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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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03/31/2010

Book Review - Kiss 'Em Goodbye: An ESPN Treasury of Failed, Forgotten, and Departed Teams by Dennis Purdy

Category Book Review Dennis Purdy Kiss 'Em Goodbye: An ESPN Treasury of Failed Forgotten and Departed Teams
A picture named M2

Every major sporting league (and every minor league, for that matter) has a number of franchises that have a color past.  And that's *all* they have, because they don't exist any longer in their original form.  Dennis Purdy sets out to recall these stories in his book Kiss 'Em Goodbye: An ESPN Treasury of Failed, Forgotten, and Departed Teams.  Even my current locale (Portland Oregon) has a mention with its brief foray into "major league" football with the Boston/New Orleans/Portland Breakers of the United States Football League.  With each chapter ranging from three to seven pages, this is a fun and convenient book to pick up for a few minutes when you want a break.  And you'll definitely be amazed with what passed for "professional" over the years...

Without taking the time to break down the numbers by sports, it seems like many of the chapters cover  baseball teams from the late 1800's to almost current times.  For instance, the Baltimore Orioles of the National League existed by that name and ownership from 1892 to 1899.  The team was known for some "interesting" tactics, like keeping the grass in the outfield long so that extra balls could be hidden for the outfielders to find if they lost the actual ball in play.  The Boston Braves were a longer-lived franchise, existing from 1876 through 1952, when they became the first NL team in the 20th century to relocate to a new city (Milwaukee).  Interspersed throughout the team stories, you find out that there was little regulation of the sport back then. Gambling and game-fixing was common, as were deals designed to raid players from other teams.  Teams could play as many or as few games as they wanted, and there was no predetermined way to tell actually who ended up as the league champion.  Looking back,  you could say that almost everything done back then would have had an asterisk in today's record books.

But if you're not into baseball, Purdy has the other sports covered.  Football, women's softball/baseball, world team tennis... even roller derby!  Basically, if the team had a colorful history and it no longer exists in its original form, there's a possibility that it might make an appearance here.  I personally remember being a Los Angeles Rams football fan growing up in the mid- to late 60's.  It seemed as if they would always do well during regular season, but somehow fail come playoff time.  After reading Kiss 'Em Goodbye, I now understand why... :)  This is one of those books that's simply fun to read, will bring back a few memories (depending on how old you are), and will leave you with a greater appreciation of what it took to get to where we are today.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/31/2010

Book Review - Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success by Jessica Pryce-Jones

Category Book Review Jessica Pryce-Jones Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success
A picture named M2

On occasion, I'll be offered a book for reading/reviewing that seems to come at a very opportune time.  This ended up being one of those books... Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success by Jessica Pryce-Jones.  There's no argument that the typical workplace has changed dramatically in the last few years, and I know my reactions have changed along with it.  I've been having problems trying to wrap my thoughts around the "why" and "what now" aspects, and this book has given me some new perspectives and insights on things.

Contents:
Prologue; Why Happiness at Work? Why Now?; The Research Journey; Contribution from the Inside-Out; Contribution from the Outside-In; Conviction; Culture; Commitment; Confidence; Pride, Trust, and Recognition; Achieving Your Potential; Happiness at Work: A Conclusion; What Next; References Dramatis Personae; Index

Pryce-Jones bases her work on 5 Cs that form the basis for your level of happiness at work:

- Contribution - your effort and achievement (inside-out) as well as respect and appreciation (outside-in)
- Conviction - your motivation and feeling that you make a difference
- Culture - your work environment and how well you fit into that culture in terms of behavior and interactions
- Commitment - feeling that what you're doing is worthwhile, as well as having a positive feeling towards the work and organization
- Confidence - belief that you can handle the jobs, tasks, and interactions expected of you

Wrapped around these 5Cs are the concepts of Pride, Trust, and Recognition.  Pride is having the feelings of value based on what you do and where you're headed.  Trust is having faith in the organization, that they will deliver on what is promised and that they can be believed.  And finally, Recognition is the acknowledgement from others based on what you do and how you do it.  When all of these are considered as a whole and are present for you, you end up with a high level of happiness in your workplace which translates into a much higher level of productivity and satisfaction.

Depending on where you're at and what you're experiencing, you'll likely find that different parts of the book resonate at different levels.  For me, the chapter on Confidence hit me hard, due to a number of technology changes we're going through.  When you go from being "the expert" to not having all the answers any more, it *definitely* causes your confidence (and by extension your happiness) to take a hit.  Fortunately, Pryce-Jones doesn't just leave me stranded in the no-confidence zone.  There are solid and concrete ways to address that problem, and I need to take a serious look at changes there.  I also reacted strongly to the Trust aspect of the Happiness equation, mostly due to the ever-increasing precarious balance between workload, resources, and budget.  It's dangerously easy to become cynical over words and actions, and again that doesn't do much for one's happiness and satisfaction at work.

