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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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09/29/2009

Book Review - To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen

Category Book Review Newt Gingrich William R. Forstchen To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom
A picture named M2

I *still* have a hard time associating Newt Gingrich with books instead of with government, but I'm getting over it after having read many of his historical novels.  The latest one he's produced is titled To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom, written along with William R. Forstchen.  The American Revolution is not my normal reading fare, but sometimes you go with a book just because of the author's past work.  That's what happened here, and I'm glad I did.  Gingrich and Forstchen put real flesh, blood, pain, and emotions behind a pivotal battle for our independence, in a way that puts the history books to shame.

To Try Men's Souls takes place in the month before Christmas of 1776, the time of the infamous river crossing portrayed in paint.  The soldiers of the Revolution (if you could call them that) were frozen, hungry, diseased, and near death.  The English, with assistance from the Hessians, had the war nearly won.  They could have ended America's fledgling democracy had they continued to push forward for only a couple more days.  But they chose to avoid the horrible weather and celebrate Christmas.  General Washington gambled all he had left and marched the troops (or what remained of them) through ice and snow, many barefoot, to have the one last battle at Trenton.  Much to his amazement, they were able to surprise the English troops and took the city with nearly no casualties on their part.  That's not to say that the battle was won without cost...  Many died in the following days from the ravages of disease that overtook them.  But the tide had been turned, and history records what happened from there.

The story in the novel follows General George Washington, Thomas Paine, and a private in the army, Jonathan Van Dorn.  Through their eyes, you see the doubt, the hope, the despair and suffering.  Washington shows compassion for his men, knowing he has little choice but to risk their lives to gain freedom from England.  Paine is looked to as the inspiration for a nation with his words, but he's at a loss to explain how much freedom costs, and how it's killing those around him.  Van Dorn is the young lad who believes in what they are doing, what they stand for, regardless of the personal hell he's going through to fight for those ideals.  These are the stories that get glossed over in the history books.  These are the stories that help you understand and appreciate what we have been given in this country.  Granted, the actual words and thoughts are "historical fiction", but the color and flavor is not.

The only aspect of the book that I though was not great was the pacing at certain points.  Even though the book covers a month of time, much of the action is spent marching in snow and ice... and crossing rivers... and trying to sleep... before more marching in snow and ice...  I still found the overall story riveting, but at times I wanted something more to happen than simply another description of how cold it was and how much the soldiers were suffering.  Even so, To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom is one of those books that gives you a deeper appreciation for a certain historical event, and makes you see everything at a whole new level of understanding.

09/29/2009

Win a copy of Donald Miller's new book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Category Book Review Donald Miller A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
I recently received a copy of Donald Miller's new book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life.  It's one of the best books I've read this year, and it's left me thinking about the stories I'm telling in my own life.  Very revealing, and somewhat uncomfortable... but WELL worth reading.

I have an extra copy I'd like to share with the readers of my blog, so I'll conduct a give-away for the book.  Here's how it works:

- Go over to my review of the book on this blog
- Leave your name and email address in the comments (I promise I won't put your name on a list or email you... this is merely in order for me to contact you if you win.)
- On Sunday morning, October 4th, I'll pick one comment at random as the winner
- I'll email you to get your mailing address, and it'll be shipped on Monday

Can't get much easier than that!

So, head on over, enter to win, and good luck!

(Just don't blame me if the book knocks you out of your comfortable little rut...)

UPDATE  10/04/2009: I entered all the names received into the list randomizer at Random.org, and the winner was... Dave Tinker!  Thanks for entering, everyone!

09/28/2009

Lotus Domino Designer Help Usability forum...

Category IBM/Lotus
The documentation team for Lotus Domino Designer is looking to get feedback on how the product Help system works in Domino Designer and would like you to pitch in with your comments and observations.

Join Bob Harwood, the Information Development (ID) Lead for Domino Designer, the Domino Designer ID team, and Cara Viktorov, ID Customer Feedback Lead, in this week’s online discussion on Domino Designer Help functionality and content. Got commentary on the usability of the Eclipse functionality vs. the NSF functionality? Have some feedback on the way F1 context help works? This is your chance to really impact the Help system functionality and content. Join us in the forum this week to ask questions, share experiences, and collaborate about Domino Designer Help.

