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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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01/30/2010

Book Review: Blue Ice and Other Stories from the Rink by Frank Ewert

Category Book Review Frank Ewert Blue Ice and Other Stories from the Rink
A picture named M2

When I was contacted by Frank Ewert, the author of Blue Ice and Other Stories from the Rink, asking if I wanted to review his book, I was really trying hard to say no.  I have so many books backed up in my "to be read/reviewed" list, and I'm trying to cut that down some.  But trying to say no to a hockey book is really hard for me... and it was only a small book... really.  :)  Seriously, Blue Ice is an enjoyable compilation of short story hockey fiction that captures the feel of what hockey means to a kid growing up in Canada.  Bottom line, it's life and death.

If you've had anything to do with hockey over the years, many of these stories feel authentic.  There's the endless loyalty to your favorite team, knowing that they just *have* to win the Cup as the Cup belongs in Canada.  There's the role of the "protector" on the ice, making sure that the team hotshot isn't harassed and abused by the opponents.  There's even the harebrained scheme to "liberate" the Cup from its American place of residence, when really all the guys want is to be able to see it up close.  For someone who doesn't follow the game, these stories will not have much resonance.  But for those of us who do, these could be taken from our own lives.

The book is short, all of 82 pages, so it won't take you very long to read it from cover to cover.  But you'll have more than a few smiles on your face during that time, and a number of you will feel like you're walking down memory lane.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

01/30/2010

Book Review - The Devil's Punchbowl by Greg Iles

Category Book Review Greg Iles The Devil's Punchbowl
A picture named M2

Like I needed yet another book to read on the way home from a conference...  But there I was at the airport, and the book rack kept calling out to me.  I ended up succumbing to the siren call and pick up The Devil's Punchbowl from Greg Iles.  At 710 pages, this is one LONG paperback novel.  But the storyline was pretty good, and it's kept me interested for a week of bedtime recreational reading.  I think it could have been done in fewer pages, but that wasn't a horrible drawback in this case.

The main plot takes place in a small Mississippi town that derives much of its income from riverboat gambling.  Penn Cage, the mayor of Natchez, took on the job to try and improve education and make the town more like the place he remembered while growing up there.  But a long-time friend and struggling drug addict comes to him with a story of major corruption and vice run by the owners of the casino boat Magnolia Queen.  Cage isn't quite sure whether his friend is strung out or really knows something, but decides to meet with him anyway.  Shortly thereafter, Cage's friend is killed in a particularly gruesome manner, and Cage is now completely swallowed up in trying to figure out what had his friend so worried.  The problem is that with as much money as the casino makes, it's quite easy to buy off any and everyone who might be able to uncover the truth.  And if you can't buy someone off, killing them is just as easy and effective.  Cage finds that out when his family is threatened as part of a warning.  Never one to say no, this just causes Cage to rally his own troops around him, and the battle begins with many lives at stake based on the outcome.  And telling the good guys from the bad guys is nearly impossible.

For such a long novel, Iles did a good job on pacing.  There were only a couple spots where I thought the story started to drag, but fortunately it picked up again shortly thereafter.  I see that this is the third book featuring the Cage character, so that would explain why I felt I was missing out on some nuances and background as the story unfolded.  It wasn't a significant detriment to have not read the two prior books, but I could tell that some of the interactions were likely better explained by knowing the prior history of the characters.  I'm tempted to head out to the library website and put the first two on hold just to catch up on the backstory, as well as to enjoy what should be a couple of good novels.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Bookstore

Payment: Purchased
 

01/30/2010

Book Review - The Cat Whisperer: The Secret of How to Talk to Your Cat by Claire Bessant

Category Book Review Claire Bessant The Cat Whisperer: The Secret of How to Talk to Your Cat
A picture named M2

This is one of those books that sounded a lot better in concept than it actually turned out to be... The Cat Whisperer: The Secret of How to Talk to Your Cat by Claire Bessant.  It's not that there wasn't anything of value here.  It's just that expectations were set a bit too high when I checked it out from the library...

Contents:
A Different World; Cat Talk; Living With Your Cat; Exploring The Relationship; Cat Characters; Intelligence and Training; A to Z of Problems and Solutions

If you already have a cat that you're getting along with, there's little in here that will rock your world.  The author covers the history of cats, the basics of how they communicate, the indications you can observe on how they might be feeling, and general tips and tricks on living with your feline companion.  As with all situations where you're on the outside looking in, it's completely impossible to tell exactly how accurate some of the "your cat is thinking this" advice is.  But overall, her observations seem to be reasonable.

