About Duffbert...

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...

Email Me!

Search This Site!

Custom Search

I'm published!

Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide
SametimeBookCoverImage.jpg

Purchase on Amazon

Co-author of the book IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide
SametimeAdminBookCoverImage.jpg

Purchase on Amazon

MiscLinks

Visitor Count...



View My Stats

08/30/2010

Book Review - HTML5: Up and Running by Mark Pilgrim

Category Book Review Mark Pilgrim HTML5: Up and Running
A picture named M2

As part of my education on HTML5, I ended up with a review copy of Mark Pilgrim's book HTML5: Up and Running.  Like many O'Reilly books I own, this will be one of the books I end up going back to repeatedly while I get "up and running."  Pilgrim includes a balanced blend of context and code, which means I learn not only *what* to do, but *why* I'm doing it and how it ended up that way.

Contents:
How Did We Get Here?; Detecting HTML5 Features; What Does It All Mean?; Let's Call It a Draw(ing Surface); Video on the Web; You Are Here (And So Is Everyone Else); The Past, Present, and Future of Local Storage for Web Applications; Let's Take This Offline; A Form of Madness; "Distributed", "Extensibility," and Other Fancy Words; Appendix - The All-in-One Almost-Alphabetical Guide to Detecting Everything; Index

As mentioned above, I appreciated the look behind the curtain when it came to finding out why certain standards and features had gotten there.  The "How Did We Get Here?" chapter does an excellent job in dispelling any notions that HTML standards were methodically and rationally established and adhered to by all participants.  Once you know that, it's easier to understand why some features appear to be compromises and/or might be supported better by one browser over another.  As he goes through each main feature set, he provides plenty of code to show how it's used, as well as a handy chart that references each main browser and what version it started to support the feature (assuming it *is* supported).  Based on that, it's pretty easy to figure out if the feature you want to use will be supported by your intended target audience(s).  He also includes interesting sidebars under the catch phrase "Ask Professor Markup" that seem to pose the questions you'd ask if you had the author right there in front of you.  Wrap all this up in a writing style that doesn't take himself too seriously, and you end up with an entertaining read that conveys a lot of information in a short 200 pages.

One really cool tool he points out is the Modernizr JavaScript library for detecting whether an HTML5 feature is supported in a user's browser.  Rather than try and write your own detection functions, you can just call the appropriate routine and see if it returns true.  So if you want to know if the browser supports the Canvas in HTML5, you can just say "if (Modernizr.canvas) " and that's it.  Clean and to the point.  Learning about that was almost worth the price of admission. :)

At some point I'll likely end up with some 400 page book that covers every little parameter of HTML5 in detail.  Until then, HTML5: Up and Running is going to get dog-eared and post-it-noted while I get myself going.  Great job, Mr. Pilgrim!

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

08/29/2010

Book Review - Follow The Money by Ross Cavins

Category Book Review Ross Cavins Follow The Money
A picture named M2
I had the pleasure of receiving a review copy of Follow The Money by Ross Cavins recently.  This ended up being one of those gems that I'd never find on my own, but am very glad I ended up reading.  Cavins has a great sense of plot and dialog, and he did something that I'm not used to seeing in a book.  Rather than have a single novel or a collection of unrelated short stories, he compiled a collection of short stories that all tie together with a common thread... money.  Specifically, three million dollars that ends up moving from character to character in various ways, none of which were normal or expected.

What prompted me to accept this offer was that he mentioned that it had influences of Carl Hiaasen in it.  If you know my reading tastes, you'll understand that I'll wait in line for anything by Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, or any other crazed South Florida writer.  While Follow The Money doesn't take place in Florida (but it does have the southern redneck vibe going on), it has the same character craziness, the same type of cons, and the same type of unexpected plot twists that I'm used to seeing by those authors.  And once I finished each story and saw the money change hands, I was ready to start the next one to see how and where the money was going next.

Follow The Money was a pleasure to read.  I hope that Cavins doesn't make this his only foray into writing, as I'd enjoy seeing more from him.  They'd definitely be up there on my "to read" list.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

08/28/2010

Book Review - Valley Forge: George Washington and the Crucible of Victory by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen

Category Book Review Valley Forge: George Washington and the Crucible of Victory Newt Gingrich William R. Forstchen
A picture named M2

Courtesy of the publishers, I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Valley Forge: George Washington and the Crucible of Victory by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen.  This is the follow-on to their collaboration on their book To Try Men's Souls, and again Gingrich and Forstchen put flesh on the ordinarily dry depictions of what went on during the Revolutionary War after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  The authors go beyond events and dive into the characters, emotions, and physical hardships that comprised the day-to-day existence of those fighting for their lives and the newly found freedom of America.

The novel (based on historical fact) starts out at the Battle of Paoli on September 10, 1777.  The American troops were defeated by the British, but it went beyond that.  Rather than just claim victory and take prisoners, the bloodlust of the British troops led to a massacre using rifles, pistols, and bayonets.  For those who escaped and fled, humiliation and anger fed their desire to regroup and avenge that loss.  But before that could happen, Washington's troops had to regroup and spend the winter at Valley Forge, waiting for the spring when battles could begin again in earnest.  