Click Here to join in the conversation and provide your feedback:

http://www.LotusUserGroup.org

09/27/2009

Book Review - Level 26: Dark Origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski

Category Book Review Duane Swierczynski Level 26: Dark Origins
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Interesting concept, but a plot that left much to be desired... Level 26: Dark Origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski.  This book showed up at the local library, and the concept was enough to draw me in... The book is termed a "digi-novel", in that there are a number of website video vignettes that are supposed to add to the overall story.  For instance, an international conference call is held to update the status on finding the killer.  The web-based video shows the actual call as the author envisioned it.  You can read the story without referencing the website at all, but it's supposed to add to the overall experience.

That's the "interesting concept" part of the book.  The story itself is grotesque crime horror, but leaves quite a bit to be desired.  Murderers are assigned a classification level based on the types of killers and their motivation.  The high-end of this scale is level 25.  But as the title would indicate, there's one killer who is more evil and horrific than any other in history, hence the level 26 classification.  Many over the years have gone after this killer, nicknamed "Squweegel", but only one has come close... Steve Dark.  But Dark lost his foster family to Squweegel in a particular nasty killing, so he's out of the picture.  That is, until the secret government unit assigned to tracking down killers coerces him back into the game.  Dark is pretty sure he's not going to cave into their demand, but Squweegel has different ideas.  A few well-timed incidents proves to Dark that Squweegel is again after him, and Dark has no choice but to go back on offense to protect all that he's gained since his life was nearly destroyed the first time.

First off, a warning... If you don't like gruesome explicit violence, pass on this.  It's graphic.  With that out of the way, there are other reasons you may not want to read it.  For instance, the plot has enough holes to drive a truck through.  I never did learn *why* Squweegel had the mission and motivation he had for killing those he targeted.  Childhood trauma? Who knows... if it was out there, I missed it.  Next, there's no clue as to where Squweegel gets his money to support his crime habit over the years.  He's able to go wherever he wants, plant electronic devices all over the place, monitor them 24/7, but how?  And this dark agency that hunts down the killer... If someone fails on their mission or turns down an assignment, the head of the agency has him killed... say what?  And the videos?  Some are OK, but a few border on overly-ripe cheezy.  Those issues, and a few others, made it difficult for me to really *like* the book.  Yes, I did finish it in less than a day, as I wanted to know how it turned out.  But did it have a compelling story and plot?  Not so much...

Bonus star for the guts and effort to try something different.  But it's not enough to bail out a plot that would be better suited for a 45 minute episode of a weekly crime series, not a full-length novel.

09/26/2009

Book Review - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller

Category Book Review Donald Miller A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
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I recently was sent a copy of the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller.  To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect as it was described as having something to do with having "better stories" in your life.  That can obviously mean a lot of different things.  But Miller is a local author, and I was willing to give it a shot.  I ended up with a book that far exceeded my expectations, and had me thinking about my own life on a pretty deep level.

A Million Miles revolves around a memoir he wrote a few years back, and two guys who decide to make a film based on the book.  "Loosely based" is more like it, as Miller quickly finds out that the life he lived and described didn't quite translate into the movie that was being envisioned.  It didn't have the necessary elements of "story" that causes a film to be interesting.  So even though it was "his life" that was being turned into a film, the story being told would be completely different than what happened.  Essentially, he was being told to "edit" his life story so as to make it more compelling to the viewer.  And it was that editing that got him to wondering... what if everyone had a chance to change their life story... to "edit" it for film and make the stories more interesting and compelling?  And while that's not available to the vast majority, it *is* possible to change our current life to have more interesting stories the first time around.  And that's the point that Donald Miller explores in A Million Miles.