I think where I had the most problem was with the title and the expectation it set.  Any title with "whisperer" in it denotes some special ability to communicate with an animal that generally defies a deep bond.  Add "The Secret Of How To Talk To Your Cat" as a subtitle, and I start expecting the ability to carry on conversations.  I really didn't find that here.  Outside of picking up on feline body language, I didn't think there was anything "secret" to be had here.

Since it's a short book, it's an OK read if you haven't spent any time thinking about how your cat may think.  But don't think you're going to become the next Cesar Millan and launch your own Cat Whisperer series on TV.  It's not going to happen with this book.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed

01/28/2010

Looking for the session slides for SHOW106 and JMP102? Check here...

Category LS10 Lotusphere 2010
JMP102 - The Top Things All New IBM Lotus Domino Developers Need To Know

SHOW106 - Configuring the Tivoli Directory Integrator for IBM Lotus Domino and Active Directory

01/28/2010

Suggestions on capturing a screen-sharing session for playback by others?

Category Everything Else
I'm in a position where I have to work with an off-shore support group for our Notes applications, and our hours don't overlap well (actually, at all!)  I have no doubt that there will be help desk calls where I will need to ask the user to demo the problem for me, and then will need to explain it via email to the support people.

What I'd like to be able to do is record these screen-sharing sessions (or even my own screen session) on my PC, then package up the video in a reasonable size/format to send off via email.  That way I don't have to rely upon the written word and possible miscommunication to extend the back-and-forth email exchanges any longer than they have to be.

Any suggestions on software (Windows-based) that would help me do that?  Bonus points if I can run the software on my side, and then the person on the other end does NOT have to have the same software installed to run the video (as in the video gets created in some standard video format)...

And MAJOR bonus points if I don't have to spend anything on it, as I'm reasonably sure work probably won't pay for it...

01/26/2010

You don't get to pick the communication channel/method, or How I Never Use LotusphereOnline Email

Category Lotusphere 2010 ls10
Last night I was logged on to the LotusphereOnline site, downloading a few items, and I noticed the mail file link.  As you probably know, all attendees at Lotusphere get an event email account as part of their LotusphereOnline experience.  But the email ID name is some obscure random number, and it's never anything I would remember.  Furthermore, I already have a number of email accounts I regularly check, along with RSS feeds and Twitter.  Why would I want to log into yet another site to view yet another email file that is only for a limited duration?

I will admit to using the email site MANY years ago as I had no other way to receive email easily during the event.  I had no laptop, no access to work email, the kiosks at Lotusphere were locked into the LSOnline site only, and smart phones were still just a glimmer in some engineer's mind.  But even then, it was a hit-or-miss proposition, and critical communication just never happened there.

So is it time to retire that part of LotusphereOnline?  I'd contend it is, based on the number of "I don't use it either" replies I'm getting on Twitter in relation to that question.

And on a wider scale...  There are a wide number of communication options available to everyone these days.  Most people have two or more email accounts.  They track Twitter.  They blog, They use RSS to get important information into feed readers.  And I'm sure I'm missing a number of other methods also.  As a business, you have no power to compel someone to choose *your* preferred method of communication.  At best, they'll ignore you.  At worst, they'll walk.  You need to make your message and communication available in a variety of avenues, and accommodate most any method people prefer.  To ignore that is to place your business at risk.

01/25/2010

For all who are interested, the Lotusphere 2010 Press Coverage page is now updated...

Category Lotusphere 2010 ls10
Each year at Lotusphere, I try and keep a running list of some of the more significant press coverage articles I find via Google News Alerts.  Rather than waste time trying to keep up on it during Lotusphere, I let my gmail box get totally overwhelmed and then did the sort-through after the event.  So after an hour or two of culling this evening, I can say that I think I have most of the major articles...

If you want to read the Lotusphere 2010 Press Coverage blog page, you can find it here...

01/22/2010

So where were all my blog entries for Lotusphere 2010?

Category ls10 lotusphere2010
I ended up making a quick decision on the fly that I would concentrate on absorbing overall messages and context rather than trying to blog everything "as it happened."  

A few reasons for that...