The harsh conditions usually depicted at Valley Forge don't begin to cover the reality.  They arrived to find no supplies, no material, and no support promised by Congress.  Tens of thousands of troops, literally clinging to life, had to endure freezing temperatures with little shelter and virtually no food.  Slowly, Washington was able to start getting food from scavenging runs, as well as supplies to build cabins, but not before thousands either deserted or died of various diseases.  And even if they survived the winter, there was no guarantee that they'd have the skills to battle and defeat the British in their depleted state.  Washington gambled on the skills of Baron von Steuben to turn the ragtag band of soldiers into a disciplined fighting force capable of standing up to the Lobsterbacks regardless of the type of battle.

von Steuben had three months to accomplish what takes Prussian soldiers three years to achieve, and it all came down to the Battle of Monmouth on July 28, 1778.  It was there that the Revolutionary and British forces met on an open field, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees.  For the first time, the American forces were able to face and defeat the British using the tactics taught to them by von Steuben.  While Washington was hoping for a decisive win that would end the war right there, it didn't happen.  The British were able to withdraw and get a significant number of troops over to New York, which was their plan all along.  But Monmouth was the turning point, when it became clear that the tide had turned, and no longer would the British be the superior force and have the support of the people of the land.

Valley Forge is one of those books that stays with you for a long time, and makes you ponder what sacrifices have been made to give us the freedom we enjoy today.  I think you have to be a little careful to not take this as absolute truth as to the motivations and personalities of each major character.  For instance, Washington is portrayed as a troubled leader who is all-consumed with the agonies and hardships his forces are enduring, losing sleep night after night over his ability to provide for them.  While that may well be a significant part of his personality, I'm a bit cynical as to him being as perfect and selfless as he's painted here.  Given Gingrich's political leanings, I can understand where patriotism might cause one to portray Washington in a very favorable light.  But even taking that into account, Valley Forge still does an excellent job in adding the real blood, sweat, and tears to events that were pivotal to the formation of our country.  This was a very good read, and well worth the time spent.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

08/28/2010

Book Review - Awkward Family Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack

Category Book Review Mike Bender Doug Chernack
A picture named M2

'Fess up... you have those "family photos" that you hide from others, hoping nobody every finds them.  At the time the images made sense or sounded like a good idea.  But now?  <shudder>  Just hope your kids don't get hold of them and send them off trying to get you included in the book Awkward Family Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack.  If that happens, you might as well join the Witness Protection Program, because you'll start to think that wherever you go, someone will recognize you... and laugh (and we will!)

Bender and Chernack started a web site posting a few funny family photos.  You know the ones... where all the members in the family are wearing the same outfit... you're posed in front of some "cool" backdrop... the person next to you just wet their pants.  They thought that was about the extent of their fun, until a local radio station started playing up the site.  It then got picked up by a few more, then a few more, and suddenly they were getting new submissions and emails from others who were *thrilled* they weren't the only ones with awkward family photos.  The website took off, and led to this book.  

They cover all the bases when it comes to topics: The Family Portrait, Mom and Dad, The Kids, Siblings, Grandma and Grandpa, The Relatives, Pets, Vacation, Birthdays, Graduation, Weddings, Holidays, and Strange - Not Awkward.  If you're like me,  you'll be smiling/laughing/cringing from the first page.  Why did Dad think it was OK to pose in a Speedo?  Why did you dress up your pot-bellied pig for a "family portrait"? And there's always the "this family looks like they're a little *too* close" pictures...

If you've followed the Awkward Family Photos website, you will have seen some of the pictures included here.  Others you can only see in the book.  But even if you run into the same pictures in the book, you'll probably get a bit more context or background as to what was going on with the picture at the time.

Awkward Family Photos is not some great or deep literary masterpiece.  It's just a quick, fun ride looking at a slice of life that we've all experienced (and hope that no one else ever gets to see)...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

08/27/2010

Product Review - Lift Audio Icon Series 6 mm Premium Earphones

Category Product Review Lift Audio Icon Series 6 mm Premium Earphones
A picture named M2

As part of the Amazon Vine review program, I selected a pair of Lift Audio Icon Series 6 mm Premium Earphones for review.  I had two purposes for this... I have an iPad now, and I thought a decent set of earphones would be nice.  And second, with my kids around, I never HAVE any earphones that seem to stay in one place for very long. So why not kill two birds with one stone?

Fair warning says I'm not an audiophile of any sort.  I don't listen to a lot of music, so most of my usage would be watching videos or not disturbing someone around me with sound.  What I *did* want is something that was comfortable, stayed put in my ear, was loud enough to hear, and if it could drown out a bit of noise in the process, so much the better.  And this item delivered well on all counts.  My first chance to use them was on a flight back from a conference, and I happened to be in the fussy-baby part of the plane.  I pulled out the headphones (really nice hard case they come in, too!) and stuffed the earphones in my ears.  Even without any audio coming out, the babies sounded like they moved to the back of the plane.  And once I fired up a movie, it was even better.  No babies, no crying... just me and the movie.