Another aspect of the book that makes it valuable is the sidebar entries from real people in real situations.  A majority of the pages have sidebar margin stories that relate to the happiness aspect being discussed, and those stories move this book from "just another framework" to something that actually matches up with how things work in the real world.  Without these stories, I probably would have found myself considering many of the concepts in an academic and theoretical fashion, not applying them to my own reality.  With the stories to flesh out the ideas, that wasn't a problem.

Happiness at Work is a very good book for understanding aspects of work that traditionally aren't considered "important."  And if you're struggling with a job (either new or long-term) that doesn't seem to have that "spark", you may find out why (as well as how to change yourself and get re-centered),

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

03/28/2010

Book Review - Advice My Parents Gave Me: and Other Lessons I Learned from My Mistakes by Rodolfo Costa

Category Book Review Rodolfo Costa Advice My Parents Gave Me: and Other Lessons I Learned from My Mistakes
A picture named M2

In this short (120 pages), Rodolfo Costa has compiled a list of advice, sayings, and adages that he's learned over the years and that has improved his life... Advice My Parents Gave Me: and Other Lessons I Learned from My Mistakes.  The style of the book isn't such that you get an in-depth examination of any particular element, nor is this a method to follow to get from A to Z.  They're short numbered "bullet points" (409 in all) that will hit you at different levels depending on where you're at during your particular journey in life.

The advice and wisdom is generally grouped into areas such as attitude, goals, patience/moving forward, and confidence.  Some of the one-liners are very similar to ones you have heard before, like "Do not leave for tomorrow what you can do today."  Others don't appear to be so close to Franklin-esque words, like "Do not be embarrassed to say, 'I don't know.' It is amazing how much you can learn just by admitting that."  Both types of advice are worth understanding, contemplating, and making part of your mindset, but sometimes familiarity with certain words can cause you to just brush right over the writing without thinking.

I generally hate being told how I should read a book, but this is one of those titles that really does dictate a certain reading style.  You can sit down and read the whole thing in less than an hour.  Odds are that you'll get little impact that way, though.  Taking a page or two a day would be much more effective so you can let the words work their way into your mind and make changes in the way you think and act.

If you get the chance to read Advice My Parents Gave Me, it's worth doing so.  Finding two or three gems that talk to you can make all the difference in the world.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

03/27/2010

Book Review - U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton

Category Book Review Sue Grafton U is for Undertow
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I've been a long-time Sue Grafton fan, and have kept pace with all the letters of the alphabet as they've come out.  I find it remarkable that a single author has been able to keep a series going for so long without rehashing the same material over and over.  Having said that, it seems that the last few installments in the Kinsey Millhone series have been a bit hit-or-miss lot for me.  I was happy to see a new book in the series, U Is For Undertow, as it's been a very long time since the last one.  As I started reading, I was starting to wonder if it was time for me to retire from this series, as U was a bit slow to start with.  But as the story continued with the flashbacks that worked their way up to the time frame of the main plot, it picked up speed and turned out pretty well.  

In Undertow, Millhone is pulled into a case that she doesn't care much about.  A young girl was kidnapped in Santa Teresa 20 years prior, and she was never found.  From out of the blue, a guy named Michael Sutton appears in Millhone's office with the thought that he may have seen the body buried as a young child playing in a forested area.  He wants Millhone's help in finding the exact location after all these years, but she's convinced it's a long shot.  Turns out they *are* able to find the location and grave, but it is really just a dog that was buried.  However, during her investigation she turns up enough information to have her wondering what games Sutton might be playing, and whether he might really know more than he thinks he does.

In a subplot that plays heavy in the book, Millhone also finds out that her grandmother isn't quite the person she expected.  Millhone's parents were killed when she was very young, and she was raised by her aunt in a very formal, matter-of-fact environment.  She was under the impression that her grandmother had never cared for her or even tried to reach out when she was young, but a series of letters are given to her which prove otherwise.  Yet, even though Grand did try and get custody after the accident, the reasons why might still not be all that comforting.

At first, I really struggled to get into Undertow.  Sutton wasn't all that interesting, the angle didn't seem to have much direction to go after the dog was found, and the flashbacks seemed to take awhile to relate to the plot.  But once the threads started to touch, the pages turned a bit more quickly as I waited to see how the endgame would play out.

