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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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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide
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Co-author of the book IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide
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12/31/2011

So... in 2012, what do I want to do/be/accomplish?

Category 2012
There are arguments for and against making New Year's resolutions, and I know that logically January 1st is an arbitrary date to start something that could/should have been started last month or next March.  But emotionally it feels right to pick January 1st as a launch point... a time to reset and recommit to things.  And if that's the case, then what kind of things do I want to become or accomplish in the upcoming year?
  • Health - I've been working on losing weight, and that will continue.  I still have a ways to go to be where I want to be, but at least I'm moving in the right direction.  Yes, I have numbers in mind. No, they will not be listed here. :)  My purchase of the FitBit Ultra was part of that plan, and it's giving me some excellent information on calorie intake and expenditure, along with the amount of activity I (don't) get.  This last week has been more baseline-gathering than anything else, as you can't make good choices without accurate information.  Like most people, what I thought I did and what I actually do are two very different things.
  • Professional - This is the year that I dive deeply into the Microsoft world with SharePoint (sorry, Lotus).  I've been straddling the technology fence with Notes and SharePoint, and I still need to be competent on the Notes side.  But SharePoint is where we are at work, and I haven't pushed as hard as I should in that area. I could come up with reasons why that's been the case, but they'd amount to excuses that, at the end of the day, are meaningless.  I have ideas on how to blend the two technology areas in terms of blog posts and such, and I think I'm now at the point where I can follow through on those plans.  
  • Personal - I bought the ukulele, and now I'm going to learn to play the stupid thing.
  • Personal - An idea that's been nagging at me the last month... I thrive on the feeling I get when I can do something nice/helpful/useful for someone, without expecting anything in return (nor announcing what you did to the world... or even to the person if it's really behind-the-scenes).  While I've tried to get better at that this last year, it's still sporadic.  For instance, if a person is standing outside a store with a sign asking for help, fear can sometimes keep me from doing anything about it. I won't give money, but is it so hard to pick up an extra sandwich or a cup of coffee?  Is he/she going to be offended that I gave them something to eat rather than money? Ultimately, it doesn't matter. If you want change in the world, do something and forget the fear.  So for 2012, I want to do something nice for someone *every day*.  It might be a thank you, a note of encouragement, physical assistance... The main thing is to get into the mindset of looking for those opportunities, and then to act on them.

  • I have other ideas that are a bit more vague at this point, but these four will get me started on some positive changes that will make a difference for me in 2012.  

    I hope 2012 is as productive and fulfilling as I hope mine will be.

12/30/2011

I lost a most excellent pet today... Good-bye, Snoogie

Category Snoogie loss pet
Today I had to go through that event that every pet owner dreads, but  eventually has to deal with... the loss of your loved furry friend.  Snoogie, our cat of 16 years, lost his battle with kidney disease, and we decided it was time to let him go and put him to sleep.  Losing a pet has never hurt as much as this one did...

Snoogie came to us in a way we didn't really plan.  We had gotten rid of our puppy Keshi, as we found that puppies and very young children didn't mix very well.  My wife was set on a cat, which didn't do a whole lot for me.  I was a dog person, not a cat lover.  I had mentioned our plan to a co-worker, and within a week we got a call from her.  She had found a kitten out in the field behind her house, nearly dead from the cold.  She got him warmed back up, and wanted to know if we were interested.  Thus, Squeaker (not yet Snoogie) entered our life...

A picture named M2

Given his age and condition, we had to bottle feed him every few hours to get him back to normal.  Of course, there was also the constant watch to make sure he wasn't having accidents all over the place.  Pets at that age don't differ a whole lot from infants.  To make matters even more complicated, Susan's dad had a stroke the day after we got Squeaker, and she headed off to Bellingham to be with him.  So here I am, with a cat I wasn't in favor of getting, in charge of feeding and cleaning up after him.  I was *not* happy...

... until Squeaker figured out the litter box on his own the next day, and was eating out of a dish without drowning himself the day after.  Hmm... perhaps cats weren't so bad after all.