Of course, I found out within 10 minutes that it's not good to be watching certain scenes of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on the iPad when you're sitting in the aisle seat with people moving past you...  Just sayin...

I don't know that I would rate these as a great deal at their $79 list price.  They're nice, but they're not THAT nice.  But at the Amazon price of $25, they are perfect for what I needed.  I wouldn't hesitate to buy another pair if needed.  But I'll be making sure I hide these, so another purchase will *not* be needed...

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

08/27/2010

Book Review - How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will) by Chuck Sambuchino

Category Book Review Chuck Sambuchino How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will)
A picture named M2

Zombie attacks, zombie apocalypse, the undead... all material for a frightful novel, but the real threat is already here and present in our very neighborhoods and yards... the Garden Gnome.  Be honest... you mean to tell me you've never looked at those creepy little bearded creatures and wondered what they're up to?  We owe a debt of gratitude to Chuck Sambuchino for warning and preparing us for this crisis in his book How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will).  With the combination of awareness and preparation, you can survive this nightmare that could be unleashed upon the unsuspecting any day now.

Seriously (or not, as the content may suggest), this is a tongue-in-cheek parody of zombie survival books, using garden gnomes as the menace facing us.  It's a fun read, and Sambuchino does a good job with treating the subject with pseudo-serious concern without going overboard.  The pictures that are scattered throughout are perfect, as they depict the "innocent" gnome hiding axes and knives, posing in positions that do seem to add a sinister intent to those chubby little cheeks.  I learned that Miracle-Gro is one of the best weapons, as it creates chlorine  which can be deadly to those only a foot off the ground.  Bolting down the opening to your chimney would be a good idea too, as those suckers will look for *any* opening to exploit.  All I can say is they better not attack here, as hockey sticks are considered one of the best defenses for hand-to-gnome combat, and we have a number of them...

This book isn't going to scare or frighten you like the thought of trying to escape from the undead.  It's a quick read, and will put a smile on your face (and will probably make a dent in the profitability of the garden gnome market.)  Just sit back, have fun, and accept the fact that you'll never trust one of those cute little statues again.  :)

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

08/23/2010

Book Review - Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook by Michael Lopp

Category Book Review Michael Lopp Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook
A picture named M2

I had the pleasure of reviewing the manuscript of Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook by Michael Lopp when it was still in the development stage.  To put it simply, I was really impressed.  I'm not a regular reader of Rands In Repose, so I hadn't seen most of the material before.  It didn't take long before I saw the value in what he wrote, and started thinking of names of people who needed to read this when it was published.

Contents:
Section 1 - A Career Playbook: How To Win; A List of Three; The Itch; The Sanity Check; The Nerves; The Button; The Business
Section 2 - Deconstructing Management: The Culture Chart; Managing Managers; The Issue with the Doof; The Leaper; The Enemy; The Impossible; Knee Jerks; A Deep Breath; Gaming the System; Managing Werewolves; BAB; Your People; Wanted; The Toxic Paradox; The Pond
Section 3 - Your Daily Toolkit: The Nerd Handbook; The Taste of the Day; The Trickle List; The Crisis and the Creative; The Foamy Rules for Rabid Tools; Up to Nothing; How to Not Throw Up; Out Loud; Bits, Features, and Truth; The Reveal
Section 4 - Your Next Gig: The Screw-Me Scenario; No Surprises; A Deliberate Career; The Curse of the Silicon Valley; A Disclosure; Mind the Gap; The Exodus; Bad News About Your Bright Future; Hurry; The Rules of Back Alley Bridge
Index

The author sets out to help the technologist, one who wonders why the world of people doesn’t run with the same rules and precision as computers, navigate through the real world of how life works in an organization.  Rather than approach the subject with a slick methodology meant to be understood by business people, he cuts to the core of the topics using language and stories that any geek would understand.  And that’s the value here… the techie will say “YES! I struggle/deal with that exact same problem” as the author has been there, done that, and thinks the same way they do.  It’s written in a no-nonsense, no-bs style which is just what most techies want.

It seems like too many books on managing and surviving in a corporate environment assume a certain type of personality that is closer to the average office worker than the hard-core technologist.  Or books that *do* focus on organizational skills for technology workers seem to take a process approach or methodology, thinking that a set of rules to follow will work all the time.  The author here assumes that the real world is messy, nothing fits into neat boxes, and the techno-geek is a different animal.  As such, his advice is much more realistic than most other books that attempt to cover this topic in some way, shape, or form.

This is targeted squarely at the person for whom technology is a passion, not just a job that is 9 to 5.  These people are comfortable with other geeks or on their own digging into a problem, but they don’t easily or readily grasp the intricacies and realities of social interaction or corporate politics and gamesmanship.  They need someone to explain what’s going on, why things work that way, and how they can figure out the rules so they have some shot at surviving long enough to do what they love to do… build things.

I also appreciate that he tries to cover the entire scope of a person’s stay with a company or organization.  From being hired to leaving for the next gig, from trying to relate to management to standing in front of a group making an important presentation, this book gives you three to six pages on various topics, easily digested when you need to get a reality check in a given situation.