I'm not sure that Grafton's next novel (what will V be?) will be on my "must read immediately" list, but I will look forward to seeing how she starts to shape what would appear to be the ending of the series with only five letters left.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/23/2010

Meridian IT Inc. Announces its IBM Sametime Unified Telephony Center of Excellence

Category IBM/Lotus
Meridian IT Inc. Announces its IBM Sametime Unified Telephony Center of Excellence

VOICECON, ORLANDO, FL. March 23, 2010 – Meridian IT Inc., a Meridian Group International, Inc. company, announced today plans for a Sametime Unified Telephony (SUT) Center of Excellence.  

The Meridian SUT Center of Excellence, located in Deerfield, Illinois at Meridian's IBM Business Partner Innovation Center, responds to clients' needs for a source of expertise to integrate disparate communications and collaboration systems and teams.

"Sametime has evolved from its beginnings as chat tool into a communication hub. Sametime products now link Instant Messaging, voice and video." said David Price, IBM Unified Communications and Collaboration Practice Manager at Meridian IT Inc. "Products like SUT and Sametime 8.5 have tremendous power but require experience that often resides outside of the collaboration and messaging teams in order to realize the full value from these products. Meridian created the SUT Center of Excellence to address our clients' needs for this expertise."

The SUT Center of Excellence can eliminate risk and allow organizations to maximize the value of their current technology investment. Meridian offers IBM unified communications & collaboration expertise around solutions from Cisco, Avaya, 3Com, Polycom and others.

"With the new trends emerging around communication and collaboration today, it's becoming ever more important to work side-by-side with clients to understand their needs," said Bruce Morse, IBM Vice President of Unified Communications Software. "The new SUT Center of Excellence does just this -- providing clients with the expertise to deploy a communications and collaboration solution into their business securely."

IBM Lotus Sametime serves as the foundational bridge between a client's collaboration, voice and video environments and Meridian extends the unified experience to IBM Lotus Quickr, IBM Lotus Connections, IBM Lotus Notes and Domino, and IBM WebSphere Portal.

As an international systems integrator with offices on three continents, Meridian Group operates two IBM Business Partner Innovation Centers -- one in the United States and one in Australia. These centers allow customers to experience IBM's latest software solutions, along with voice, video and data solutions from Avaya, Cisco, 3Com, Polycom, HP, EMC and others. Offering customers 30 years' IT experience, Meridian, as a certified top-level partner with providers of solutions for the unified communications and collaboration environment, meets the technology, integration, consulting and service needs of today's enterprises.

Meridian's recent certification in the IBM Software Value Plus initiative provides the foundation for the SUT Center of Excellence. This initiative authorizes Meridian to sell IBM Information Management, WebSphere, Tivoli and Lotus software. This initiative is designed to meet the demands of clients who are looking to drive more value from their technology investments by working with trusted partners with proven skills to quickly and effectively implement new infrastructures. It sets Meridian apart to help clients achieve their business goals.

ABOUT MERIDIAN IT INC.:  
Meridian IT is a global technology solutions provider built on IT Infrastructure experience, a powerful leasing portfolio and team of expert engineers. With 30 years of financial stability, a diverse solution portfolio and deep understanding of our customers' long-term needs, we design and implement solutions that leverage emerging technologies to meet your company's business objectives.
Solution Areas: Data Center, Virtualization, Storage, Servers, Security, Collaboration, and Finance
For more information, please visit
www.meridianitinc.com

03/23/2010

IBM and ShoreTel Announce General Availability of ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations

Category IBM/Lotus
IBM and ShoreTel Announce General Availability of ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations
SMBs Show Early Preference for "UCC-in -a-Box" Integrated Communications and Collaboration Solution


VOICECON, ORLANDO, Fla., March 23, 2010 –
ShoreTel (NASDAQ; SHOR), the leading provider of brilliantly simple IP phone systems with fully integrated Unified Communications (UC), and IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that general availability of ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations is planned for April, 2010. ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations is a unique unified communications and collaboration (UCC) offering for small and midsize businesses.

This affordable, "UCC-in-a-box" solution is designed for the SMB budget and combines comprehensive enterprise-class UCC features, including mobility, security, email, presence, instant messaging and advanced IP telephony, in an appliance-based solution. With survival dial tone and built-in redundancy, ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations contains integrated intelligent data backup for enterprise-level reliability. The solution is quick and easy to deploy in just a few clicks, and does not require on-site expertise, so SMBs can focus on running their business, not IT.

