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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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05/30/2010

Book Review - Revenge Served Cold by Jackie Fullerton

Category Book Review Jackie Fullerton Regence Served Cold
A picture named M2

I received an advanced reader copy of Jackie Fullerton's book Revenge Served Cold from the publicist promoting the book.  I needed some escape reading, and I hoped that this would fit the bill.  Overall, Revenge wasn't bad in terms of plot or action.  I struggled with the characters who weren't primary to the story, however.  Not sure if I missed an earlier installment or what, but there was little in the way of color to explain how they all came together and worked out the details of the crime.  

The main character is Katherine Spence, and she's going through some significant emotional struggles that are slowly revealed to others over the course of the plot.  One of her problems is that she self-medicates with alcohol.  Her husband knows all this, and tries to help keep her stable.  That stability evaporates one day when a former lover shows up at her door, thinking that he can convince her to leave her husband and rekindle their romance.  This visit and the associated argument and trauma drives her back to the bottle where she drinks herself into a stupor.  But that night, her husband meets an estranged friend at a bar, and is the victim of a hit and run when he leaves the bar to get in his car and head home.  All the signs point to Katherine being the killer, based on the car being hers and a witness saying the driver was someone who looked remarkably like her.  Since she was blacked out during the time, she can't offer an alibi, but she knows she'd never do anything to kill her husband.  The cops see it differently, however.  They're ready to indict her for the murder, and the only person trying to clear her name is Anne Marshall, a legal stenographer and amateur sleuth who is relentless in her investigation with the help of her father's ghost who shows up and helps her figure things out.

I'll be the first to admit that a plot device of a ghost partner who is your dead father may sound far-fetched.  But it's actually funny and special as to how it works between the two of them. He keeps showing up unannounced and surprising her, usually when there are other people around who can't see him. My biggest issue involved Marshal and her friends who work together to solve the crime.  They had no character to me and I couldn't really keep them straight.  Since they figure into the storyline to a moderate degree, their lack of background or personality made the story harder to follow than it should have been.  If there's a prior book to this that uses the same characters, it may explain why there's little backstory here.  But as a stand-alone story, it's a bit of a distraction.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

05/30/2010

Book Review - The Bone Thief by Jefferson Bass

Category Book Review Jefferson Bass The Bone Thief
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For some reason, I've never read any of the Body Farm novels by the team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson (hence, the author pen name of Jefferson Bass).  I'm not quite sure why, as I like the forensic anthropology genre made popular by Cornwell and Reichs.  So to rectify that, I picked up the latest book in the series, The Bone Thief. I'm guessing I'll end up going back to read the earlier ones also, as The Bone Thief was enjoyable and well written.

The story revolves around Dr. Bill Brockton, the person who runs the Body Farm, a place where bodies are left to the elements in order to study the effects of nature on decomposition.  He's asked by a local lawyer to look at a body that's being exhumed as part of a paternity suit.  When the casket is opened, they find that someone had taken a few of the body parts before burial.  Other disinterments show that the funeral home involved in these burials was also involved in the trafficking of body parts, and Brockton is reluctantly enlisted by the FBI to play a part in a sting operation to try and uncover who is buying and selling.  This puts him in an extremely difficult position in terms of ethics, as he can't tell his lead assistant what is going on.  She uncovers his involvement, mistaking it for actual trafficking, and submits her resignation.  Unless the FBI closes the case quickly, Brockton stands to lose his reputation, his job, and possibly even his life.  There is a lot of money involved in the trafficking business, and they don't really like to have their operations disrupted.

There are a couple of subplots running through the novel, both of which are continuations from the prior novel in the series.  I really wish I had read that one first, as it would have helped quite a bit here.  He's trying to reconcile his affair with a fellow doctor of Japanese descent, who turns out to be a killer motivated by revenge by the atomic bombs dropped during World War II.  She escapes capture, and Brockton wonders what's become of her.  This concern gets ratcheted up even higher when one of her hideouts is found, and it appears that she's now pregnant, very possibly carrying Brockton's baby.  The other subplot involves a medical examiner who was subjected to an extremely high dose of radiation during the autopsy of the person killed by Brockton's lover.  His hands were destroyed, and his only chance of regaining a normal life is a double hand replacement.  But that's rarely done, and finding donors is next to impossible.  Will Brockton use his place in the trafficking scheme to try and help his friend regain a normal life?  What line will he cross to help a friend if the actions don't harm a living person?