Split up into five parts (Exposition, A Character, A Character Who Wants Something, A Character Who Wants Something And Overcomes Conflict, and A Character Who Wants Something And Overcomes Conflict To Get It), he guides the reader through the process of viewing their life through the prism of a storyteller or a filmmaker.  If you break down the elements of a great movie, you have these particular elements.  Since it *is* possible to view our life as a movie-in-progress, there's no reason why we shouldn't be incorporating these elements into our own story that we have to tell.  For instance, if I want to lose 100 pounds, I could sit around and complain about how hard it is (which I've done).  Or, I can see it as a story, view myself as a character who wants something and has to overcome conflict, and proceed as if I'm writing the screenplay of my own epic.  Same thing if I wanted to fulfill a goal such as writing a book... why not incorporate the elements of "story" and make it happen?  It's only myself that's keeping the process from happening.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is deeply personal as it's told in a series of stories from Miller's life... some funny, some painful, but all real.  And while it's possible to just read the book and be entertained, it's very likely that after reading his book, you'll never quite view your own life and actions the same way again.  I know I've already started to incorporate some of these concepts into my own "story", in hopes that it will be infinitely more interesting than it currently is...  :)

09/20/2009

Book Review - The Power to Transform: 90 Days to a New You by Chris Majer

Category Book Review Chris Majer The Power to Transform: 90 Days to a New You
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I was offered the chance to read The Power to Transform: 90 Days to a New You by Chris Majer through one of the reviewer outlets I belong to.  Personal growth titles tend to get my attention, and this one had some appeal to it based on the description.  After reading it, I was blown away.  This is an excellent book that does indeed change the way you think about a number of things.  

Contents:
The History of the Human Potential Project; How To Use This Book; Language Shapes Reality; Learning In A New World; It All Moves From Center; Cultivating Awareness; Choice - Claiming Your Birthright; Ability and Willingness; Accountability; Commitment; Trust; Honesty; Integrity; Being A Stand; Acknowledgments; Index; About the Author

The book starts out with something that may seem unrelated to transformation: how language works.  But it's Majer's contention that once you understand the power of language and how it affects your view of reality, many things become possible that seemingly were impossible before.  Learning how declarations, assertions, assessments, requests, promises, and offers work give you a framework to understand what is fact and what is opinion (and there's FAR more opinion than fact out there).  With that groundwork in place, Majer starts working on the areas of your life where you have control, such as choice, being accountable, having integrity, and so on.  Each chapter has assignments associated with it, with the mindset towards incorporating these elements and learnings into your life. I was surprised at how much of our reality is influenced by what others are telling us, and how those things are quite often assessments and not assertions of truth.

Every one of these chapters spoke to me, and I'm in the process of rereading the book with a notebook, pen, and highlighter in hand.  Even learning that you can't be competent at everything, and that you have permission to declare yourself a beginner in order to start learning was a big revelation.  I don't know how many times I've beat myself up over not being good at something that I've never tried.  

If you're willing to work at this material and strive towards "embodied competence", this book can change your life around.  The Power to Transform: 90 Days to a New You is one of those life-changing books...

09/19/2009

Book Review - Extreme Measures by Vince Flynn

Category Book Review Vince Flynn Extreme Measures
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Extreme Measures by Vince Flynn is another paperback I picked up on vacation to avoid any real effort at reading and learning. :)  I figured a little terrorist espionage might be just the ticket for some mental downtime.  Overall, Extreme Measures was OK and worth reading.  I really haven't read a lot of Flynn's other novels using these characters, so I felt as if I was missing some major pieces of the story.  Mitch Rapp and Mike Nash have some background and history that shape this story, but I didn't have that to fall back on.  By and large, I had to let a fair amount of character development just wash over me, assuming that it made sense based on their previous episodes.

The main story revolves around a base in the Middle East where two high-value terrorists have been captured and are being held for interrogation.  The problem is that the US government is forcing the military and CIA to play strictly by Geneva Convention rules, which means that the prisoners aren't revealing anything.  Rapp and Nash decide to bluff their way into the compound as a special military envoy to try and use "extreme" measures to find out about a suspected terror cell about to strike in the US.  Their escapade gets noticed by some congressional mucky-mucks who want to make a name for themselves while at the same time cutting the legs out from under the intelligence agencies.  The finale builds up to a high-stakes game of chicken to see who will be right... the congressional bigwigs who insist the "terror cell" is overblown, or the intel groups who are trying to prevent what they know to be happening.