By leveraging ShoreTel's unique IP-based communication technology, IBM's Lotus Sametime's Unified Communications & Collaboration platform and IBM innovations such as autonomic self-healing and self-managing features, ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations brings powerful, affordable and easy to manage communication features to the SMB market for the first time.

The ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations solution has already been successfully deployed and used at several SMB customer locations.

"We were moving into a new office space and needed the features of an enterprise-level phone system that would meet the resource restrictions of a smaller company. ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations met all of our requirements and reduced the amount of additional infrastructure required, while leveraging our existing infrastructure to reduce the total cost of ownership, said Jason Dill, Senior Technical Consultant, TeamCentric Technologies, Missouri.  "Now we have all the enterprise-level features we need and full integration with IBM Lotus Notes applications and clients so our end users have everything they need at their fingertips to communicate and collaborate more effectively."


NEWS HIGHLIGHTS


ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations delivers UCC to the SMB in an innovative, cost-effective and brilliantly simple manner. This breakthrough solution offers powerful and easy-to-manage UCC features to businesses requiring less than 500 phone lines, including:
-- Users are automatically added on the appliance and PBX
-- Basic PBX features and functions are autonomically configured

-- Users can self-configure phones by plugging into an Ethernet jack
-- A reduction in set up time

A growing number of resellers are already engaging with ShoreTel distributor, ScanSource Communications, to offer this solution.

"The solution from ShoreTel, Sametime and Foundations is a great fit for small and mid-sized businesses who want to deploy a unified communications and collaboration solution into their business quickly and securely," said Bruce Morse, IBM vice president of unified communications software. ""t's clear that ShoreTel is an innovator in delivering UC solutions that measure up in terms of simplicity, cost, functionality, scale and reliability, and we are delighted to be moving forward together in this growing technology space."

"Small businesses don’t have the same financial resources as larger enterprises, but they do expect the same reliability, flexibility, and powerful features from their communications system," said John W. Combs, CEO and president, ShoreTel.  "With the release of ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations, we’re offering the industry’s first full-featured unified communications and collaboration solution at an affordable price point and without the overhead of other, more complex solutions."

VoiceCon 2010 attendees can view a demonstration of ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations by visiting ShoreTel booths #909 and #917.

"Together, IBM and ShoreTel are delivering a solution that will allow for a comprehensive UC offering, enabling our reseller community to help improve the way end users communicate in a business setting," said Buck Baker, president, ScanSource Communications. "As the only source for this innovative UC solution, resellers will be pleased to know that ScanSource Communications can help configure and integrate the solution, as well as offer financing support, education and training opportunities and marketing services to help them better promote their business, all while the reseller focuses on enhancing and strengthening their sales and customer service."

About IBM:

For more information about IBM Unified Communications & Collaboration, please visit
www.ibm.com/software/lotus/unified-communications

About ShoreTel, Inc.

ShoreTel, Inc. (NASDAQ: SHOR) is the provider of brilliantly simple Unified Communication (UC) solutions based on its award-winning IP business phone system. We offer organizations of all sizes integrated, voice, video, data, and mobile communications on an open, distributed IP architecture that helps significantly reduce the complexity and costs typically associated with other solutions. The feature-rich ShoreTel UC system offers the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) and the highest customer satisfaction in the industry, in part because it is easy to deploy, manage, scale and use. Increasingly, companies around the world are finding a competitive edge by replacing business-as-usual with new thinking, and choosing ShoreTel to handle their integrated business communication. ShoreTel is based in Sunnyvale, California, and has regional offices in Austin, Texas, United Kingdom, Sydney, Australia and Munich, Germany. For more information, visit
www.shoretel.com.


IBM and Lotus are trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation in the United States, other countries or both.  

03/21/2010

Book Review - The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever by Cliff Atkinson

Category Book Review Cliff Atkinson The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever
A picture named M2

I've been in conferences where people have twittered about the content, session, speaker, etc.  But rarely have I seen a speaker take advantage of that backchannel conversation in order to shape and improve the quality of the presentation.  Cliff Atkinson has written a book that every speaker (especially in the technical arena) should have high on their reading list... The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever.  It's critical to understanding exactly what Twitter brings into the presentation mix, whether you want it to be there or not.