I found the blend between story and ethics to be balanced and effective.  Too often the author has a point he or she wants to make, and they bludgeon the reader with it.  That's not the case in The Bone Thief.  The only thing that kept me from completely diving into the story was the missing backstory on the characters as they interact here.  If you're making your first foray into the Body Farm series, try not to do it here.  You'd probably enjoy the story if you do end up here first, but I think it would be a much richer experience if the backstory is in place first.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

05/29/2010

Book Review - Weird Oregon: Your Travel Guide to Oregon's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Al Eufrasio and Jeff Davis

Category Book Review Jeff Davis Al Eufrasio Weird Oregon: Your Travel Guide to Oregon's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets
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I live in Portland Oregon, where the unofficial motto is "Keep Portland Weird."  Given that, how could I NOT check this book out from the library... Weird Oregon: Your Travel Guide to Oregon's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Al Eufrasio and Jeff Davis.  Weird Oregon is a great mix of local lore, history, fact, and fable, tied together with a style that combines tongue-in-cheek humor with good storytelling.  It made me want to hop in the car and start visiting some of the places that make Oregon a unique place to live.

Contents:
Local Legends; Ancient Mysteries; Fabled People and Places; Unexplained Phenomena; Beaver State Beasts; Local Heroes and Villains; Peculiar Properties; Roadside Oddities; Haunted Places; Cemetery Safari; Off-Limits and All But Forgotten; Index; Acknowledgments; Photo Credits

Eufrasio and Davis made sure that wherever you go in Oregon, you could take a look in this book and find something in that area.  If you're on the Oregon Coast, there's a plethora of sites to check out.  Fort Stevens near Astoria is the only place in the continental US where a military base was under assault during World War II.  Also during the same time period, several people died near Gearhart Mountain when they found a Japanese Fu-Go balloon bomb that went off... the only people in the continental US killed due to enemy actions during World War II.  And of course, you can go visit Youtube to see the infamous beached whale that was blown to bits in 1970 on the beaches of Florence.  Southern Oregon has Crater Lake, complete with old Indian legends as to how the lake in the collapsed volcano came to be.  Eastern Oregon has Fort Rock, the site of the world's oldest shoes.  In 1938, a number of sandals and sandal fragments were found, and evidence points to the owners having been there more than 8000 years prior.  Pretty much wherever you go in Oregon, you can find some weirdness there to amaze and amuse you.

A significant portion of the stories involve hauntings and paranormal occurrences.  For those who are interested in these types of phenomenon, Weird Oregon will keep you busy for months if not years.  The Oregon Caves Chateau has a ghost of a woman who slit her wrists on her honeymoon when she caught her husband in bed with a hotel maid. Strange things are seen in the Shanghai tunnels under the Portland waterfront that were used in the 1800's to sneak unsuspecting (and unconscious) men onto sailing ships as conscripted labor.  The White Eagle Saloon in Portland is also well-known for having a few resident ghosts of former workers and "working women" who ended their earthly existence there.  Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there's no denying that strange things have happened in the places covered in the book.  

This book was a lot of fun to read.  Some of the stories were familiar, but plenty more were new to me, and made me want to go take a long road trip to see a few of the places for myself.  The only small nit on the book had to do with some of the page typesetting.  On pages where the text overlaid pictures, there were a few instances where black type was set on dark pictures, making the page nearly unreadable.  But that didn't take away from the overall pleasure and enjoyment of reading about the weirdness of the state.  Weird Oregon is a fun history and guide book that will add plenty of color to places that you may have just driven by in the past, not knowing exactly what you were missing out on.

Now off to book my underground tunnel tour that I keep saying I'll do one day...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

05/22/2010

Book Review - LEGO: A Love Story by Jonathan Bender

Category Book Review Jonathan Bender LEGO: A Love Story
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Through the Amazon Vine program, I received a copy of LEGO: A Love Story by Jonathan Bender for review.  I'm not a LEGO fan myself, but I have a few close friends who are master builders of the first degree.  So what drives an adult to become totally obsessed with a "toy" that most kids give up sometime during their adolescent years?  Bender explains his own love affair with LEGO, both as a child and as an adult rediscovering the joy and obsession.  