Given that Rapp and Nash are the main characters, and that they're counter-espionage, you can figure which side the story is slanted towards.  I have no doubt that there are people in Congress that have these exact attitudes towards unconventional warfare.  Heck, I even lean somewhat to the side of there having to be rules of some sort.  But the bad guys in the government seemed to be *really* bad.  When coupled with not knowing a lot of the Nash/Rapp background, I felt there was more I should have been getting out of the story.  Still, as a way to wind down after a hot day, Extreme Measures wasn't bad.

09/19/2009

Book Review - The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen

Category Book Review Tess Gerritsen The Keepsake
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Tess Gerritsen is one of those authors I enjoy reading, but I usually don't end up picking up her work as soon as they hit the bookstores.  I ended up with The Keepsake while on vacation in Florida, as I was out of "recreational" reading material, and diving into another business book didn't do it for me.  Overall, this was a good read... an interesting plot, a number of twists along the way, and characters that didn't end up being everything you thought they were.

The basic story revolves around a killer who is using ancient preservation techniques to display his victims as "keepsakes."  The first one is discovered in the basement of a museum packed as an Egyptian mummy.  Only after a CT scan do they discover that there is no way the body could be as old as they thought it was, and the discovery becomes a homicide case.  Another find in the museum confirms that the murderer must have a strong background in archeology, as well as an intense interest in one of the museum's employees.  Unless the cops can cut through her cover story and get to the truth of who she really is, there's a good chance that she'll end up as the killer's final keepsake.

This was just what I was looking for in a vacation read.  I could sit back (or lie back, depending on the time of day) and just get lost in the story.  Being that I don't keep current with Gerritsen's series using these main characters, there's likely some level of character nuance that I missed by diving in at this point.  But it wasn't such that I felt lost or out of touch with what was going on in the story. It was simply a fun read to wind down after full days of activities.

09/19/2009

Book Review - Spooky Oregon: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore by S. E. Schlosser

Category Book Review S. E. Schlosser Spooky Oregon: Tales of Hauntings Strange Happenings and Other Local Lore
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I picked up Spooky Oregon: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore by S. E. Schlosser at our local library the other day, as I have a fondness for supernatural stories that have a local bent to them.  I expected some decent narratives with background and history.  Unfortunately, what I ended up with were a number of campfire "ghost stories" that seemed to be only marginally set around the state of Oregon.  Had I been looking for that sort of story telling, it might have been fine.  But my expectations were somewhat different.

For instance, Tommy Knockers takes place in John Day, a community that showed signs of gold during the Gold Rush days.  The main character telling the story relates how he and his mule Bessy were working a mine when they first discovered that Tommy Knockers were real.  A partner of his was able to accomplish more than most miners, and one day the storyteller stumbles on mining tools that were working without any human assistance.  His partner said the Tommy Knockers used them, and that's why he was able to get so much done.  The storyteller marginally believes him, and starts leaving food "offerings" to the little Tommy Knocker statues that his partner leaves all over the place.  Then one day his partner warns him to run out of the mine as fast as he can as the Tommy Knockers were warning of a cave-in.  Of course, the cave-in happens, he barely escapes, but Bessy is killed.  When he goes back in after the disaster, he sees a Tommy Knocker ghost riding a ghostly version of Bessy, and he knows that all is well.  Fun little story, but I would have liked to have known if this had some basis in "reality", or if this was just a general ghost story conveniently set in the mines of John Day.

Another example involves a logger who was killed by a falling tree that happened to go in the wrong direction.  While two other loggers waited around for help to show up, the dead logger sat up and killed the other two with his axe.  He also sat fire to the forest to prevent others from looking for him, and it was rumored that people occasionally saw a flaming logger coming after them with his axe.  This particular storyteller is a kid who goes camping with a friend in the burned-out area of the original accident.  They're aware of the legend, but are determined to not wimp out and go home early.  As expected, the logger shows up, cuts the head off of the storyteller's friend, and chases him through the forest.  He finally ends up tripping over a tree trunk, the logger stands over him, and the assumption is that the storyteller's head is separated from his body.  Obviously a little hard to be the person telling the story when the last thing that happens is that you get off'ed...

On top of the lack of historical background I expected, I was also bothered by the difficultly of placing the story's timeframe.  In very few cases do the stories ever come out and say "in 1857, I was hiking through..." Instead, the story starts and you have to deduce the time period of the piece.  Some are easy when they mention SUVs and other modern elements.  Others are a bit more difficult, only revealing general periods where "new-fangled automobiles" would be present.  I know it's probably not a major thing, but it was just one more "disappointment" that I didn't want to deal with.