I’ve seen too many people who were technically brilliant, but that you didn’t want to let out of a locked room because you knew they’d get eaten alive in the real world.  Being Geek gives them a fighting chance to adapt if they care to do so.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

08/23/2010

Webcast coming up this Wednesday... Sametime: A User’s Perspective - August 25th

Category IBM/Lotus Sametime
Chris Miller, as part of the Consultant In Your Pocket series, is letting Marie Scott and I loose on the public again.  This time, we'll be talking about Sametime from the user's viewpoint, how it works, and some tips and tricks you may not have known.  The webcast is coming up, so head over to the site to register...

Sametime: A User’s Perspective - August 25th
Tom Duff and Marie Scott are back for the launch of their upcoming book of the same topic from Packt Publishing:
This session shows you exactly how you can effectively collaborate with your colleagues and teammates both in your organization and outside your organization by using the features of Sametime. It's practical, down-to-earth, and most of all, fun!


You will be able to attend this session on August 25, 2010 at 10am CDT.  
Registration is now open!!

Visit our sponsor Plantronics.  Explore how they can help your Unified Communication direction.

Image:Sametime: A User’s Perspective - August 25th

08/22/2010

Book Review - Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

Category Book Review Janet Evanovich Sizzling Sixteen
A picture named M2

I think I'm getting to the end of the trail with my enjoyment of the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich.  The latest installment, Sizzling Sixteen, hit me the same way that Finger Lickin' Fifteen did.  It covers the same ground we've covered in the last fifteen installments, nothing really new happens, and the characters don't have the spark that used to make each new Plum novel a joy to read.  Unless Evanovich takes Plum in a whole new direction (I understand she's moved to a new publisher), I'll probably end up putting this series on my "to read when I run out of other material" list.  

The main storyline here is that Vinnie, the guy who runs the bail bond service that Stephanie works for, goes missing.  Turns out he's over his head with a local loan shark for betting losses, *and* he's been cooking the books to try and get his way out of it.  If Stephanie, Connie, and Lula can't find Vinnie or come up with a million dollars to pay off his loan, then Vinnie goes on a one-way trip to visit the fishes.  If it weren't for the fact that it would also mean that the three of them would be out of a job, they might actually find that a preferable outcome.  What follows are the typical plans and operations that go haywire in ways that only Stephanie can have happen.  Add in the normal relationship tension between her, Morelli, and Ranger, and you pretty much have the entire story.

I know this is a huge moneymaker for her and the publisher, so I doubt that ending the series is in the works (although it'd probably be best).  But this really needs an injection of something... new characters, new job, something...  It's getting stale, and it's sad to see the Plum novels slide like this.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

08/22/2010

Book Review - Problem Identified: And You're Probably Not Part of the Solution by Scott Adams

Category Book Review Scott Adams Problem Identified: And You're Probably Not Part of the Solution
A picture named M2

So, the library gets a relatively new Scott Adams Dilbert compilation, and I put myself on the hold list.  Finally, Problem Identified: And You're Probably Not Part of the Solution comes in, and I pick it up.  Instead of the most recent year or two of strips I expected, it's a compilation of strips over the last 15 years that seem to be related to Dilbert and the Point Haired Boss.  Overall reaction? Meh...

Granted, when you get a compilation book like this, you expect to see stuff you've already seen (provided you're a follower of the strip).  But the cynical side of me keeps thinking we got a compilation of the compilations, and why would I want to get another book that rehashes the rehash?  Part of the fun of Dilbert strips is watching the short stories or themes play out over a two day to two week period.  With Problem Identified, you lose much of that, as the space is limited and the time frame is pretty long in terms of material to pull.  

I guess the best that could be said from my perspective is you do get to see the characters' images evolve over time.  The original Pointy Haired Boss didn't have pointy hair, and Wally was almost unrecognizable.  But other than that, Problem Identified was an hour or so of page turning with a few chuckles, but nothing that I'd tell friends to run right out and buy.  If you can get it in a library, go for it.  Otherwise, see if you can just find a nice couch in a Barnes and Noble and read it there.  


Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

08/21/2010

Book Review - In FED We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic by David Wessel

Category Book Review David Wessel In FED We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic
A picture named M2

Even though we're still in the middle of it, I've been wanting to read some material on the economic meltdown that started back in 2007.  To that end, I took the opportunity to get a copy of In FED We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic by David Wessel from a publicist.  To be fair, this is the first book I've read on the topic, and I am by no means an expert on the economics and politics of the Federal Reserve.  Yet, while reading In FED We Trust, I felt that I was getting a slanted view on things, one that was probably more pro-Bernanke than what an attempt at a purely objective analysis would be.

Content:
Introduction - Whatever It Takes; Let Ol' Lehman Go; Periodical Financial Debauches; Age of Delusion; There Are Jews in Boston, Too; Pas de Deux; The Four Musketeers - Bernanke's Brain Trust; RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Blue Sky; Running from Behind; Unusual and Exigent; Fannie, Freddie, and "Feddie"; Breaking the Glass; Socialism with American Characteristics; World of ZIRP; Did Bernanke Keep His Promise to Milton Friedman; It Could Have Been Worse; Notes; Glossary; Selected Bibliography; Acknowledgments; Index

The book is very much focused on Ben Bernanke and his handling of the Federal Reserve.  The author goes into his background, his academic foundations, and his focus and analysis of The Great Depression.  That academic style shaped much of Bernanke's work in government, making him more of a consensus-seeker than an authoritarian leader, as well as someone who chose his words carefully instead of being blunt and fully open.  He also made most of his decisions with the main goal of avoiding The Great Depression 2.0.