His story starts at the age of 10 when he built a replica of the Sears Tower with his father as part of a fair at his elementary school.  It was a basic block-on-block design, spray painted black at the end (not knowing that painting bricks is a major sin for adult builders).  Like many kids, this was the high point of his LEGO adventures, and the colorful bricks were forgotten for years.  But at the age of 30, he rediscovered his original bricks and remembered his dream of one day becoming a Master Model Builder.  This simple act led him on an adventure to reconnect with his dream and get back into the LEGO lifestyle.  We as the readers get to come along, experience his joys and defeats, and learn a whole lot about the world of LEGO in the process.

You have two major stories going on in the book.  The personal part of the book goes into detail about how Bender moves from building his first freeform delivery truck as an adult to spending hundreds of dollars each month on pieces and kits for both him and his wife (fortunately, she ends up sharing his obsession).  Bender's talent as a writer, as well as his ability to not take himself seriously, leads to witty and funny vignettes as he starts to compete in contests and learn proper behavior as an AFOL (Adult Fan Of LEGO).  

The second story, and the one I personally found most interesting, was the history of LEGO.  He reveals facts that you'd never expect, such as the fact that LEGO is the world's largest producers of tires (all those little LEGO rubber wheels).  He's able to do things that many adult LEGO fans never experience, such as taking guided tours of the factory and playing in LEGOLand after hours.  He also does an excellent job in explaining the strong tie between the success of the company and the satisfaction of the adult fan base.  If it were just a toy, LEGO might well have died out years ago.  But the adult community has pushed and stretched the company in ways LEGO never planned, and they've been both rewarded and punished over the years based on various decisions they've made.  It's fascinating to see how symbiotic that relationship is.

When I look at all the cool stuff my friends build, I keep thinking that perhaps I should buy a LEGO kit and try it out.  Books like LEGO: A Love Story don't help when it comes to fighting that impulse.  It was a fun and insightful read, and helped push me even closer to the edge...

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

05/22/2010

Book Review - Last Call by JD Seamus

Category Book Review JD Seamus Last Call
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In my pile of recreational reads, I recently pulled out a book I got from a publicist... Last Call by JD Seamus.  Set in New York, its a crime mystery involving a dying Irishman, his wife and child who need special care, a large amount of money that ends up missing when he dies, and his close friends who attempt to solve the mystery and get the money back.  While it had its moments, I had a real problem with the plot and the pacing.  I was quite ready for the book to take off in the direction of the summary, and the author apparently had different plans.

The jacket synopsis has most of the action centered around the recovery of Jimmie Collins' money after he dies.  He's the owner of a bar that Nathan Melton ends up hanging out at, and they become very good friends, even more so after Jimmie fixes him up with a woman that he starts to date.  Jimmie's background is not exactly happy, in that his wife is slowly dying of multiple sclerosis and his daughter is mentally disabled.  He eventually gives in and sets them up in an assisted living facility in Florida while he continues to run his businesses (both the bar and "other" side jobs) in New York.  But Jimmie starts his own mortal slide when he's diagnosed with cancer.  He makes sure to set up his family such that they will be provided for when he dies, but that hits a major hurdle when two months after his death, the nursing facility calls Nathan and mentions that payments are no longer being made.  Nathan and the rest of Jimmie's friends decide to do whatever is necessary to find whoever embezzled the money, get it back, and also to dish out a bit of justice in the process.  

As mentioned above, I expected Jimmie to meet his Maker pretty early on so that the story would revolve around the recovery of his funds.  But Jimmy doesn't die until almost 3/4 of the way through the book, which doesn't leave much time for the crime to be discovered and the real action to play out.  In the meantime, the reader is left with stories of how Nathan meets Jimmie, how Jimmie made his money, his slow death, and interactions between all the bar regulars.  Once the action does start, the situations are a mix of gruesome death and crazy slapstick, some of which doesn't seem to mix very well in terms of being plausible.  Other than Jimmie and Nathan, the rest of the characters are not highly developed, and I didn't really connect with any of them.  I did enjoy some of the dialog between them, though it is very stereotypical of New York/Italian/Irish/mafia characters.  Still, I found myself chuckling at times.