Spooky Oregon works well if you keep in mind that the story telling is the primary focus, not the facts and details behind whatever may or may not have happened to give birth to the story in the first place.  But if you're looking for something more detailed and documented, this may not be the book you're looking for...

09/08/2009

Day 1 - Travel to Orlando... NOT a Magical Experience

Category Everything Else
So here it is just a bit after midnight, and we're at the Boardwalk.  Granted, I didn't expect to be here until very late, and we're only here for one night as we head to Vero Beach tomorrow.  But what a travel "experience"...

Portland to Seattle was fine... a bit late getting into Seattle, so we didn't have a lot of time between flights.  But the gates were close, so no big deal.  Got boarded, and even had the middle seat open between us.  Comfortable,  relatively speaking.  And we took off for the five hour flight to Orlando.

Then the farter started...

Whoever s/he was, they were ripe... every 20 to 30 minutes, we got the aromatic experience of whatever they previously ate.  And we weren't the only ones getting grossed out.  They were getting good "air cover" with their biowarfare.  It was bad...

We arrived about 10 pm, got to the gate around 10:10, and headed off for the Magical Express... where the NEXT breakdown occurred.  We got to the B side and walked up to the guy from Disney at the foot of the escalator... only to be told that since we arrived after 10 pm, our luggage wouldn't be transported to the resort this evening.  They stop luggage service at 10.  OK, would have been nice to know that beforehand.  But we could live with the luggage getting here at 8 am tomorrow morning.  We went over to the check-in for ME, where they asked us if we had our luggage. Now the story was that we had to get it off the carousel ourselves and hoof it over.  This meant back to the A side where the Alaska luggage was.  We got there, only to find that most of the luggage was off, and ours wasn't there.  

NOW I'm really not happy...  

We got another Disney "greeter" on the A side, who tried to tell us the luggage would be delivered next morning... or it would be on the carousel.  I was less than pleasant explaining that I was VERY tired of going back and forth, and that I didn't care which answer was right... just pick one.  Then another Disney person tried to take us over to American (who apparently handles Alaska luggage) to check for lost luggage... where the line was VERY long.  "Magically", our single bag then appeared on the end of the carousel...  just waiting for us.  Sigh... whatever...

BACK to the B side with all our luggage now, onto the bus... where we sat for about 25 minutes waiting for a handful of other people.  I suppose I'd want them to wait for me if I were late, but I was not feeling the Magic by this time.

So we're here now...  I have a diet Coke (WITH caffeine... tough!) and I'm starting to unwind a bit.  A quick check of email and twitter should do it.  

I'd like to say it'll get better from here, but I'll refrain from testing those assumptions. :)

09/07/2009

Book Review - Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear by Max Lucado

Category Book Review Max Lucado Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear
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Max Lucado writes some great Christian inspirational works, and his latest is no different... Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear.  In Fearless, he looks at all the fears we commonly live with... joblessness, money matters, violence... and examines them in the light of biblical promises.  And he does this with a humility and honesty that is refreshing in today's society.

Contents:
Why Are We Afraid?; The Villagers of Stiltsville - Fear of Not Mattering; God's Ticked Off at Me - Fear of Disappointing God; Woe, Be Gone - Fear of Running Out; My Child Is in Danger - Fear of Not Protecting My Kids; I'm Sinking Fast - Fear of Overwhelming Challenges; There's a Dragon in My Closet - Fear of Worst-Case Scenarios; This Brutal Planet - Fear of Violence; Make-Believe Money - Fear of the Coming Winter; Scared to Death - Fear of Life's Final Moments; Caffeinated Life - Fear of What's Next; The Shadow of a Doubt - Fear That God Is Not Real; What If Things Get Worse? - Fear of Global Calamity; The One Healthy Terror - Fear of God Getting Out of My Box; Conclusion - William's Psalm; Discussion Guide; Notes

Lucado has captured all my major fears in life, as well as a few I don't (yet?) struggle with.  For instance, I struggle with job loss and financial security.  What happens if there's no income? It's easy to get focused on the immediate circumstance without stepping back and realizing that God is still in control.  Or the other extreme of thinking of thinking that I have everything financially lined up, and that all is secure.  It would only take a single incident (loss of job, medical condition, etc) to show me that I really have nothing under control.  Lucado has a knack for cutting through the formality and loftiness so often associated with "sermons" and make these situations real and applicable.  He also is able to use Scripture effectively to show how one's perspective needs to change in order to get back on the right track.