What I appreciated most was the chronological story flow of how the first domino started to wobble, and the debate around letting the financial institution fail as opposed to rescuing it.  As each new crisis hit, there were fewer and few options, as the "healthy" institutions had already been tapped out for bailing out the failing banks and financial firms.  And even if they had been able to absorb them, the Fed had shown their willingness to step in to do "whatever it takes" to make sure things kept running.  As such, there were a few games of "chicken" to see who would blink first when it came to stepping up.

My major takeaway from this book was simply that economics is not a science, and that nobody can predict the cause and effects of financial actions with any degree of certainty.  I've heard it said that running the economy is like driving forward while only looking in the rear view mirror.  After reading In FED We Trust, I am again reminded of that saying, and I am even more convinced of its validity.

I'm sure other books about the financial crisis will be written, and I'll definitely have to read them to get a better overall view of what happened, as I'm not sure that In FED We Trust is the best overall objective analysis and story of what happened.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

08/15/2010

Book Review - The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters by Andy Andrews

Category Book Review Andy Andrews The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters
A picture named M2

Andy Andrews' book The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters is one of those small gift books that will take you about 10 minutes to read (if that), but that has an interesting message that will tweak your viewpoint on life.  You've likely heard of the "butterfly effect", where it's said that the beating of a butterfly's wings can stir air modules that will stir other air modules, until you end up with a hurricane in China.  While taking that scenario literally might be hard to accept, the underlying truth is valid...  a small action taken at one point in time can ripple out and have enormous implications.

Andrews tells the story of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a college professor who was also a colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War.  At the battle of Gettysburg, he was told that he had to hold the end of a 80,000 troop line strung out across miles.  His platoon repelled a number of Confederate attacks, but attrition took its toll and they were without ammo (as well as most of the soldiers they started with).  As the Confederate soldiers reformed for what would be the final attack, Chamberlain found out that all his commanding officers had been killed, and if he failed to hold the line, the Union Army would likely have to surrender or face mass slaughter.  Faced with the choice of doing nothing or doing something, he ordered his ragtag band of soldiers to fix bayonets and charge.  The Confederates, shocked at seeing an offensive being launched at them, figured the Union side must have been reinforced, and started to retreat.  In short order, they ended up surrendering to Chamberlain, and he carried out his orders to hold the line.

Andrews then plays the "what if" scenarios out... what if Chamberlain had given up?  Experts predict that if the Battle of Gettysburg had been lost, the Confederates would have won the war. America would have looked like Europe with a number of smaller, fragmented countries. America would not have existed to help stop the tyrants of World War 2 from overrunning Asia and Europe.  And so on, and so on.  All from the decision of one man standing on a brick wall, giving the order to charge in the face of overwhelming odds.

While you can make the argument that Andrews is looking only at the positive side of things, I think the fact remains that many small decisions can and do reverberate over time and have far-reaching effects.  And if we live with that understanding and purpose in mind as Andrews suggests, our lives can take on a new sense of meaning and purpose.

If you've read other Andrews books in the past, you might have already heard this story (specifically, his book The Noticer).  And if you're looking for something of substance to explore this idea further, The Butterfly Effect isn't it (it's only 109 pages and literally should take you no more than 10 minutes to read).  But in terms of material for you to contemplate and implement into your life, The Butterfly Effect does deliver.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

08/15/2010

Book Review - Creepiosity: A Hilarious Guide to the Unintentionally Creepy by David Bickel

Category Book Review David Bickel Creepiosity: A Hilarious Guide to the Unintentionally Creepy
A picture named M2

Sometimes you run across a book that  you can't help but pick up and laugh about.  The visit to the library today turned up one such book for me... Creepiosity: A Hilarious Guide to the Unintentionally Creepy by David Bickel.  While a very short read (took me all of about 30 minutes), it had me laughing out loud in more than one place, as well as reading passages to my wife (who didn't seem to "appreciate" the humor as much as I did).

Bickel has a tongue-in-cheek creepiology scale that goes from 1 to 10, with 10 being described as "perhaps a tattoo on Janet Reno's back of a ventriloquist dummy biting a pygmy whose right eye is actually a mole with some hair growing out of it."  Yes, I guess that *would* be really creepy.  The rest of the book consists of pictures and situations that he considers creepy, along with some rather witty descriptions and a creepiology value.  Dick Cheney smiling registers a 7.71 on the scale, while hairless cats get a 9.47.  Grown men in Boy Scout uniforms? 9.29.  People who drive really old cars get a 6.71, and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood gets a 9.10.  Come on... admit it... Mr. Rogers was "different"...

