific on the actual tea ceremony.  Of course, that's probably *my* Western mind wanting to get to concrete descriptions and steps rather than becoming immersed in significance and wonder...

Given the small size of the book, it's not going to consume great amounts of time if you decide to read it.  Just be prepared for more contemplation and poetry rather than a logical dissection of all that is the tea ceremony.  Basically, drop your Western mind. :)

08/01/2009

Book Review - The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man's Guide to Chivalry by Brad Miner

Category Book Review Brad Miner The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man's Guide to Chivalry
A picture named M2

Brad Miner goes beyond the popular and common definition of "gentleman" in our society and digs out the true background and meaning in his book The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man's Guide to Chivalry.  I somewhat knew that the term "gentleman" used to be more of a title than an attribute, but I didn't realize all that was meant by the term as it evolved over the years.  Miner's book gives you plenty to think about, while at the same time learning a whole new vocabulary based on his writing style...

Contents:
Massed Against the World; The Knight - A Short History of Men on Horseback; The Gentleman - A Singular Sanity; The Warrior - How to Die with Your Boots On; The Lover - Romance and Folly; The Monk - The Ear of Your Heart; Chivalry in a Democratic Age; The Art of Sprezzatura; Acknowledgments; Bibliography; Index

I think what struck me most about this book and the subject are the parallels to another code from Japan... bushido.  Rather than being a "polite" person and thus being termed a gentleman (as is common in our current society), Miner goes back to the days of the knights and the code they lived by.  Being a gentleman was a quest to attain a level of manhood that rose above the common people.  A gentleman was someone who understood that there were things worth dying for (honor being one of them), and he was prepared to do so.  He was to be of high moral character, which negated the person who was "born into" the title based on his birth or genealogy.  "Courtly love" was the form of romance best typified by the gentleman, It was a mix of fantasy and reality, elevating the image of a woman to one much higher than society normally placed on her.  A gentleman is also a lover of truth and learning.  Miner uses the image of a monk to portray that aspect of the gentleman's character.  It also implies a form of silence as well as being "in" the world but not necessarily being "of" the world.  He brings these images and practices forward to our times in the Democratic Age chapter, to help the reader figure out how best to apply these learnings and characteristics to a modern society that doesn't place as much value on being a gentleman as they did in the Middle Ages.

For me, I took the most interest in the final chapter on sprezzatura.  It's defined as having discretion and decorum, non-chalance and gracefulness.  We'd probably define it as being "cool".  It's being able to do difficult things without making it look hard... having a high level of self-control... being able to keep secrets and practice restraint.  This is an image that resonates with me, and I'll likely be reading this chapter over quite a few times.  I also kept thinking that perhaps being a gentleman was the European equivalent of the samurai code of Japan.  Learning, martial spirit, arts and gracefulness... It's not an exact one-to-one correlation, but there are some striking similarities.

The Compleat Gentleman is definitely an interesting read that is highly researched by Miner.  His writing style is rather lofty, and you *will* need a dictionary to look up some of the words he uses.  I don't know that I quite follow all of his parallels and draw the same conclusions (I found the Lover chapter rather difficult to track on), but the overall effect is still present... following the code of being a gentleman is an art sadly lost on far too many men today.

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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