I'd like to think (and hope) that I won't need to reread any of these chapters as I don't and won't have to deal with any of these issues.  But that's not reality.  I'm quite sure I'll be revisiting Fearless at a number of points in the future.  Lucado has again come up with a classic, and I'm happy to have had the opportunity to read and contemplate his words.  I finished the book far more encouraged than when I started.

09/07/2009

Book Review - Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World by Bob Johansen

Category Book Review Bob Johansen Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World
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I received an advanced readers copy of the book Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World by Bob Johansen.  I always find it interesting to see how people interpret the future in regards to the skills it will take to lead people.  Of course, time will tell as to how accurate Johansen will be, but I did find his VUCA acronym quite useful in describing the future: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

Contents:
Making The Future Will Require New Leadership Skills; Maker Instinct; Clarity; Dilemma Flipping; Immersive Learning Ability; Bio-empathy; Constructive Depolarizing; Quiet Transparency; Rapid Prototyping; Smart Mob Organizing; Commons Creating; Readying Yourself For The Future; Appendix; Notes; Bibliography; Acknowledgments; Index; About the Author; About IFTF

Overall, there was material for thought here, but it seemed to lack a cohesive thread to tie it all together.  In addition, some of the items can not have a known outcome when you make your move.  Therefore you can only judge after the fact, and then you add the element of hindsight to make it appear obvious.  For instance, "urgent patience" is the ability to judge when to add new challenges and when to counsel steady persistence.  Sounds great, but everyone will draw that line differently.  Some will fail and some will succeed, even with the same level of (or lack of) information going into the situation.  Even the same person might both fail and succeed in various instances.  I find it unlikely that it's possible to have an excellent track record on that front given the increasing levels of VUCA in today's world.  On the other hand, "constructive depolarizing", or the ability to calm tense situations when sides are radically opposed to each other, *is* a skill that could be learned and measured in a much more concrete fashion.  It's what diplomats and counselors have done for ages...

I agree that these "new" skills are ones that will make sense and play a greater role in the future.  I just question how "new" they actually are, and whether we're putting fancy labels on things that we're already trying to do today.

09/07/2009

Book Review - Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Category Book Review Janet Evanovich Finger Lickin' Fifteen
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I'm a fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.  I finally made it to the top of the library hold list for Finger Lickin' Fifteen.  I was all prepared to pack this one for my soon-to-start vacation, thinking it'd be the perfect beach read.  Well, waiting has never been my strong point, and I ended up starting it over the weekend.  And I'm glad I did... I would have hated to pack this book back and forth in my luggage, as it was pretty much just more of the same, with nothing to really make it stand out.

The plot line and character elements are all there... Lulu witnesses the beheading of a famous BBQ chef, and now the killers (quite inept) are after her to make sure there are no witnesses.  Lulu is freaked out, and decides to move in with Stephanie.  Stephanie is working part time for Ranger to try and solve some break-ins that are occurring at his clients.  She's currently not seeing Morelli, so that means that the sexual tension between her, Morelli, and Ranger is running high.  Lulu and Grandma are destroying all sorts of things as they try and create/perfect a BBQ recipe. Stephanie burns through cars (literally) like they're going out of style.  And of course, all her skips that she's trying to collect on make her look like a fool when they continually outwit her.

It wasn't that I hated this book.  It's just that there was nothing new there.  All the characters played their parts, and all the situational gags were there where they were supposed to be.  In fact, they seemed to be more over-the-top than normal.  Burning up four cars in one episode is a bit much...  Lulu was constantly eating, Grandma was crazy as usual, Mom was trying to hook Stephanie up with someone now that "Joseph" is out of the picture, etc.  Again, not bad per se... just not anything new to get excited over.  Looking back over my prior reviews of the Plum series, I see a reoccurring theme... "Nothing new here".