Contents:
Why Are You Calling Me a #@*% on Twitter?; How to Join a Twitter Backchannel; The Rewards of the Backchannel; The Risks of the Backchannel; Preparing for the Backchannel; Making Your Ideas Twitter-Friendly; Joining the Backchannel in Conversation; Handling Instant Feedback from the Backchannel; Holding Together the Backchannel Experience; Appendix A - The Four Tweets Worksheet; Appendix B - The Twn Tweets Worksheet; Index

The first part of the book starts out fairly basic, especially if you're already aware of how Twitter can enhance a conference.  Complete with some strong real-life examples, Atkinson shows how Twitter can be both a distraction and a benefit to a speaker, depending on whether they are prepared to deal with statements and opinions that may not be entirely complementary.  Once you accept the fact that Twitter *will* be active during your presentation, Atkinson demonstrates how you can actively engage that backchannel and make your ideas more twitter-friendly.  For instance, your key points should be such that they fit in the 140-character limit of Twitter.  In fact, you can even use the "Four Tweets" concept to develop the outline of your presentation, making the entire session geared for twittering and sharing.  You can really dive in deeply if you'd like and use his concept for a Twitter break to allow people to offer feedback which then gets incorporated into the next element of the presentation.  Nothing like having real-time feedback as you talk...

This book surprised me to a degree.  I expected it to be a basic "here's Twitter, and did you know people tweet about you when you talk?" volume.  I was wrong.  I hadn't considered managing the backchannel to the degree that Atkinson explains, but I now see how it's possible and how it's beneficial to do so.  These concepts, as well as the likelihood of a strong audience backchannel, seems like it would be more prevalent for tech presentations and conferences.  But as Twitter continues to become more mainstream, I think that speakers *have* to be aware of how Twitter is going to function during your talk, whether you like the idea or not.

Yes, it does seem like speakers have a ton of stuff to consider and incorporate in order to have a successful presentation.  For better or worse, you now have one more... Twitter.  The Backchannel should be on your reading list for both awareness of what happens during your presentation and for how to manage that conversation for the benefit of all involved.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

03/21/2010

IBM Lotus Notes 'names.nsf' Open Redirection Vulnerability

Category IBM/Lotus
From SecurityFocus: IBM Lotus Notes 'names.nsf' Open Redirection Vulnerability

Bugtraq ID: 38852 Class: Input Validation Error CVE: Remote: Yes Local: No Published: Mar 19 2010 12:00AM Updated: Mar 19 2010 12:00AM Credit: Yaniv Miron aka "Lament" Vulnerable: IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.6
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.5
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.4
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.3
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.2
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.1
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5
IBM Lotus Notes 6.0.5
IBM Lotus Notes 6.0.4
IBM Lotus Notes 6.0.3
IBM Lotus Notes 6.0.2
IBM Lotus Notes 6.0.1
IBM Lotus Notes 6.0
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.6 FP2
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.5 FP3
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5.5 FP2

Not Vulnerable:

IBM Lotus Notes is prone to an open-redirection vulnerability because the application fails to properly sanitize user-supplied input.

A successful exploit may aid in phishing attacks; other attacks are possible.

Lotus Notes 6.x is vulnerable; other versions may also be affected.


An attacker can exploit this issue by enticing an unsuspecting victim into following a malicious URI.

The following example POST data is available:

POST /names.nsf?Login HTTP/1.1

Connection: Keep-Alive

%25%25ModDate=xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx&Username=yyyy+zzzz&Password=aaaaaa&RedirectTo=http://www.example.com&SaveOptions=0&...


Solution:
Currently we are not aware of any vendor-supplied patches. If you feel we are in error or if you are aware of more recent information, please mail us at: vuldb@securityfocus.com.


References:

03/20/2010

Book Review - Freedom (TM) by Daniel Suarez

Category Book Review Daniel Suarez Freedom (TM)
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I read Daniel Suarez's book Daemon about a year ago when it first came out without much fanfare.  I wasn't expecting much, but it was a great cyberthriller that I struggled to put down (and I was supposed to be at a conference!).  The follow-up to Daemon is Freedom (TM), which picks up where Daemon leaves off.  I didn't like it quite as much as Daemon, but it was still a very good read.  My main recommendation is to try and read them back-to-back, as most of the backstory on the characters is covered in Daemon, and you'll lose a great deal of nuance without it.

Freedom has the Daemon firmly in charge of the world's computer systems, and actively destroys anyone or anything that tries to kill it off.  It's also co-opted a growing number of real-life people that it controls as part of the "darknet" and uses to accomplish goals that need real-world involvement.  Both the government and mega-corporations are trying to find ways to take over Daemon to use for their own purposes, and the darknet operatives are actively killing off individuals who are leading those efforts.  Peter Sebeck, one of the main characters, is chosen by the Daemon to fulfill a quest which is being actively followed by both friends and foes alike.  He's a reluctant "hero" to many, and doesn't know what or where this quest will lead, except that it apparently has to do with preventing the growing new reality from being snuffed out by those who want to maintain the status quo and continue to rule and dominate the world.  As he draws ever closer to the final conflict, he will have to make some decisions that will affect every remaining person on the planet.