Much of the humor comes from Bickel's commentary.  For instance, the Bazooka Joe comic character rates a 7.27, which seems rather high... until you realize this kid must have suffered a major injury to be forced to wear an eyepatch, and he hangs around with a kid who wears a turtleneck over his mouth.  When Bickel puts it that way, I have to wonder if perhaps poor old Joe shouldn't have been a bit higher on the scale...

Creepiosity was a fun way to spend an hour today, and I'm not sure I'll look at some things quite the same way again.  And that's probably a good thing. :)

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

08/15/2010

Book Review - World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Category Book Review Max Brooks World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
A picture named M2

I'm not normally a zombie genre reader, so I'm not quite sure why this book caught my eye in the bookstore... World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.  Perhaps it was the "first person account" angle of the story, where the world has barely survived a worldwide war against zombies.  Whatever the case, this was an entertaining read with enough room to let your mind imagine what what it might be like to fight an enemy that won't "die" like normal people.

The setting of the book is around 10 to 15 years after the outbreak of the first zombie attacks.  The "author" was tasked with gathering information from people who survived the war, and that information was to be part of a UN report.  But most of his material ended up being cut as it was "too personal."  Rather than lose the stories of how people were personally affected, he decided to publish his interviews as a human record of events.  Thus, he created the oral history of the war.  He talks with a wide spectrum of individuals, from government officials who had to "manage" the public perception, to soldiers who were fighting a relentless and mindless enemy, to those who were just trying to cling to whatever fragments of society remained.  With every new interview comes a new angle and perspective to the conflict.

Since this doesn't cover the blow-by-blow history of the actual war, you do need to let the interviews unfold and fill in the details of what started the outbreak, how it spread, and how people mobilized to fight the zombies.  And if you stop and think about it at various points, the logistics of fighting zombies that just won't die unless their brains are destroyed presents unique challenges.  If one zombie finds you, his moans attract others within hearing distance, which starts their moaning calls, and it cascades from there.  In short order, you could have thousands of zombies advancing on you, with no thoughts other than to feed on you and turn you into one of them.  Not a pretty thought...

You do have to make some leaps of imagination at points, however.  For instance, during one of the interviews, the author goes on a deep-water dive in a submersible.  When they get to the bottom, they find... what else?  More zombies!  So apparently these undead don't need air, can avoid the corrosive nature of salt water, and are not affected by the crushing pressures at the bottom of the ocean.  But hey, it's not as if writing about zombies is an exacting science anyway, right?  :)

I personally found World War Z one of those quirky but enjoyable reads.  It may not fit everyone's taste, but if you're OK with the "undead", you'll probably like it.  I still have to laugh at my wife's statement when she saw what I was reading, however... "You sure do have eclectic tastes in reading material..."

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Bookstore
Payment: Purchased

08/14/2010

Book Review - Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter

Category Book Review Jeff Potter Cooking for Geeks: Real Science Great Hacks and Good Food
A picture named M2

The typical geek doesn't just want something to work.  They want to know *why* and *how* it works.  If your geekness extends to the kitchen, this book is perfect... Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter.  It's a wonderful mix of science and hands-on activities, and definitely opened my eyes as to why things work as they do in the kitchen.

Contents:
Hello, Kitchen!: Think Like a Hacker; Cooking for One; Cooking for Others
Initializing the Kitchen: Approaching the Kitchen; Kitchen Equipment; Kitchen Organization
Choosing Your Inputs - Flavors and Ingredients: Smell + Taste = Flavor; Tastes - Bitter, Salty, Sweet, Umami, Others; Adapt and Experiment Method; Regional/Traditional Method; Seasonal Method; Analytical Method
Time and Temperature - Cooking's Primary Variables: Cooked = Time * Temperature; Foodborne Illness and Staying Safe; Key Temperatures in Cooking
Air - Baking's Key Variable: Gluten; Biological Leaveners; Chemical Leaveners; Mechanical Leaveners
Playing with Chemicals: Traditional Cooking Chemicals; Modern Industrial Chemicals
Fun with Hardware: Sous Vide Cooking; Commercial Hardware and Techniques
Appendix; Afterword; Index

There's just so fun stuff here, it's hard to know where to start.  Potter does an excellent job in explaining the science behind what happens when you mix the eggs, flour, and milk together and apply heat.  While most books on cooking tell you *what* to do, this one goes into the *why* and *how*.  For instance, why does heat change food, and how does that happen?  What is involved in protein denaturation, the maillard reaction, and caramelization?  And why does knowing all this make a difference to you when it comes to knowing when a particular item is "done cooking"?  It's this type of information that takes you beyond saying "but I left it in for the 10 minutes they said... why wasn't it cooked?"  After reading Cooking for Geeks, you can start to understand what's going on within the food, and make educated decisions about what happened, what is happening, and what will happen next.

Fortunately, Cooking for Geeks isn't just a chemistry manual though.  It's full of actual recipes that look delicious, as well as interviews with other cooks who reveal some of their secrets and mindsets behind what they do in the kitchen.  Again, it all serves to take you beyond the "follow steps 1, 2, and 3" method of cooking, into something that is creative and fun.  