For one, a number of people are doing just that... "as it happens."  As a result, you get a lot of instant data and information, but less "what does it mean?"  If there were 20 people at the conference, that'd be one thing.  But there are plenty of people here that you shouldn't have had any problems getting the latest "what just happened" from the event.  And besides, Twitter did that pretty well. :)

Second, I didn't want to have the event pass me by as I was trying to live it for everyone else.  The instant blogging reminds me of the person who goes on vacation and spends the whole time videotaping every last moment.  When you get done, you find that your whole vacation was lived through a three inch screen.  This was my 13th Lotusphere, and in many ways the most important Lotusphere in terms of meeting people and actually "being there" in the moment.  I couldn't do that if I were always looking for a power outlet or an internet connection.

And finally, I really needed to be around all of you.  It's been a crazy, stressful year, and the chance to be around best friends and professional colleagues is what I needed to sort things out.  I wouldn't have had that if I had tried to be a real-time press/blogger program person AND a speaker AND an attendee.

So...

No, I am not ditching my responsibilities as part of the press/blogger program.  I'm just looking at things "after the fact" with a series of posts coming up touching on direction, technology, leadership, etc.  I hope I can add a bit more perspective than I would have been able to do had I tried to "cover it all immediately."  But more importantly, I think I regained my sanity and my own perspective on things.

And I already miss all of you...  :(

01/18/2010

SHOW106 Tivoli Directory Integrator session on Tuesday at 4:30 is NOT just for directories and NOT just for admins...

Category LS10
Marie Scott and I will be doing the SHOW106 session on Tivoli Directory Integrator at 4:30 on Tuesday in Swan Osprey.  Contrary to the way the title reads, this is NOT simply an Admin session, NOR is it something that only deals with directories.

Tivoli Directory Integrator (TDI) is a tool that allows you to move data of any sort from one source to another via connectors.  If you're running Domino, you have an entitlement to use this software for free (FREE!) so long as one of the sources involve Domino.  You can build jobs quickly that will move data into and out of Domino, both on a batch or event-driven basis.

I'll be showing the install process along with a couple of examples of moving a CSV file into Notes and exporting Notes data into an XML file.  Marie will be covering directory integration involving Active Directory and Domino.

So if you've written off that session because you're not working with directories or it sounded like something an admin would need, think again.  We'd love to see you there.

01/14/2010

Starting the Lotusphere 2010 Press Links page...

Category ls10 Lotusphere2010
You can find the link here, or you can see the link on the upper left corner of my blog page.  I'll be updating the same page, so the link won't change (just the content).

01/12/2010

Want an unbiased look at the Lotus Roadmap? Check out Michael Sampson's new report

Category IBM/Lotus
Michael Sampson is well-known for his unbiased insights into collaboration technology, especially when it comes to Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint.  He's written a couple of books on Microsoft SharePoint, but I've often wished he would put out a white paper on what he sees in the Lotus realm and where he sees things going.

Well, I no longer have to wait...

On his website, you can learn more his report "Lotus Roadmap: Enhancing Business Collaboration with Lotus Software".  From the site:

    Lotus Notes has been around for a long time. Since its release in 1989 it has always been viewed as a “different” piece of technology, loved by some people and reviled by others. It takes a different approach to information management and collaboration tasks, it looks different from the standard Microsoft offering which many people view as being “authoritatively correct”, and it offers capability for being used so broadly across an organization that it can be put to use on many tasks, including tasks that it is not well-suited for.

    So what do we do with Lotus Notes, and by implication, the other products from Lotus Software? Is there still life left in Lotus? Is it time to move to “greener pastures”? Are the new offerings from other vendors better suited to the information management and collaboration tasks that organizations are using Lotus Notes for? These are the questions addressed in this report.

I had a chance to read and comment before it was published, and I was impressed and pleased to see such an honest, forthright look at the platform many of us use to make our living.  It's well worth the cost to your company to get an honest look at the Lotus platform without all the vendor hype and misdirection.

Thanks for taking the time and effort to put this together, Michael... great job.

01/10/2010

Here's what I think my LS session schedule looks like...

Category IBM/Lotus LS10
Still need to see where the repeats are listed, as that might alter this slightly. And as always, the following disclaimer... if I didn't choose your session, it's not personal... really.