Suarez does an excellent job in painting a world taken over by a network that has become part of everything computerized.  His depiction of the darknet and the augmented reality seen by using special glasses was especially well done, as it in many ways mirrors parts of what the internet has become.  I probably would have liked this even better had there not been a year between reading the first and second novels (as well as about 200 other books read in between those two).  I think I lost a bit of the character color that would have helped me get into the story much more quickly.  

Regardless of that time gap, Freedom (along with Daemon) are high up on any recommended cyber novel reading list I might put together.  I truly hope to see and enjoy more novels by Suarez in the future.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed

03/17/2010

Book Review - The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker

Category Book Review Ted Dekker The Bride Collector
A picture named M2

As part of the Amazon Vine review program, I recently selected the book The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker as one of my review items.  I've not had the opportunity to read any of Dekker's works before, and the psychological thriller sounded like a decent way to spend a few evenings.  Overall, the book was enjoyable.  I'd have liked it to be a bit tighter in places where the action seemed to drag, but there were definitely enough characters to keep my interest.

Brad Raines is an FBI special agent who tends to end up with very complex and gruesome murder cases.  In this instance, he's responsible for someone who is abducting women, gluing their naked bodies to the wall, placing a wedding veil on their heads, and letting them bleed out through two holes drilled in their heels.  Definitely not your run-of-the-mill murderer...  The killer's pace is accelerating, and he's not leaving anything behind in the way of forensic evidence that can be used to track him down.  It's only once he starts leaving notes behind for Raines that there's any sort of trail to follow.  And the trail is quite warped.  He is presenting these women to God, and is working up to his perfect offering.  In desperation, Raines turns to a patient who is living in an institution for the mentally ill.  She is supposedly able to touch a body and see the event that killed the person.  Raines isn't all that open to the possibility, but he has little else to go on.  And when events start getting extremely personal and close to home, Raines is forced to confront his own demons along with those of others in order to stop the killer and save the ones he loves.

The way the story is structured, you know who the murderer is right off.  The story bounces back and forth between the killer and Raines, so the payoff isn't the "who dun it" resolution at the end.  Instead, it's more along the lines of seeing whether Raines will be able to stop him before he can claim his final victim.  Dekker also touches on issues such as the mentally ill, spirituality, abuse, and a few other themes that will allow the reader to ponder such topics if they so choose.  In the middle of the story, things slow down a bit, and it seems as if we're just killing time before the end game comes into play.  I also felt as if some of the characters, especially Nikki Holden, were less developed than I would have expected.  It may be that this isn't the first novel with the Raines character, in which case I could understand it.  But I still felt as if I was missing something in terms of the depth of some of the people...

I'd have no problems heading over to the library and starting to catch up on some prior Dekker novels.  The Bride Collector was worth reading, and if his other novels are as good as this one, I'd enjoy them.

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

03/13/2010

Book Review - Windows 7: Up and Running: A Quick, Hands-On Introduction by Wei-Meng Lee

Category Book Review Wei-Meng Lee Windows 7: Up and Running: A Quick Hands-On Introduction
A picture named M2

I have all the computers in my house now running on Windows 7 (having for the most part skipped Vista), but there's still a bit of the "so how do I do this..." going on.  I've found that the book Windows 7: Up and Running: A Quick, Hands-On Introduction by Wei-Meng Lee is an excellent guide to get you to that point of relative competency on Windows 7, while also showing you some of the cool new stuff you can do with it.  I probably would have done much better had I read this earlier in my Windows 7 experience.

Contents:
Installing Windows 7; Getting Around Windows 7; File Sharing; Security; Essential Applications; Internet Explorer 8; Using Windows XP Mode; Windows 7 Tips and Tricks; Index

Lee starts out from the very beginning, and that's getting Windows 7 installed.  After that's done, he works you through the environment, both in terms of navigation and on how certain core features operate, like the Task Bar, the Action Center, and more.  Once you can get around, he digs deeper into some of the significant Windows 7 features such as Bit Locker, HomeGroup file sharing, and running apps in XP mode.  While this wouldn't replace a 700 page in-depth reference to everything that is Windows 7, it hits its intended target perfectly at around 185 pages.  This is the book you'd give the basic computer user to figure out most of what they'd need to know, and they'd probably be able to figure it out and get around on their own.  Lee's done a good job with both describing the features and backing them up with screen prints to illustrate and clarify.