Last Call had the makings of an interesting story, and I wish I had liked it more.  But I spent too long waiting for the premise, and then it was over far too quickly for the amount of time spent getting there.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

05/17/2010

More free TDI goodness coming your way on Wednesday, May 19th! (free webcast)

Category IBM/Lotus
MORE TDI!  Far better than cowbell, and it’s FREE!

On Wednesday, May 19th at 10 am CDT, Marie Scott and I will be presenting more TDI goodness in part 2 of our TDI series, “Tivoli Directory Integrator (TDI) - The Best Free Tool You’ve Never Heard Of (The Administrator’s Perspective)”.  In this installment, we switch our perspective from developer uses and focus more on the directory integration features of TDI.  Learn how you can use TDI to synch data to and from your Domino Directory with an Active Directory environment.  Learn about the components specifically designed to detect changes.  And as added extra we'll include some resources for SPNEGO and BES.

Registration is still open!!

Thank you to
Consultant InYour Pocket for hosting this free webcast.  If you are not on the newsletters to know when upcoming events are, sign up above or on the sites.

05/16/2010

Book Review - Crashers by Dana Haynes

Category Book Review Dana Haynes Crashers
A picture named M2

Via the Amazon Vine review program, I selected a copy of the book Crashers by Dana Haynes for review.  This thriller has an element that I haven't encountered in my reading before... the investigation of an aircraft accident by the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB for short.  And the fact that the author sets the story in Portland, Oregon (the city I live in) didn't hurt in my decision-making process, either.  What I ended up with in Crashers was a fun thriller that kept me turning pages to see how the technical aspect of the crime was carried out (as well as the why was it done in the first place).

The story revolves around a plane crash that seems to have no root cause.  The cockpit recorder shows that everything was working fine up to the point where the copilot notices a signal for a catastrophic system failure and instantly the plane starts to shake itself to pieces.  A team from the NTSB arrives on the scene, led by Leonard Tomzak, a disgraced team member who failed to find a cause for the prior crash they investigated, leading to second-guessing by other members of the team.  Part of the team wants to write the crash off to pilot error, but Tomzak isn't quite ready to buy that explanation, as the behavior of the pilots doesn't fit for him.  Focus starts to turn to the new generation of flight recorder on the plane, and the technical lead from the company is more than happy to show off the capabilities of the device.  However, it could be that the device does more than just record, and that the tech lead is part of a larger terrorist plot that could have international ramifications.

There was quite a bit to like about Crashers.  The NTSB characters were fleshed out, and they were realistically flawed and believable.  The terrorism thread was also interesting and I enjoyed watching the two storylines converge.  A couple parts were pretty far-fetched (such as the freeway scene), but not enough that it took away from the overall entertainment value of the novel.  Given that this is Haynes' first novel, he's done a nice job, and I hope he decides to evolve this into a series based around crash investigators.

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

05/16/2010

Book Review - Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

Category Book Review Karl Marlantes Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
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Based on a recommendation, I picked up Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes at the library.  The Vietnam war is a subject of interest for me, especially having a father who did two tours as a Marine (in Graves Registration... he's seen things I can only imagine).  I have mixed feelings from a review standpoint on Matterhorn.  In terms of a story with the basic beginning/middle/end structure, it leaves something to be desired.  You're dropped into the middle of the war, in a Marine division that's being asked to do things that seem to be humanly impossible.  At the end, you're not presented with much resolution.  In fact, it's quite a downer.  But once I adjusted to the book being more focused on the humanity (and inhumanity) of the characters and the events, the book started to work much better.

While there are plenty of characters to support the narrative, the story is mainly seen through the eyes and emotions of Mellas, a lieutenant reservist who is dumped into a typical Vietnam situation... orders to hold and secure a particular hill which seems to wax and wane in terms of importance to the brass making the decisions.  The troops in Bravo Division are pushed to the extreme to build fortifications on a hill named Matterhorn during the rainy season.  Due to the nearly constant fog blanketing the area during the monsoon season, resupply is infrequent.  That means that all too often the troops are working without food, water, rest, or any other items normally needed to fight an effective war.  The situation becomes even worse when the division is ordered to abandon the hill right after they finish, in order to chase some phantom VC troops.  With no resupply and impossible orders to be at certain checkpoints, the officers back at central command start to blame the leaders of the division and make even more impossible demands.  All this leads to Bravo being ordered back to Matterhorn to retake the same hill they had abandoned, now covered with dug-in VC who are set to turn any attack into a killing field.