Lotusphere 2010 Schedule

Sunday

08:00 am – 10:00 am – JMP 102 – Top Things For New Domino Developers – SW  7 – 10

10:30 am – 12:30 pm – JMP102 – Top Things For New Domino Developers – SW  5 – 6

01:30 pm – 03:30 pm – SHOW112 – Xpages Application from Start to Finish – SW Osprey

04:00 pm – 06:00 pm – JMP106 – Domino/MS integration – SW 7 – 10

06:15 pm – 07:15 pm – TURT101 – Turtles Guide to LS – DL S. Hemi III

Monday

11:00 am – 12:00 pm – BP108 – Worst Practices 4.0 – SW 5 – 6

01:00 pm – 02:00 pm – AD206 – Filthy Rich User Interfaces – DL S. Hemi II

02:15 pm – 03:15 pm – AD109 – Xpages Performance & Scalability – DL S. Hemi III

Tuesday

07:00 am – 08:00 am – BOF202 – Integrating Lotus with SharePoint – SW Parrot 1

08:30 am – 09:30 am – BP210 – Great Code Giveaway – SW 7 – 10

10:00 am – 11:00 am – AD107 – Enhance Apps with XPages – DL S. Hemi I

11:30 am – 12:15 pm – NERD101 – Nerd Girl Panel – SW Mockingbird

01:30 pm – 02:30 pm – BP207 – Make XPages pop with CSS/Themes – SW 7 – 10

03:00 pm – 04:00 pm – AD108 – Xpages Deep Dive – DL N. Hemi D - E

03:00 pm – 04:00 pm – BP202 – There’s No Fixing Ugly – SW 7 - 10

04:30 pm – 06:15 pm – SHOW106 – TDI – SW Osprey

Wednesday

08:30 am – 09:30 am – open

10:00 am – 11:00 am – open

11:15 am – 12:15 pm – ID609 – Intro to Performance Planning – DL S. Hemi II

01:30 pm – 02:30 pm – BP206 – LotusScript Tune-up – SW 5 – 6

03:00 pm – 04:00 pm – AD104 – DXL Re-invigorated – DL S. Hemi I

04:15 pm – 05:15 pm – BP303 – Project Mgt. – Jedi Mind Tricks – SW 7 – 10

Thursday

08:30 am – 09:30 am – open

10:00 am – 11:45 am – SHOW110 – Reporting – SW Osprey

11:30 am – 12:30 pm – GURU101 – will miss due to prior session

01:45 pm – 02:45 pm – ASK101 – ask developers – SW 5 – 10

01/09/2010

Secunia Advisory SA38026: IBM Lotus Domino Web Access Unspecified Vulnerabilities

Category IBM/Lotus
Secunia advisory...

IBM Lotus Domino Web Access Unspecified Vulnerabilities
Secunia Advisory: SA38026


Release Date: 2010-01-08
Critical:
A picture named M2
Less critical

Impact: Unknown
Where:
From remote

Solution Status: Vendor Patch
Software:
IBM Lotus Domino Web Access 8.x

Description
:
Some vulnerabilities with unknown impacts have been reported in IBM Lotus Domino Web Access.

1) An unspecified vulnerability exists in "ultra-light edit contact scene".

2) An unspecified vulnerability exists related to script commands being present in the URL for status alerts in ultra-light.

3) An unspecified vulnerability exists related to the "Try Lotus iNotes anyway" link in unsupported browser pages.


Solution:
Apply Cumulative Hotfix Pack 229.261 for Domino 8.0.2FP3.

Provided and/or discovered by
:
Reported by the vendor.

Changelog
:
2010-01-08: Updated "Criticality".

Original Advisory
:
IBM (LSHR7TBLY5, LSHR7TBM58, LSHR7TBMQU):

http://www-01.ibm.com/support/docview.wss?uid=swg27017776

01/06/2010

Book Review - e Squared: A Novel by Matt Beaumont

Category Book Review Matt Beaumont e Squared: A Novel
A picture named M2

From the Amazon Vine selections came this recreational reading choice... e Squared: A Novel by Matt Beaumont.  The premise sounded interesting from my techie background... a story told as a series of emails, SMS text messages, and blogs.  Set in a "hip" ad agency, I could imagine that there would be a few characters involved.  And Beaumont didn't disappoint.  I haven't read his first E novel, but if it's anything like this one, I probably should.  e Squared is zany, very off-beat, and cruelly hilarious.