If and when 16 comes out, I'll likely put it on hold and read it.  But my expectations are getting lower with each passing episode, and I hope it either goes off in a new direction or gets retired before it goes much further.

09/07/2009

IBM Lotus Domino Web Access Cross Site Scripting Vulnerability

Category IBM/Lotus
From VUPEN Security: IBM Lotus Domino Web Access Cross Site Scripting Vulnerability

Title : IBM Lotus Domino Web Access Cross Site Scripting Vulnerability
VUPEN ID : VUPEN/ADV-2009-2557

CVE ID : GENERIC-MAP-NOMATCH
CWE ID :
CWE-79
Rated as :
Low Risk A picture named M2
Remotely Exploitable : Yes
Locally Exploitable : Yes
Release Date : 2009-09-07


Technical Description   

A vulnerability has been identified in IBM Lotus Domino Web Access, which could be exploited to conduct cross site scripting attacks. This issue is caused by an unspecified input validation error when processing user-supplied data, which could be exploited by attackers to cause arbitrary scripting code to be executed by the user's browser in the security context of an affected site.

Affected Products


IBM Lotus Domino Web Access version 8.0.1

Solution

Apply Hotfix Pack 211.241 :
http://www.ibm.com/support/fixcentral

References


http://www.vupen.com/english/advisories/2009/2557
http://www-01.ibm.com/support/docview.wss?uid=swg27016745

Credits


Vulnerability reported by the vendor.

ChangeLog


2009-09-07 : Initial release

09/05/2009

Reading Addiction - a humorous web search today that I can't quite let go of...

Category Everything Else
So today I was surfing around the 'net, letting different ideas take me various places, when I stumbled on this item:

Learn More About Reading Addiction

Reading Addiction is arguably a real phenomenon. A person can, in fact, be addicted to reading.

This is not so much like chemical addictions, however, in which the body becomes physically dependent on a particular drug or substance. Nor is it like gambling or food addiction, either, where chemical processes occur in the brain when people engage in the addictive behavior.

No, reading is an addiction when it is used as a mechanism to avoid reality. A person can avoid facing life by reading all day. A person can also avoid facing themselves by reading all day. This is the only time that reading really becomes a problem.

At first I found this somewhat humorous... yeah, I must be addicted, I read 180 to 200 books a year... ha ha ha.  But no, I don't read all day long, so it must not be an addiction.

But is that true?

As I sit downstairs in my mess of an office, how many times have I told myself I'd clean it up, only to spend another 30 minutes reading stuff off my RSS feeds?  How many projects do I have floating in my mind that I haven't done because I've taken a nap after getting into another good book?  How much stuff have I said I NEED to learn, but instead end up just reading about it without applying it?  Exercise or relax with a book?  Look in the mirror, I'll tell you what wins 95% of the time.  What's the first thing I take if I'm going somewhere for an appointment?  Something to read while I'm waiting.  Do I really obsess about which books to take on vacation, and most importantly how many?  Yes, I do.

In the last year, I can tell you the number of days I've gone without sitting down to read a book of some sort at any point in the day...  the answer is one.  And I remember it vividly as it struck me a day later that I couldn't honestly remember the last time I had done that.  

I don't subscribe to the popular notion that every little personality quirk and oddity deserves its own ICD-9 diagnosis code.  But in my case, I really do think there's more than an element of truth behind the concept of "reading addition" as it applies to me.  Many things are useful and beneficial in moderation.  But I may well have passed that point quite some time ago.

I think as I leave on vacation for the next two weeks in Florida, I'll be spending more time thinking about this and how it plays out in my life and relationships.  I'll have to take a notebook along to record some of my thoughts... packed right next to the 7 to 10 books I'll also take along with me...

No need to rush into these new concepts too rashly...

09/05/2009

Book Review - The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre

Category Book Review John le Carre The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
A picture named M2

While I'm still at the beginning of John le Carre's bibliography, I'm still amazed at how he can write a complete novel yet still keep the page count down.  It's so different than today's 400 page doorstops that could stand a fair amount of trimming.  The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a tightly woven espionage story from the Cold War days, and le Carre keeps the twists and turns coming at a non-stop pace.