Why Squeaker? Well, for whatever reason, he wasn't picking up on the noises that "normal" cats make.  His meow was more of a squeak, distinctive enough that it earned him his name.  But somewhere along the way, the kitten talk had Susan calling him Snoogie, and the name sort of stuck.  So Snoogie it became.  At least he answered to it... when he wanted to.  While he did eventually figure out how to meow like a normal cat, he usually restricted that to when both of us came into the kitchen after being gone for a while, and he was hungry.  Once he made that fact known, he was done with the meowing.  His normal form of communication was a trilling sound that he would make when you talked to him.  If you came into the room and said "Snoogie?", he'd answer with a trill that went up just like a question... it was like he was answering you with "Yeah?  What did you want?"  I'll miss that sound...

A picture named M3

Probably because of his rough start in life, he was perfectly happy laying on top of someone or bundled up in some piece of fabric.  The tighter you snuggled him, the happier he was.  And I had to admit... he *was* cute.

A picture named M4

Over the years, he grew up with the family.  Normally very calm and mild-mannered, he had an evil streak that came out occasionally.  For some reason, he thought stalking and attacking Ian was great sport when Ian was younger.  Snoogie would sit in the dining room, just watching Ian.  Ian knew what was coming, and he didn't know whether to make a dash for it or use the hallway instead.  Not being the brightest kid (wearing shorts, no less), he'd run through the dining room, allowing Snoogie to do his "lion attacking the wildebeest" imitation.  I'm sure Ian still has scars on his legs from those "good times."

Snoogie also "remodeled" my mancave many years ago.  We used to let him have the run of the house, including the basement area where I hang out.  One day we came home, and Snoogie was looking rather messy, with some dirt and spider webs on his fur.  I went downstairs to find four panels of the suspended ceiling broken on the floor, along with bent support railings.  To this day, I *still* don't know how he got in there.  That was the end of his basement roaming privileges.  I'll remember him every time I look at the crooked rails and cracked panel now.  

As an indoor cat, he longed for the times he could make his great escapes into the outdoors.  If the door wasn't completely closed, he could and would work to pry it open.  It took us a while to learn that if he got out, it was best *not* to chase after him, as he would just keep running until you got tired.  It was best just to walk out, talk to him as he sniffed stuff, and then pick him up and return him to the safe (but boring) confines of the house.  

A picture named M5

Snoogie almost didn't make it to the age of seven.  During Lotusphere 2003, I got a call from my wife.  Snoogie wasn't eating or drinking, and appeared to be in some degree of distress.  She took him to the vet, and they saw some blockage in the intestinal area.  It would cost $1500 to do the exploratory surgery to try and correct the problem, but they still didn't know what the underlying issue would be.  As a consultant making far less than I had made while working at Enron, I was scared to spend that much money with no promise that it would actually fix the problem.  Yes, it sounds cold to put a price tag on what your pet's life is worth, but I've never been able to see myself spending thousands of dollars on health care for an animal.  Not that I think people who do so are wrong... I just can't do it.  Anyway, we decided we'd pay for the surgery, and see what happened.  They found adhesions that had kinked the intestine, and they were able to break it up and start his recovery.  Fortunately, he survived that operation and had no other problems over the years.  The running joke was that after year five, he had amortized his surgery enough that he was worth it. :)

Over the last couple of years, he developed a fascination with my robe from the Boardwalk hotel at Disneyworld.  It was white plush terry cloth that he could sink into.  When I would lay down with it on, he immediate came over and assumed his rightful place draped over my arm and shoulder, kneading his claws in the fabric and purring loud enough to be heard in the other room.  If I started to stroke the white patch of fur between his eyes, he'd nearly go into a trance of ecstasy.  Kitty heaven...

When Marie Scott, Gabriella Davis, and I wrote the Sametime Administration Guide in 2011, we snuck in pictures of our pets in various screen captures.  Snoogie made his print debut as the Sametime Mobile Kitty, the background cheesecake image for the software icon on my iPhone.  At the time, it was a cute thing to do... Now, it will be a memorial to him.