The story is structured around the different personalities that work at Meerkat360, an ad agency in England.  Each of the characters has some interesting quirks that make them quite memorable.  Liam O'Keefe is a loser who is deeply in debt, including owing major sums to two different loan sharks.  He's forever nicking items from the office and selling them on eBay to make extra money.  David Crutton is the director of the agency and has an anger management problem.  He's also quite distant from his wife, who is in her 40's and just found out she's pregnant. He prefers to only communicate with her via email and let his secretary take care of all the things he should be doing.  Caroline Zitter is has the title of "The Seer", but she's always off attending some strange management or personal improvement conference.  So her parts in the book are always out-of-office messages stating where she's at and when she'll be back in the office... at which time she has another out-of-office message for the next conference she's at.  And that's only a small sampling of the office.  During the year that is covered, O'Keefe tries to lure back a lost love, dodge loan sharks, commit suicide, and make up for all the rotten stuff in his life. Crutton gets thrown out of his house, gets his daughter and son tattooed, nearly kills daughter when tattoo gets infected, and has to fly to Finland to find his son (who ran off to see a death metal band concert and got injured, losing his memory).  And again, that's only a small part of all the strange and bizarre things that go on at Meerkat360...

You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this.  It is *not* a realistic look at an ad agency.  It is *not* a true-to-life portrayal of people.  It's simply over-the-top fun and lunacy.  And while you know these people aren't real, you do see exaggerated glimpses of many people that you've probably worked with or known over the years.  That's probably what makes it so funny.  e Squared is good comedy with a unique style of storytelling.  I enjoyed it.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Amazon Vine Review Program
Payment: Free

01/01/2010

Book Review - Black by Christopher Whitcomb

Category Book Review Christopher Whitcomb Black
A picture named M2

A friend recommended this novel to me...  Black by Christopher Whitcomb.  Since he knows I like espionage novels, he had a pretty good idea I'd like this one.  And for the most part, he was right.  Whitcomb brings his background as a member of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team into play to write a novel that has a number of threads that all attempt to come together at the end.  I say "attempt" as I wasn't overly enthused about the way it wrapped up, but up to that point it was good...

The story revolves around Jeremy Waller, a rookie member of the Hostage Rescue Team.  He has an instinct to do things that most agents wouldn't think of in tight situations, and as such he's relatively unpredictable to both his enemies and his fellow agents.  He gets sucked into a black ops trip into the Middle East to assassinate a high-ranking Al-Queda leader.  But things go bad as a large number of innocents get gunned down as collaterial damage.  He's having a very hard time dealing with that, and his questions are being covered up at every level above him.  At the same time, Senator Elizabeth Beechum, a staunch defender of the intelligence community, is going head to head with a billionaire, Jordan Mitchell, who has developed a cell phone encryption technique that has rendered government evesdropping obsolete.  And what's worse, he's going to sell it to the Saudis.  The Senator is set up on a murder charge and is systematically stripped of her Senate posts bit by bit.  Mitchell is set to make billions more with his cell phones, which may have a secondary feature built in that no one knows about.  And on top of it all, a newly minted executive at his company, Sirad Malneaux, is not all she appears to be.  Mitchell knows that her background is false, but wants to follow her to see where it leads.  She has no objection to using her charms to get what she wants, and what she wants are the plans for what Mitchell is up to.  All these threads start interweaving to a final confrontation where no one seems to be who they appeared to be after all...

Leading up to the end, I liked the story.  Waller's striving to make the cut to become a member of the HRT... Malneaux's mysterious background... Mitchell's view that making money should trump government intelligence needs.  Watching Waller work through various training missions and actual hostage situations was engrossing, as you didn't know quite how things were going to turn out in either case.  As the book progressed, I started to wonder exactly how all these threads were going to come together in the end, as they remained distinct for the longest time.  And unfortunately, I wasn't rewarded with the best payoff in my opinion.  The ending felt contrived and hollow, and seemed to be nothing more than a setup for a follow-on novel (which is probably his next book White).  

I'll probably end up reading the next novel in the series in hopes that Whitcomb builds out the characters in their new roles and does a better job in wrapping up a story.  And I'm not sorry I read this one, either.  It's just that I would have liked a better ending than I got...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed

01/01/2010

Book Review - Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less by Sam Carpenter

Category Book Review Sam Carpenter Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less
A picture named M2

What do you do if you're working 100 hour weeks running your own business year after year, and you're on the brink of bankruptcy, both financially and emotionally?  Sam Carpenter was in exactly that situation with his call-answering service in Bend, Oregon.  While laying in bed one night looking at the imminent death of his company, he was able to step outside himself and view the business from a different perspective.  That event led him to build a business that is now a thriving entity, one that doesn't require much time at all to run in an efficient and accurate manner.  Carpenter shares those thoughts in his book Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less.  Once you have it explained, it all starts to fall into place as to how he was able to turn things around.  And the material here can make the same type of difference both in your personal and professional life.