And to prove that it doesn't take much to amuse me... I knew a fair amount of the material in the book, but there were still things in there that I just had to try out.  For instance, I didn't know about Aero Shake.  Grab the title bar of an open window, click and hold and shake the window, and all the other open windows minimize down to the task bar.  Slick!  Aero Snap, dragging the app over to the left or right of the screen and having it snap to half the available screen, was also a cool feature I didn't know about.  And in the category of useless (for me) but fun was the Math Input Panel.  You free-form your math equation in a screen with your mouse, and the application creates the font version of it.  It may take a few tries to get a good translation, but it can work on the translation as you go, so you can correct it at the point of the error.  It was also fun just to mess with its little mind, scribble on the screen, and see what it tried to come up with. :)

Bottom line,  Windows 7: Up and Running is the perfect mix of basic and intermediate information that takes aim at a particular target audience and hits it dead-on.  As we migrate to Windows 7 at work, I have a feeling that my copy of this book might end up passing through a few different sets of hands.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

03/09/2010

Book Review - Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk

Category Book Review Gary Vaynerchuk Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion
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Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk is one of those books I see coming up repeatedly on blogs I follow and with people I follow on Twitter.  So, in order to find out why this book is so popular, I got a copy from our local library and gave it a quick read.  And at only 142 pages, it *is* a quick read.  But what Vaynerchuk has to say can, if taken to heart and practiced, make a significant difference in your life, career, and passion.

Content:
Passion Is Everything; Success Is In Your DNA; Build Your Personal Brand; A Whole New World; Create Great Content; Choose Your Platform; Keep It Real... Very Real; Create Community - Digging Your Internet Trench; The Best Marketing Strategy Ever; Make the World Listen; Start Monetizing; Roll With It; Legacy Is Greater Than Currency; Conclusion - The Time Is Now, The Message Is Forever

Vaynerchuk makes his case that due to the rise of social networking tools like blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and vidcasts/podcasts, anyone can take their passion and share it with others.  You can establish and build a personal "brand" that is uniquely yours.  Let's say that you are a cashier at a clothing store, but your real passion lies in photography.  When you start talking to others about that topic, your eyes light up and you could go on for hours.  If you are willing to take that passion and work very hard to share what you know with others, you can "crush it" in that area and draw an ever-increasing audience who are interested in the same thing.  And once you get an audience and traffic, dollars in the way of advertising and sponsors can shortly follow.  It's not a matter of just sticking a blog entry out every four or five days, though.  Vaynerchuk uses his own examples with his Wine Library TV site to show how passion, branding, and honesty translate into a community that looks to him for truthful and entertaining information about the world of wine.  While he does sell wine, the videos and writings are not all designed to sell his own merchandise or a particular brand.  Instead, he's looking to share his passion for the subject, knowing that people who come to him *will* likely come back again when they *do* want to buy something.

From the technology side, Vaynerchuk does a good job in showing the power of the social media tools that are out there for you to use.  It costs nothing to set up a blog, a Facebook account, or a Twitter account.  The cost of entry to start this is nearly non-existent.  To create podcasts or vidcasts is almost as cheap, as the tools you need to get started can run you less than $200.  Once that's all in place, the only thing left is you.  He's the first to admit that the type of passion he's talking about is something that keeps you up until the wee hours of the morning, but it's something that you are ready to jump back into as soon as you wake up.  If you're willing to work that hard for something you love, you can turn your passion into your livelihood.

Is this all realistic?  Yes, in my opinion it's all very possible.  Will *everyone* who attempts this be able to quit their day job and become wealthy doing what they love? No, but Vaynerchuk would argue that true happiness and passion isn't measured by a six figure paycheck.  Yeah, it'd be nice, and it does work that way for some.  But if you're doing something you love to do, you *can* make a big difference in your life and the lives of others.

Crush It! is a bold statement, and Gary Vaynerchuk is a passionate, outspoken proponent for what you can do to turn your passion into your career.  You may not agree with him fully, or you may begin to see the seeds of your own rise from a job to an avocation, a life centered around something you're passionate about.  Either way, you'll have plenty to think about after reading his book.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library

Payment: Borrowed

03/09/2010

Book Review - The Imposter - How a Juvenile Criminal Succeeded in Business and Life by Kip Kreiling

Category Book Review Kip Kreiling The Imposter - How a Juvenile Criminal Succeeded in Business and Life
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I was recently contacted by Kip Kreiling, the author of The Imposter - How a Juvenile Criminal Succeeded in Business and Life, asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing his book.  The subject matter sounded interesting... basically how he overcame a *very* rough life of crime and substance abuse as a kid growing up, turning his life around with some transformational principles he learned along the way.  I must say I was quite impressed with his book.  It's well written with a message of hope and possibilities, even for those who seem to have thrown it all away.