Marlantes does an excellent job in showing the hypocrisy of war and leadership that existed in Vietnam (and probably exist in every war). The generals look at troops as nothing more than "resources" that can be moved around at will.  Troop "losses" are just numbers and ratios that don't have dead bodies and destroyed lives behind them.  Operations aren't necessarily designed to win the war, but to advance the careers of the officers behind the lines.  And all the frictions we see in daily life (racial, geographical, or religious) don't magically go away when you throw people together in a life-or-death situation.

While I didn't care for Matterhorn as a story, the meanings and lessons it explored will stay with me for a long time.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

05/10/2010

Book Review - UNBOUND and Other Tales by David Dunwoody

Category Book Review David Dunwoody UNBOUND and Other Tales
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A friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in reading a book from one of *his* friends... UNBOUND and Other Tales by David Dunwoody.  I held on to the book until I was ready for a dip into some dark horror, and UNBOUND fit that need pretty well.  The book consists of one main story and eight smaller pieces.  I liked the longer story much more than the smaller pieces, mainly due to the more complete story development.  But even the smaller chapters were quite "colorful" in their darkness. All in all, an enjoyable diversion.

The title story, Unbound, revolves around the disappearance of an author, Matt Rudd, who is known for a series involving a character by the name of Sharpe.  Josh Talbot is called upon by the head of the publishing company to finish up Rudd's last Sharpe novel in time for it to be released.  When Talbot starts rummaging around Rudd's office to try and find any notes about the novel's current status, he stumbles upon three bloody envelopes that appear to have details about killings that could well have been committed by Rudd.  If that's indeed the case, it means that Rudd has been acting out the killings of his Sharpe character before writing about them.  But that theory comes to a quick end when Talbot receives a phone call from a mysterious individual telling him to finish the novel using those "ideas" he found in the office.  And Talbot has no choice but to do so, because whoever belongs to the voice knows everything about him and has no qualms about killing anyone around Talbot to make sure his wishes are carried out.  Talbot has to walk a fine line between appearing to comply with the killer while trying to stop the deaths before he becomes the final one.

The Unbound story was, I felt, quite well done.  The premise was different, and Dunwoody did an excellent job in keeping me guessing as to what was going to happen next.  The smaller short "stories" are dark and eclectic, and sometimes left me with a bit of a "huh?" feeling.  There are ex-wives and killer bugs, grave riders and cat fighting, creepy silent clowns, and even a cameo reappearance by Emil Sharpe from the main story.  Even thought I may not have quite followed or gotten into some of them, the writing was well done, however.

I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another book by David Dunwoody and descend into his world of darkness.  It's definitely not your mass market novel material, and you're never quite sure what's going to happen on the next page...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

05/04/2010

Are you confusing success and fame with experience?

Category Software development
Last week I was reviewing a manuscript for a tech book and offering up some review and insight.  It sounds like it'll be a great book, and I'm looking forward to reading it in its bound and edited form.  But there was one part of one paragraph that really hit me hard, and figures in to a lot of the self-review I've been doing of late...

You… are kicking ass.

A wealth of experience makes decision appear to be easy. Experience gives you confidence and you use that confidence to deliver your experienced decisions with moxy. Those watching you think, boy, he's got it figured out. The rub is this: confidence is a delicious answer to uncertainty, but confidence is a feeling, a perception What you're really banking on is your experience; your history of hard knocks which have given you a useful and valuable perspective for which to base your decisions.

And experience has a half-life.

Confidence working well with experience creates success and when you're successful everyone says, "Way to go!" and you believe those compliments and turn them into additional confidence which turns into more success and then more confidence and the cycle repeats.

Again, you are kicking ass.

Success. Fame. These are a type of experience, but they aren't what got you the compliment in the first place. It's that you did something significant; you worked and did something significant. Not that you said you did something with confidence.

Like any industry, high tech is full of folks who are confusing success and fame with experience. They're thinking that showing up at conferences, giving interviews, and writing books about things they did in the past is experience. It's not. It's storytelling and while it might be valuable storytelling, these people are slowly becoming echoes of who they were and becoming further from the work they did that matters. They're confusing compliments for experience.