Contents:
Preface; Acknowledgments; Introduction - The Simplest Solution
Part One - The Mindset: Control Is a Good Thing; A System of Systems; The Attack of the Moles; Gun-to-the-Head Enlightenment; Execution and Transformation; systems Revealed, Systems Managed; Getting It
Part Two - Critical Documentation: Swallowing the Horse Pill; We Are Project Engineers; Your Strategic Objective and General Operating Principles; Your Working Procedures
Part Three - Further Considerations: Good Enough; Errors of Omission; Quiet Courage; Point-of-Sale Thinking; Extraordinary Systems Operated by Great People; Consistency and Cold Coffee; Communications - Grease for the Wheels; Prime Time; The Traffic Circles of Pakistan; System Improvement as a Way of Life
Appendixes: Ockham's Razor and the TSR; Centratel's Strategic Objective; Centratel's 30 Principles; Centratel's Procedure for Procedures; Centratel's System for Communictions
References; Index

Carpenter was running a phone answering service as CEO while also trying to be a single dad.  Due to constant turnover of staff, customer complaints, and a negative balance sheet, he was in constant danger of having to shut down since he couldn't meet payroll.  This played out repeatedly until he was on the brink of losing it all.  His moment of enlightenment came one night while laying in bed.  He started to see his business as a system of systems, systems that would work together without effort if each one was designed to be efficient. Instead of being in constant firefighting mode, he could step back and address individual system issues.  As the most troublesome systems were overhauled and documented, he could focus on others.  The continual improvement of each of the interlocking processes had a huge impact on the business, allowing him to decrease complaints, reduce turnover, raise rates, and pay his staff better than average wages for the industry.  Now he has an abundance of time to spend on more important business and personal pursuits, and the business nearly runs itself.

His system is highly dependent on making sure that every process in the business is documented, and that there is a consistent process for doing everything.  Everyone in the company has the ability to instantly call a meeting to propose a change to a procedure if it will make the process better.  And with a strategic objective and operating principles in place, everyone is working towards the same goal and the same philosophy as everyone else.  In many ways, this sounds similar to process improvement programs that were popular ten years ago.  But Carpenter presents it with far less methodology and complex structure as "experts" did back then.  And Carpenter's approach also makes sense for application in your personal life.  If you see your life as a series of systems, you can simplify and improve things there by optimizing the different parts.


The only thing I didn't care much for in the book is that a lot of time is spent in the beginning going over what led to Carpenter's revelation and why it was important.  And in fact, he admits to repeating some of the material in different ways to cause it to become firmly cemented in your mind.  I personally could have done with a bit less of that, but it doesn't negate the value of the book or his approach.

If you're running a business that seems to be living on the edge of failure, or if you're working for a company that isn't making much progress, Work The System could be the thing that frees you up to take things to the next level.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

01/01/2010

Book Review - Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home and Reclaim Your Life by Barbara Tako

Category Book Review Barbara Tako Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter Organize Your Home and Reclaim Your Life
A picture named M2

I was contacted by Barbara Tako asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing her book Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home & Reclaim Your Life.  Being someone who is continually plagued by the clutter bug (both my own and my kids'), I was of course interested. I'll admit I was expecting some type of methodology on how to eliminate clutter, but that's not what this is. Instead, it is a realistic view on how clutter affects your life and how "fixing" it is not as easy or as quick as experts might lead you to believe.  She also has a definition of clutter than went beyond what I normally think, and that single idea was worth the reading by itself for me.

Tako's book reads more like a journal of one person's effort over the course of a year to declutter her life.  She divides up the material into four "seasons": Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.  As you might expect, certain seasons have different clutter challenges.  Winter has New Year's resolutions which often involve cleaning up areas of your life.  There's also cleaning up the air in your house (less stagnant), learning to live with less, and (if you have kids) cleaning up the massive numbers of toys that aren't played with on a regular basis.  Spring gets into the traditional "spring cleaning", how to more easily maintain a clean home, and even decluttering your diet to eat more healthy.  Summer moves to the outside realm, with yard clutter, kitchen organization, and family vacations. There's also the focus on decluttering your schedule (especially with kids) so you can focus on stuff that is important, rather than just being "busy."  Finally, fall moves into organization for the upcoming holidays, as well as cleaning up paperwork and other areas that need to be in shape before the winter season keeps you locked up in the house.