A picture named M6

As I write this, I feel the pain of his absence acutely.  Baxter, our other cat, is not a cuddler, so there's no replacement for our reading and nap kitty.  No longer will I sit down to read, only to have Snoogie appear with a little trill, looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to make room for him in *his* favorite position.  I won't be able to walk up to him on the dishwasher, start rubbing behind his ears with his face cupped in my hands, as he buries his forehead in my chest.  Opening a new bag of kitty kibble will not be as much fun any more, as he'd attack the fresh kibble like we had never fed him before.  He won't be balanced on the edge of the dishwasher, reaching out as far as he can, trying to "help" us with the milk container.  I swear he could actually say "milk"...  No more contorting Snoogie into all sorts of positions to get comfortable, without a hint of a struggle or care from him.  So long as he was close and you were rubbing his belly, he was happy.  Rub the underside of his paw, and his toes would splay out... Flip him on his back to trim his nails, and he'd just lay there cradled in your legs without a fuss.

Even though I suspected it was coming for the last few months, and knew without a doubt for the last week, the raw emotions of saying good bye was hard... trying to stick him into the carrier and zip the top, while he tried to pop back out... knowing that it was likely his final trip.  He knew the carrier meant the vet, and he *hated* the vet.  Mild Snoogie became the demon from hell when the vet came in the room.  Sounds I've never heard would come from him, and he made them earn their money.  Susan took him today, and was with him at the end.  I'm not sure I could have stayed.  But prior to the sedative, he was able to get one last scratch and bite in... he wasn't going to let the vet win without taking a bit of revenge. :)

Snoogie, you will be missed horribly.  We have fond memories, and those will always remain.  I'm glad you're no longer in pain... but letting you go really hurt.

Rest in peace, my furry friend...

A picture named M7

12/27/2011

Book Review - When Cancer Hits: Your Complete Guide To Taking Care of YOU Through Treatment by Britta Aragon

Category Book Review Britta Aragon When Cancer Hits: Your Complete Guide To Taking Care of YOU Through Treatment
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I was approached by the publicist for When Cancer Hits: Your Complete Guide To Taking Care of YOU Through Treatment by Britta Aragon recently.  While I haven't been a direct caregiver for anyone undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment, I do have some friends who are.  That was enough to pique my interest and so I accepted the offer to read and review the book.  I feel I now have a much better "book knowledge" of what a person faces during chemo, and it's (obviously!) not an easy thing.  Ms. Aragon, a cancer survivor herself, runs an organization committed to helping cancer patients deal with the side-effects of a treatment that is harsh but necessary.  Therefore, she's been down this road and has experience on things that help alleviate the pain that comes along with the treatment.

Contents:
My Journey Through Cancer to a Meaningful Life; Cancer Changes You - How is Up to You; Your Skin is Fragile - Be Careful with the Products You Use; Enough Already! - Five Ways to Lighten Your Toxic Load; Emotional Coping - What Are You Thinking About?; Your Face - Acne, Dryness, & Photosensitivity - Be Gentle!; Make-up - Sallow Skin? Eyelashes Gone? No One Needs to Know!; Solutions for a Body Under Stress; Complementary Therapies - Massage, Yoga, Reiki, and More; Hair, Wigs, and Scarves; Hands & Feet - Care for Swelling, Fragile Nails, Numbness, and Pain; Treatments Are Over, but Things Aren't Normal; Your Prevention Plan - Tips to Lower Risk of Recurrence; Final Thoughts; Acknowledgements; Appendixes; References; Index

Very quickly, you start to see that the author is an advocate of natural, organic, and non-chemical substances when it comes to counteracting the effects of chemotherapy.  Standard off-the-shelf lotions, cosmetics, and cleaners all have various chemicals and ingredients that, when coupled with a body that is already undergoing massive changes, can cause additional damage instead of alleviating pain.  Lotions (and many other items) contain parabens, which have been linked to DNA damage in some studies.  Phthalates, also found in many grooming items, have also been found to be potential carcinogens.  These chemicals get into the body and build up over time.  You can make the argument that even healthy people should avoid these items, but it's doubly true when chemotherapy is involved.  The abilities of the body to deal with chemicals like these is already compromised, and it might well be that a lotion that felt great when healthy starts causing rashes and burns during treatment.  The book contains a number of natural alternatives to these every-day items, and it's worth checking out.