Kreiling's childhood was not an easy one.  With a stepfather who was physically abusive, Kreiling spent much of his time on his own and away from any close personal contact with parental or adult guidance.  This led to early (and repeated) episodes of crime, failures in school, and addictions to just about every drug you could find on the streets.  Even during low points when he wanted to turn things around, it didn't take long before he found himself back in the same patterns, unable to break out of the cycles that he found himself locked into.  This all changed around the age of 16 when he had a massive overdose of a new drug he had never used before.  After eight hours of unrelenting physical and emotional torment, he cried out to God (as he knew him then) to plead for his life.  When he finally came down off the drugs, he started his transformation and began working through the changes that would take him from where he was then to what he is today... a successful businessman, happily married with kids, who helps others overcome the major obstacles in their own lives.

His transformation principles are simple, but can carry you past the road blocks that are there in front of you.  #1 - You can completely change. #2 - Turn your transformation goal into an imperative - turn it into a compelling desire.  #3 - By changing what you believe, you change who you are.  #4 - By changing your actions, you can change who you are - Mind to Muscle to Metamorphosis.  #5 - By transforming your environment, you can transform who you are - The Fire Precedes the Bloom.  #6 - Do not make major changes in your life on your own, get resources to help you, such as time, people, experts, and sometimes money.  #7 - Focus on creating positives and eliminating negatives.  #8 - Optimism is essential to moving forward.  In and of themselves, these principles don't sound groundbreaking, but when you see them in action against the author's life, seeing how they changed him from someone who should have died before the age of 20 to what he is today, you realize that there is hope and possibility beyond where you are currently.

The Imposter is a great motivational read regardless of where you are. It helps you to realize that where you are at this point in your life is not where you have to be tomorrow.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

03/04/2010

Book Review - The Conch Killers by Chip Giles

Category Book Review Chip Giles The Conch Killers
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As I get further behind in my reading, I find myself saying "no" to more book offers than I used to.  It takes a bit more to break through my "I'd like to, but..." now.  But I'm a sucker for a good Florida crime genre novel, especially if it has a touch of Dorsey or Hiaasen in it.  When Chip Giles mentioned those two names in his email to offer me The Conch Killers, I had to relent and say yes to a copy.  And it was worth the read...  Tad Hunter and Ramon Garcia are two humorous additions to the wacky characters that make up the Florida literary landscape, and Giles could turn out to be a writer that I enjoy reading on a regular basis.

In Conch Killers, Hunter and Garcia are two ex-military drifters who live for sailing.  They've gotten out of "the life", which means they are no longer doing jobs for shadowy characters that skirt the boundaries of the law.  But they are drawn back when they are offered a large payout for a "simple" job... deliver a package in exchange for a kidnap victim, and bring the victim back to her family.  But of course, nothing is simple in the Florida Keys, and the job turns into a full-fledged mission with terrorists, guns, and dead bodies.  Along the way, there are luxury sailboats, obnoxious owners, people who aren't who they seem to be, and enough craziness to keep everyone confused and amused...

Giles has done a good job for a first novel.  Hunter and Garcia are a good character mix, with Hunter playing the semi-rational partner to Garcia's off-the-wall (and sometimes deadly) antics.  Given the type of characters they are, the dialog works well.  It's not how you'd talk or carry on every day yourself, but it fits the personalities.  The only major knock I have on the book is a situation that many self-published authors fall into... the lack of a solid editor to clean up the book.  It wasn't so much the story that needed help as the grammar and word usage.  I expect most books to have an incorrect word or two, such as their vs. there or bear vs. bare.  But The Conch Killers has far too many.  When I encountered the first one, I just let it go.  The second one about ten pages later gave me pause.  But when it got to be one every five pages or so, it really started to bug me.  Most of these could have been caught with a single reading by a relatively careful reader.  It's too bad, as it otherwise mars what would be a really good first novel.

Giles is in the process of writing his next novel, and I would look forward to reading it.  The Conch Killers was a nice diversion to the Florida Keys, and I hope Giles continues to flesh out Hunter and Garcia, and add to their list of adventures.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

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