Because Tako writes in a very personal manner, you don't get the impression that she's an expert who has it all together.  In fact, it's just the opposite...  she admits where she struggles, and what areas seem to defy organization for her after repeated attempts.  And because it's not a methodology she's pushing, it's not as if you have to wonder if this works in real life.  Not all of her chapters seem to touch on clutter as you normally think of it.  For instance, cooking simple meals and deciding what you're going to have for dinner by 8 am that day doesn't seem like a "clutter" issue.  But doing this can reduce stress and guilt over food prep and choices, and less stress can lead to less clutter...

One aspect of clutter that she *does* touch on which impacted me was life clutter.  Decluttering your life might mean getting an exercise and diet program in place to remove the "clutter" of extra weight and lethargy.  It might mean ending certain relationships that are sucking up too much time and energy for what you get back from them.  Or it could mean addressing a certain mindset that places roadblocks in your way, stopping you from moving forward.  Viewing those things as "clutter" is something I've not done before, and it gives me a different perspective and slant on getting solutions and fixes in place to clean them out.

If you're expecting a "steps 1, 2, and 3" approach in Clutter Clearing Choices, you might be disappointed.  But if you want to see someone who is trying to fix the problem herself and is open to sharing the struggles, this book works very well.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

01/01/2010

Book Review - Small Change: Little Things Make A Big Difference by Susan Terkel and Larry Terkel

Category Book Review Susan Terkel Larry Terkel Small Change: Little Things Make A Big Difference
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It's somehow appropriate that I make this review on New Years Day, the day when everyone talks about making changes in their lives... Small Change: Little Things Make A Big Difference by Susan & Larry Terkel.  The Terkels make the contention that implementing huge changes all at once are bound to fail due to the overwhelming resistance we'll face.  Instead, making a series of small changes are much easier and will add up over time.  Trying to walk 150 miles is overwhelming. Walking one bus stop further each day will add up to those same 150 miles over a year.  While not appropriate for *every* situation you'll face, the Terkels make a very good point...

Contents:
Introduction: A Better Way to a Better You
Chapter 1: How to Apply Small Change to Your Life
Chapter 2: Small Changes for Better Health
Chapter 3: Small Changes for Better Relationships
Chapter 4: Small Changes for a Healthier, More Creative Mind
Chapter 5: Small Change at Work
Chapter 6: Small Change for More Happiness
Conclusion: A Little Pep Talk

Applying small changes to your life follows five rules according to the book: 1) Look Closely at What You Do Every Day; 2) Make Only One Change at a Time; 3) Make Small Change a Constant in Your Life; 4) Trust the Power of Small Change, and Remember, It Will Add Up; and 5) Enjoy Making Small Changes.  All this makes a lot of sense, and it's close to being a "duh!" concept except for the fact that most of us never follow it.  We try to make lots of sweeping changes at once, and few stick.  If instead you make one small change at a time, you can focus completely on that change, incorporate it into your life, and let the rewards start accumulating.  For instance, on the exercise side you might commit to taking the stairs once a day.  It's tempting to say you'll NEVER take the elevator again, but that will fail.  If you can commit to taking the stairs the first time in the morning, then you will have climbed an untold number of stairs by the end of the year and burned far more calories than you would have otherwise.  It's the same concept with fidgeting... tap your toes, pace, or do some other little movement during regular events.  It's been shown that small stuff like that can burn 300 to 500 more calories a day.  Think of what THAT would do for you over a year.

I personally was impacted by the section on making small changes in your conversation.  I need to focus on that, by looking at certain habits like being the Prosecutor, the Fact Checker, or the I Top You conversationalist.  They have 14 different traits listed in this section, and most everyone is guilty of at least one or more.  My goal will not to be to change all of them at once, as that goes against the rule of changing just one thing at a time.  But once I have one addressed to a significant degree, I can move on to the next.  And perhaps in six to twelve months, I will have one area of my life better managed. :)

Small Change definitely goes against the conventional method of making sweeping changes all at once (and failing).  But there's a much better chance you'll take something away from this book that will make a difference in your life if you're patient enough to trust that the small change *will* add up over time...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

01/01/2010

Book Review - Depraved Indifference by Joseph Teller

Category Book Review Joseph Teller Depraved Indifference
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From the Amazon Vine review program came an entertaining read... Depraved Indifference by Joseph Teller.  This legal thriller uses Teller's Jaywalker character, but that meant little to me as I've not read any of Teller's prior books.  That'll change after reading this one.  Teller writes a tight and witty novel that's fun to read and has a number of unexpected twists at the end.  And I didn't even get too bogged down in the personal crusade he soapboxes on here.