The story revolves around a burned out British spymaster, Leamas, who wants to call it quits.  But before he does, he's asked to do one more job involving the capture of East Germany's most notorious espionage agent, Mundt.  The scene is set to make Leamas look like a washed up spy who is on the outs with his government, and therefore ripe for recruiting.  And of course, the other side takes the bait.  He's debriefed for much of the basic info, but they want to take him over the border back into East Germany and beyond to find out even more.  Things take a bit of a sideway turn when the British government puts an all-points bulletin out for him, and it looks as if Leamas may really need to follow through on what looks like a full defection.  But the deeper he gets, the more confused he is as to who is working for who, and whether he ever will be allowed to come in from the cold...

The aspect of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold that I enjoyed most was le Carre's way of keeping the reader guessing as to what was actually going on behind the scenes.  As with real-life espionage, nothing is ever black and white, and shades of grey are the best you can get.  Leamas thinks he has everything under control, but he soon finds that what he signed up for and what is actually happening could well be two different things.  le Carre does this all in 212 pages, which is remarkable.  I'm looking forward to continuing on with all his other books, as I expect them to follow in the same vein of tight writing and good storytelling.

09/05/2009

Book Review - Lessons from the Great Depression For Dummies by Steve Wiegand

Category Book Review Steve Wiegand Lessons from the Great Depression For Dummies
A picture named M2

Americans have VERY short attention spans, and it's far too easy to be heavily influenced by the hype of the 24/7 news cycle.  But stepping back to read a book like Lessons from the Great Depression For Dummies by Steve Wiegand shows that history continually repeats itself, and we make the same mistakes over and over.  That's not to minimize the pain and suffering that many are going through currently.  But if we'd only pay attention to history, we could avoid a fair amount of our troubles.

Contents:
Part 1 - Heading in a Mess: It Was a Dark and Stormy Decade; Economic Basics - You Say "Depression", I Say "Broke"; Prelude to Disaster - The Economy Prior to 1929
Part 2 - Getting Depressed: Going Bust - A Depression Is Born; Coming Face to Face with Hard Times; Troubles on the Farm; Misery Loves Company - How the Rest of the World Fared
Part 3 - Living Through the Great Depression: On the Road; Demagogues and Desperadoes; Having Fun in Spite of It All; Labor Rising - Unions in the Great Depressions
Part 4 - Fixing Things: A Tale of Two Presidents; Roosevelt's New Deal; Lessons Learned from the Great Depression
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten Good Movies Made in or about the Great Depression; Ten Things Invented or Popularized in the Great Depression; Ten No-So-Depressing Things about the Great Depression
Appendix - For Further Reading; Index

Like all Dummies titles, Wiegand doesn't attempt to give a deep academic treatise on everything that made up the event commonly known as the Great Depression.  Instead, he attempts to paint the picture of what led up to the Great Depression, how the Great Depression affected life during those times, and how the events of today compare and contrast to those times 80 years ago.  And with all Dummies titles, you get a fair amount of humor thrown in for good measure.  Our own economic times have been painted as the worst since 1929, so Wiegand has plenty of material to work with as he attempts to draw his comparisons.

I think what struck me most was the similarities between the attitudes of the government and the attitudes of the financial markets.  The presidents up to the time of Roosevelt had taken a "hands-off" approach to business, and felt that little needed to be done to rein in excesses.  As with today, big business had government where they wanted them... right in their hip pockets protecting their interests, not the interests of the common man.  Same with financial institutions.  The banking laws were much more loose, and there was little to protect the depositors unless you were worth millions (and even then you weren't completely safe).  Financial schemes and frauds were common, and the losers were often those who had little to lose in the first place.  When everything came crashing down, the lower ends of society took the brunt of it.  Roosevelt put in place many things that were extremely controversial in their day, even though we take them for granted now.  Unemployment insurance, the FDIC, Social Security, the list goes on...  Obviously the flip side of all this spending is that we have to pay it back at some time, and we've never been good at that.  Needless to say, the parallels to today's environment are strangely similar...

If you haven't ever read much on the Great Depression to get beyond the surface media play, I would suggest Lessons from the Great Depression For Dummies.  It will give you a much better working knowledge of that part of our history, and could whet your appetite for something deeper.

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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