This is like reading a season's worth of Alton Brown's Good Eats shows.  Plenty of fun and very informational... and you can eat or toss your mistakes. :)

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

08/12/2010

Book Review - No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley

Category Book Review Graham Bowley No Way Down: Life and Death on K2
A picture named M2

As part of the Amazon Vine review program, I got an advance reader copy of the book No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley.  Although it's not something I would ever do myself, I find these life-and-death mountain disaster stories fascinating.  It's not possible to read No Way Down without drawing comparisons to Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, which is what I would consider the classic climbing tale of being trapped on a mountain.  Unfortunately, I didn't have that same "must keep reading" compulsion here that I had with Krakauer's book...

Bowley writes his account of the K2 disaster in 2008 that claimed 11 lives when a descent from the summit went bad.  He interviewed most of the participants and survivors to piece together the timeline and actions from the final summit attempt from Camp 4 to the long descent, complete with avalanches, misplaced rope lines, bad judgement calls, and numerous other mishaps.  As an attempt to piece together a factual account of the event, it's ok.  It helps to keep in mind that with all the deaths, no account could be 100% complete or accurate.  Also, the lack of oxygen at that altitude can and does wreak havoc on the brain, altering memories and the sense of time.  But Bowley did his research, and this is likely as complete a picture as we'll ever have.

Where the book slips is in the sense of story.  The prologue and first chapter have the climbers heading out from Camp 4 early in the morning to start the summit attempt.  There's no sense of build-up, background on the climbers, or an attempt to set any sort of mood.  I felt as if I was thrown into the event halfway through, and I hadn't established any connection to the people.  In short, I didn't care about them.  As I continued to read, that didn't change much.  Yes, it was a dramatic and tragic event, but without the connection to the climbers, I didn't feel what I think was trying to be conveyed.  Compare this to Into Thin Air, where I couldn't stop thinking about what happened for days.

If you're really into climbing and mountaineering, you'll probably like No Way Down more than I did.  But given my previous reading experiences in the mountain disaster vein, No Way Down suffers in comparison.

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

08/10/2010

Lotus Live is... well... live!

Category IBM/Lotus
There were just a few announcements from IBM/Lotus today. :)  Notes 8.5.2 was announced, as well as Lotus Live 1.3.  Like a few other bloggers, I was part of a call with Ed Brill today where we were given a bit more information about the Lotus Live announcement and allowed to "beat the vendor".  Unfortunately, since I was at work at the time, I didn't have time/access to blog about it shortly thereafter.  So much of what could be said *has* been said via other blogs, and often more eloquently than I could have covered it:

Ed Brill
Bilal Jaffery
Chris Miller
Chris Toohey
John Roling

I'm sure a few others will chime in also, but these links will give you a good idea about what was discussed and where things are going.

From my viewpoint, this is a pretty good start.  I differ with Ed's view that this is a market-leading offering, as I think you need to have a LOT more people talking about your product than what we've seen and heard so far.  When you talk about email in the cloud, Google is still far and away the first thought that comes to mind.  Not to say that Lotus Live can't get there, just that it's not there yet in my opinion.

It's also important to understand that Lotus Live does NOT mean Notes applications in the cloud.  The Lotus Live offering is a mix (depending on what parts you buy) of calendar, scheduling, email, activities, etc.  Your Notes apps still have to run on a server located locally.

Which leads to what I think is one of the strongest features of Lotus Live... It allows you a true hybrid solution based on what makes sense for your needs.  It's not an "all-in" solution unless you choose to go that route.  You can have some or all of your users and capabilities in the cloud, and you can still run your Notes client locally to access your email in the cloud should you desire that configuration.  That makes for an interesting set of options that can give you the best of all worlds based on what makes sense for your organization (instead of what makes sense for your vendor).

Time will tell how this works out, and the devil is *truly* in the details here.  But I'm encouraged by what I see so far, and IBM seems to be headed in the right direction for future capabilities and offerings.

08/07/2010

Book Review - The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Category Book Review Gretchen Rubin The Happiness Project
A picture named M2

So is it possible to actually create a project and plan to increase the overall happiness in your life?  Gretchen Rubin set out to do just that in her book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.  It wasn't that she was horribly dissatisfied with life.  It's just that she felt that there could be so much more if she really thought about it and started making changes.  The project became a blog, and the blog turned into this book.  While your project would not be the same as hers, she does present the basic project components, and makes some good points on how anyone can get back to the basics of what makes them happy.

Contents:
January - Boost Energy (Vitality); February - Remember Love (Marriage); March - Aim Higher (Work); April - Lighten Up (Parenthood); May - Be Serious About Play (Leisure); June - Make Time for Friends (Friendship); July - Buy Some Happiness (Money); August - Contemplate the Heavens (Eternity); September - Pursue a Passion (Books); October - Pay Attention (Mindfulness); November - Keep a Contented Heart (Attitude); December - Book Camp Perfect (Happiness); Afterword; Acknowledgments; Your Happiness Project; Suggestions for Further Reading

During the project, Rubin had to think hard about what she wanted, what really made her happy, and how she could take all her study and research and condense it down into nuggets of truth for her.  For January, "boost energy" became the actionable items of go to sleep earlier, exercise better, toss/restore/organize, tackle a nagging task, and act more energetic.  September's pursuit of a passion turned into writing a novel, making time, forgetting about results, and mastering a new technology.  It all sounds simple in theory, but she often struggled behind *why* certain things worked and didn't work in her life.  For me, I quickly faced the realization that I really don't *know* what I want in many cases.  Too much "letting life happen" and pleasing others leaves me with a lack of understanding about what makes *me* tick.  As such, I found this book rather convicting and uncomfortable in places.