Harrison J. Walker, aka Jaywalker, is working off his disciplinary suspension from practicing law due to a "minor indiscretion" on his last case.  A "chance" encounter brings him into *close* contact with one Amanda Drake, the wife of Clark Drake who is charged with nine counts of murder.  He was driving drunk when he allegedly ran a van off the road, leading to the burning deaths of all the occupants, eight of which were children.  Jaywalker knows the case will nearly be impossible to win, as the kids were Jewish and the case is being tried in a heavily Jewish community in New York.  But his checkbook changes his mind when Amanda offers a $5000 retainer on the spot.  No matter that he legally can't represent anyone quite yet.  That's just a technicality until he can get reinstated and officially take the case over...

Clark is acknowledging that he had been drinking, but that he was far from drunk.  The erratic driving was due to a hornet being trapped in the car, and he was trying to swat it with a rolled-up newspaper.  It makes sense when you know that he is severely allergic to bee stings, but can Jaywalker convince a jury of that?  The deeper he digs, the more Jaywalker is convinced that he's being played by Amanda, that there's a side of the whole story that isn't being told to anyone, much less him.  As the case actually starts in front of the jury, new revelations are coming fast and furious, and Jaywalker has to figure out on the spot how best to play the new information.  One mistake can mean the difference between his client's freedom or life behind bars.

It was quite easy to get into this novel.  The Jaywalker character is irreverent and street-wise, and Teller's writing reflects that well.  The story kept me hanging as to what piece of information wasn't being told.  And even when I got to the end with the plot twist I expected, the action wasn't over.  Also, while I normally get very impatient with novel writers that have some agenda to push, it didn't bother me here.  He's pointing out that thousands of people drive drunk every day, and it's considered a "normal" crime.  But if someone dies as a result of the same person driving drunk, it suddenly becomes an action characterized by "depraved indifference" to life.  According to Teller, it's either *always* depraved indifference or it never is.  You can't add a characteristic of motive based solely on outcome.  While I may not agree emotionally with him, he does have a point...

Depraved Indifference was a great read and excellent entertainment.  I'll definitely be going back to catch up on the earlier exploits of Jaywalker.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Amazon Vine Review Program
Payment: Free

01/01/2010

Book Review - U.S. Army Hand-to-Hand Combat - Department of the Army

Category Book Review Department of the Army U.S. Army Hand-to-Hand Combat
A picture named M2

So if you're interested in hand-to-hand combat, you'd think the US Army might be a decent authority on the subject.  Our library recently got a copy of U.S. Army Hand-to-Hand Combat in for lending, and I thought I'd give it a look.  The first thing you should know in terms of setting expectations is that this is from the Army field manual 21-150, dated June 14, 1954... yeah, 1954.  Granted, in 55 years the human body still has the same weak spots and strike points to do major damage in a fight.  But in terms of readability and photographic illustration, things *have* advanced.  What I found here is that this book is a strange mix of information and (unintended) humor...

The manual covers a variety of subjects, such as vulnerable points, knife attacks, silencing sentries, fall position and throws, holds and escapes, disarming methods, and prisoner handling.  While I don't expect to have to silence any sentries or handle any prisoners in the foreseeable future, learning how to find and exploit vulnerable points could be a lifesaver if you find yourself in a position of having to defend yourself against an attacker.  And for vulnerable points, it's really more brute force than technique.  If there's an opening for you to go for the groin or nose, do it.  Many of the other chapters would involve extensive practice before you could pull off the maneuvers.  And since the goal is to react first without thinking, that sort of negates the short-term advantage of reading this material.

I would recommend that you take the advice and information in this book very carefully, however.  The goal in many of the points here is to kill the attacker.  Not disable, not subdue, but flat-out kill.  If you were to be attacked on the street, you might find yourself in an awkward position legally if you over-react and kill your attacker if it's found that deadly force was not appropriate.  On the other hand, in our current society I think you almost *have* to assume that any conflict might well end up escalating to a point of using deadly force.  There are some seriously disturbed people out there...

Humor-wise, you have to love the stilted pictures and poses of the people showing the moves.  Think cheesy 1950's style pictures, and you're pretty close.  Two (or more) men in military garb, posing for attack, all with blank expressions on their faces.  Combat is such a sterile sport... :)

Also a word of warning for those reading this review on Amazon... The product description of this book is flat-out wrong.  I don't know what book they're describing, but this one has *nothing* to do with XM320 grenade launchers and future combat systems...

There's value to be had here in terms of self-defense techniques.  But unless you're into retro-defense arts, there are probably far more useful and effective books out there for you.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed

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