You may not be one of these people, but it doesn't mean that your not exhibiting the same behavior.  My question is: each day -- are you struggling to build something new or are just easily repeating the success of your past? Success feel good, but you're not actually doing anything.

Building stuff every day exercises all the muscles necessary to remaining vital.  Experience fades and becomes irrelevant without a constant flow of the new.

I'm happy you are kicking ass. It's ass which need kicking and you are doing it well. I believe the success-based environment can be deliciously deceiving. I think that much of what created that environment was blood, sweat, and tears and who wants more tears? Look deeply at your favorite success story and you're going to find a bit of misery. It's a great motivator, but who wants to do that again?

You do.

"Experience has a half-life."  "High tech is full of folks who are confusing success and fame with experience."

Think about those two statements, and see if you become just a wee bit uncomfortable.  I know I am...

05/02/2010

Book Review - The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West by Christopher Corbett

Category Book Review Christopher Corbett The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West
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One of the things I'm learning during my reading of historical titles is that we tend to forget much of our past.  And actually, we *do* end up repeating many of our mistakes and ugly periods.  I found some of those forgotten elements when reading The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West by Christopher Corbett.  While the book would seem to be more about the story of Polly Bemis, a Chinese "working girl" who was won in a poker game, the real story is of how life in the West was lived during the days of the Gold Rush.  

In the late 1840's, gold was discovered in the West, and many Americans headed to California in order to make their fortune as miners.  At the same time, large numbers of Chinese came over via steamer to do the jobs that nobody else wanted to do (reminiscent of our current migrant and immigration woes).  San Francisco was the hub of much of the activity, and it was largely a male-dominated town.  The women were often Chinese, and most of them were there as prostitutes and slaves.  Life was cheap, and if you were on the lower end of the working girl scale, you were likely to die young and alone from disease or abuse.  

One of these girls, "Polly", was brought over and purchased by a rich Chinese merchant.  But as legend has it, he gambled her away during a poker game to a miner who lived and worked in Idaho. The miner, Charlie Bemis, took his newly acquired property and headed off to the hills of Idaho, to a small mining down named Warrens.  It was there that Polly spent her entire life, eventually becoming Bemis's bride.  Her story only became known when she came out of the backwoods in 1923 and visited a city for the first time, seeing things she had never seen before, like cars, trains, and radios.  This was a national story at the time, and people were fascinated to learn more about Polly Bemis and what she had experienced during the last 60 years.

The first part of Poker Bride, and perhaps the most consistent theme throughout the book, is focused on mining life during the last half century of the 1800's and the suffering of the Chinese during that period of American history.  The internment of Japanese-American citizens during the last part of World War 2 is an often-told story, but the Chinese suffered much of the same type of national backlash after the main gold rush period.  They were taking jobs that many thought should belong to Caucasians, and they did work for far less money than others.  The racism and bigotry during that time was rampant, and its not surprising that most Chinese wanted to go back to their own country to be buried when they died.  Polly's story in the last part of the book seems to be a bit of an add-on to what the majority of the content was focused on.  And since there's a number of conflicting stories about exactly who Polly was and how she ended up in Idaho, the author ends up having to give a number of alternative perspectives and let the reader sort it out a bit for themselves.  I wouldn't mind so much if the title hadn't pointed to Polly being the main topic of the book, while the content was more in line with a generalization of the subtitle.

Even with the minor "bait and switch" of the title, I still found The Poker Bride quite interesting.  Stripping the veneer of romance and legend off the Gold Rush stories is worth reading in order to give you more realistic look at life during that time.  Makes me very glad I wasn't born and raised back then...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

05/02/2010

Book Review - Tooth And Nail by Craig DiLouie

Category Book Review Craig Delouie Tooth And Nail
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The zombie genre isn't normally one that I pick up and read on a regular basis.  But I enjoyed Craig DiLouie's earlier medical pandemic novels, so when offered a chance to read Tooth And Nail, I accepted.  I'm very glad I did, too.  This is a different look at zombies, one that actually makes sense and is a potentially viable scenario.  I found myself totally wrapped up in the story, and putting it down was harder than with most books I've read of late.