Since I tend to be a bit more "to the point" in my reading preferences, I found a few places where I wanted to trim up the narrative a bit.  It was also a bit hard to get excited about a project month for a topic that just didn't fall onto my radar screen (or at least not in the way it did for Ruben).  Still, The Happiness Project is well worth the time spent reading.  Because of what I learned, I have some major thinking to do and actions to take.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

08/07/2010

Book Review - The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

Category Book Review Deborah Blum The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
A picture named M2

With all the books I receive for review (and given that I have a library a block away from my house), I rarely *buy* a book any more.  But on a recent trip, I wandered into a bookstore and had a particular title jump out at me... The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum.  I found this book fascinating on multiple counts, and I had a hard time putting it down.

Contents:
The Poison Game; Chloroform; Wood Alcohol; Cyanides; Arsenic; Mercury; Carbon Monoxide (Part 1); Methyl Alcohol; Radium; Ethyl Alcohol; Carbon Monoxide (Part 2); Thallium; The Surest Poison; Author's Note; Gratitudes; A Guide to the Handbook; Notes; Index

Handbook covers a 20 year period from 1915 to 1935, back when Prohibition was starting and forensic medicine was a relatively unknown concept.  The coroner's office in New York was staffed with political cronies who were quite happy to write off most deaths in ways that were more expedient than accurate.  This all changed when Charles Norris (chief medical examiner) and Alexander Gettler (toxicologist) took over in 1918.  These two took their jobs seriously, and started to apply rigorous discipline and science to their jobs.  Because of their efforts, the public was able to get a true picture as to causes of death due to shoddy medicine, cost-cutting companies, and out-right murder.  In fact, the papers and research from Norris and Gettler are still considered definitive resources today.

Blum frames much of her book around Prohibition and how it was responsible for innumerable deaths.  The illegality of alcohol led to increased prices for those who wanted a drink.  And most everyone *still* wanted their drinks.  The profits available from bootlegging were incredible, and everyone was willing to try their hand at making their own hootch.  Drinking liquor made of cheap wood and methyl alcohol became little more than a game of Russian roulette as there was no way to tell just how toxic your next drink would be.  Interspersed with the rise and fall of Prohibition, she also covers other toxins that Norris and Gettler traced down as killers.  For instance, radium was used to create watch dials that would glow in the dark.  The women who painted the dials thought little of licking the brushes to maintain their sharp tips.  In fact, it was even required by the company.  But after a couple of years, mysterious ailments afflicted nearly all the workers, and it was a battle to get the US Radium Corporation to admit fault and pay the workers a settlement.  And even then, it was a mere pittance for all their suffering and eventual deaths.

I'm very glad that The Poisoner's Handbook was strategically placed on the shelf where I found it.  On top of it being fascinating (in a morbid way), it opened my eyes to a different view of Prohibition, and how (once again) something can turn out far differently than what was originally planned.  

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Bookstore
Payment: Purchased

08/07/2010

Book Review - Big Trouble by Dave Barry

Category Book Review Dave Barry Big Trouble
A picture named M2

As a fan of the South Florida novel genre (think Hiaasen and Dorsey), I couldn't pass on reading Dave Barry's Big Trouble.  I can't resist the chance to escape into the world of inept criminals and off-the-wall personalities that seem to make up a significant portion of that population.  :)  I'm a bit surprised that I somehow let this one get by my radar for so long (originally published over ten years ago), but oh well.

Big Trouble reminds me of a Tim Dorsey novel without all the characters being on speed.  In fact, most of the characters could, in a different setting, be semi-normal (funny, obnoxious, conceited, etc.)  Most of the craziness revolves around the action.  An innocent game of "Killer" (high school kids targeting others with squirt guns) intersects with an attempted hit by two real killers, an attempted "rescue" by a non-sober security guard, two homeless drifters who are attempting to become "kingpins", and a few arms dealers who have one device on hand that even they're scared of.  The plot lines move from a loose weave to a tight knit fabric as the action races to a conclusion.  Of course, being that all this takes place in Florida, it's pretty difficult to tell how it's all going to work out.

Overall, Big Trouble was a fun read.  Imagine yourself poolside or on the beach, with a nice beverage of choice next to you, and you've got the idea.  It's not a replacement for the insanity that is Tim Dorsey, but it's in the same ballpark.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

Want to support this blog or just say thanks?

When you shop Amazon, start your shopping experience here.

When you do that, all your purchases during that session earn me an affiliate commission via the Amazon Affiliate program. You don't have to buy the book I linked you to (although I wouldn't complain!). Simply use that as your starting point.

Thanks!

Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

Ads of Relevance...

Monthly Archives