DiLouie centers his story around a squad of soldiers who have been rushed back from the Middle East to take up a new post in downtown New York.  There's a virus making the rounds, and the military is required to safeguard key points of infrastructure in the city.  The virus has a high mortality rate, and the number of sick people in the city are overwhelming hospitals and other medical facilities.  Occasionally the troops see someone who has turned rabid and vicious from the disease, and this presents a quandary for the soldiers.  It's one thing to shoot people in a country you're warring against.  But shooting Americans on American soil?  That's not what they signed up for, and a number of them can't reconcile the conflicts.  

As more people start to show the signs of the final stage of the new disease, it becomes harder to defend buildings and even themselves.  Regardless of how many people they kill, there are others who take their place.  As the city devolves into mass chaos, it becomes obvious to the soldiers that the entire country is having the same problem, and that the government is likely not in control any longer.  Their final mission is to get to a scientist who might have a vaccine for the virus.  From there, they need to get her to a rendezvous location where she can be airlifted out before the city is sealed off and left to die.  But given the number of zombies vs the remaining soldiers, they know that this might well be a suicide mission.  The question is whether they should obey their commanders for a leadership that doesn't exist, or choose to survive by banding together and striking out on their own.

DiLouie takes the whole zombie genre out of the realm of the supernatural and places it into a medical pandemic scenario.  Given the nature of bioengineering, it's easy to conceive of a virus that would be highly virulent and that would not have a readily available cure if it got out of control.  DiLouie handles both the logistics of a societal breakdown as well as the personal choices that one would be forced to make in a situation like that.  Tooth And Nail keeps up a fast pace as the situation continues to deteriorate, and I really didn't want to put the book down. "Just one more chapter..."

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

05/02/2010

Book Review - Be Good To Yourself - edited by Ross Books, by Orison Sewett Marden

Category Book Review Orison Sewett Marden Be Good To Yourself - edited by Ross Books
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So have you ever wondered how far back the "success movement" in terms of personal development goes?  One of the first significant books in that genre is Be Good To Yourself by Orison Sewett Marden.  Given that the book is 100 years old this year, you might wonder how well it holds up over time.  Surprisingly, pretty well.  Ross Books has taken the title and updated some of the language and illustrations to be more relevant for today's audience, but this edition still retains the basic message and style.  What's nice is that you can read and absorb the advice without becoming caught up in the personality of the individual delivering it, as odds are you've never heard of Marden.

Contents:
Be Good To Yourself; False Economizing; Conservation of Energy; Living Within Your Means; Take A Vacation; The Importance of Play; Lies; Importance of Atmosphere; The Joy of Giving; Power and the Self; The Guarantee of Success; The Power of Positive Thinking and Tenacity; Authority; The Importance of Education; The Habit of Ambition; Mother; Religion; Index

Within these chapters, you'll see many similarities to messages and concepts that are common today when it comes to personal development.  For instance, the chapter on education ends with the quote "Do not throw away the opportunity for learning as so many others have thoughtlessly done.  Education is power."  The accessibility to education via books and electronic sources is so great today, yet so many people decide that spending hours in front of the TV is time better spent.  How wrong... Or in the chapter on living within your means, we find "All people owe it to themselves to live a real life, whether they be rich or poor; to be, and not merely to seem.  We owe it to ourselves to be genuine."  Today, we find that we have far too many "wants" that are disguised as "needs", and we go broke trying to meet them all and appear to be something we're really not.  These gems, along with many others in the pages of this book, can help to focus you back on what's really important in life.

It's nice to be reminded of core concepts that can help us to live more successful and satisfying lives.  If you're into the habit of seeking out good personal development books, Be Good To Yourself is another option that should rank up there with titles by other well-known writers of that genre.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

05/02/2010

Book Review - A Twisted Faith: A Minister's Obsession and the Murder That Destroyed a Church by Gregg Olsen

Category Book Review Gregg Olsen A Twisted Faith: A Minister's Obsession and the Murder That Destroyed a Church
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I am always confused and dismayed when people who hold positions of authority in a church or religious organization abuse that power for their own gain.  I'm even more dismayed when people who follow them end up following the person instead of their faith, letting charisma and personality overrule what they *know* to be right and wrong.  Gregg Olsen portrays one of those situations in his real-life crime drama A Twisted Faith: A Minister's Obsession and the Murder That Destroyed a Church.  Twisted Faith shows what happens when no one confronts evil or is willing to think for themselves and take action.

The book centers around a death that occurred in Bremerton Washington in 1997, the day after Christmas.  Dawn Hacheney, the wife of youth pastor Nick Hacheney, dies in a house fire that took her life in the early morning hours as she slept.  At least that's what it appears to be, and for quite some time, that's the story that all the officials signed off on.  But the reality of her death is far different.  Olsen documents how Christ Community Church, a Pentecostal church on Bainbridge Island, went from a small community gathering in the mid-90s to a church embroiled in power struggles, sex scandals, and ultimately the murder of one of their own.  Olsen pieces together the story from interviews, news stories, and other sources, and shows how the abuse of power can destroy both the person who has it and those who follow.

There were so many emotions going through my head during this book.  I was dismayed that a group of leaders could abuse biblical teachings so blatantly and repeatedly.  I was also amazed that so many people can look the other way when everything they see tells them that something is very wrong and needs to be addressed.  Letting a person become the focus of your faith instead of God is a sure recipe for disaster.  A Twisted Faith is primarily a crime novel (and a good one), but it can also be a wake-up call to check your focus when it comes to your faith, and to make sure you're basing your beliefs on the correct foundation.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

05/02/2010

A bit of an update...

Category Everything Else
So, I know I've been posting a lot less in this blog in terms of personal info, tech info, and other various and sundry things.  Funny how that happens...

Part of the reason is I've been doing a lot of writing of late, and at times I've just felt a bit "writed out" when it comes to blogging.  The Sametime Users Guide that Marie Scott and I are writing is coming along well, with chapter 9 finished up yesterday, and only three more chapters and a set of appendices left to go.  When I compared what I thought it'd be like vs. reality, it's been somewhat easier.  It definitely helps having a great co-author, as you have someone to bounce things off of.  And it's surprising how much you learn when you're writing about something.  I've had more than a couple of "wow, Sametime does that?" moments.

I've also been doing a number of webcasts that have kept me busy in terms of preparation.  Kathy Brown and I did a webcast for the Lotus Educational Community group on Discussion Forum Etiquette, as well as a different webcast on developer tips for the Consultant In Your Pocket series.  Marie Scott and I worked on repackaging our Tivoli Directory Integrator information from Lotusphere for two webcasts in the CIYP series.  The first one was TDI from a developer perspective, and the second one will be from an administrator perspective.  They've all been fun to do and give (again, having good co-presenters helps), but they do take time to set up and prepare.

On the health front, it's been... interesting.  I'm working on weight loss, which is a critical item right now.  I got the results back from my blood draw a short time back, and the doctor said I'm in a classic pre-diabetic scenario.  As he put it... "party's over".  So I have that to focus on.  And then there's my latest adventure in trying to chew gum and walk at the same time... except I wasn't chewing gum at the time.  I was walking to work at dark-thirty in the morning a little over a week ago, stepped on a sidewalk crack, and rolled my ankle while taking a tumble...

Funny how when you do that, the first thing you wonder is whether anyone saw you...

Anyway, I was able to walk when I got up, and just though I probably sprained it.  But after a week, the puffiness hadn't gone down, and the pain really hadn't subsided.  To appease all the people who said I *really* should go to the doctor, I did.  He was about to say it was just a sprain (as I expected), until he pinpointed the pain.  After xrays, it appeared that there was probably a chip fracture, and that I should wear an air splint just to be safe for a couple of weeks.  Two days later, the doctor called back, informed me that the radiologist found a deeper fracture, and to come back in for a boot cast.  So now I walk and sound like Frankenstein when I move around the house...

So for those who were wondering where I might have disappeared to, that's it.  I'd like to say the writing and presenting projects are almost done, but they're not.  I have one more webcast this month.  The book should be finished for first draft by the end of June.  There are two presentations I'll be involved with at a user group in August.  And sometime after that, it'll be the kickoff for Lotusphere abstract submissions.  And of course, there's always the two articles a month for the Lotus Developer Tips newsletter.  And my book reviews.  And Twitter.  And the day job.

Hmmm... I might just be a bit busy. :)

05/01/2010

P0wned by a squirrel...

Category Humor
Forwarded to me by a good friend:

Nothing like a angry mom.

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A picture named M3

A picture named M4

A picture named M5

"What the hell just happened?

 Did I just get my ass kicked by a squirrel!?!! "

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