She also deals with the mental and emotional aspects of chemotherapy.  For women especially, the loss of hair can be traumatic and a visible sign that they are "sick."  But there are ways to deal with those changes, either via scarves and hats, or with the use of a wig.  It may sound minor given everything else going on, but the emotional part of treatment is just as important as the physical side.  She also advocates taking time for massage therapy, yoga, and other practices to both stimulate the body and relax the mind.  While not all the activities will work for everyone, it's worth trying a few to see which ones might help.

I'll admit I'm not one to put a lot of faith in "natural" remedies, nor do I rush off to condemn every product on the store shelf that has an ingredient that I can't pronounce.  But it *is* obvious that during chemotherapy, extra care needs to be taken to find and use items that don't make an already-hard process even more painful.  I felt that When Cancer Hits opens up a number of options that someone may not consider when they're already overwhelmed with everything else.  And as a caregiver, this can help you find alternatives when you thought you didn't have any left.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

12/26/2011

Book Review - The End of the Computer by Andre Mikhailovich Solonitsyn

Category Book Review Andre Mikhailovich Solonitsyn The End of the Computer
A picture named M2

This was a unique ride, to say the least... The End of the Computer by Andre Mikhailovich Solonitsyn.  Normally, anything deemed "green" lowers my interest and expectations a couple notches right from the start.  I definitely don't qualify as an "environmentalist." But, balance that against a sci-fi novel involving the demise of the computer, and my interest is right back up there.  Solonitsyn (the "author") takes the reader into a near-future scenario where the accidental creation of a super-intellient silicon being leads an eclectic group of characters to a decision point that could either save or doom civilization as they know it. But regardless of what path they take, millions (if not billions) will die...

The story centers around a foursome of scientific geniuses who discovered a flaw in a small number of computer chips that would, if all the chips were combined, create a super-intellingence that would be infinitely more powerful than anyone could imagine.  They've written the code that would run this new creation, but there's only one problem.  Once these chips are placed in the proper alignment to create the new entity, it will also fuse the chips into a burned-out lump of silicon.  There's no second chances, and no additional chips to try it again.  Furthermore, they've "borrowed" money from some government accounts to fund their project, and now the various governments want their money back... along with the disappearance of the chips and the people who have them.  They meet up with another computer genius who used to work for the government until he saw what his ideas were being used for... weapons of mass destruction.  Now off the grid, he has to decide whether he can trust anyone enough to risk bringing the super-intelligence to life even though it may put him back on the government's radar screen for elimination.

Since it appears that nothing can be done to test the programs or theories before they try their one and only attempt, they put the chips together and get what they had feared... melted silicon.  But in that split second of functioning, the spark of "life" happens, and they now have someone(?) who has abilities beyond belief, and who can simulate and model everything that exists.  The results are not encouraging, and the fate of humanity could be at stake depending on which path is followed.

As with much sci-fi, there is some suspension of disbelief that needs to occur to make the story work.  In other words, just because something doesn't exist now doesn't mean it wouldn't exist in the future.  Furthermore, if you accept the initial premise, you have to be willing to follow it into areas that only make sense if you took that first step.  The End of the Computer works well with that mindset.  The "green" aspect of the story comes into play when topics such as genetically modified food and ocean ecology come up.  There are a couple spots where the book tends to veer a bit into "soapbox" mode, but it gets back to the story relatively quick.  The characters are different than what you usually encounter, but I felt they belonged in this setting.  To top it all off, the problems brought to light in the story are all very real, and the choices are the same ones we all face but generally do very little to resolve.  It begs the question... are we facing the same outcomes?

The End of the Computer wasn't quite what I expected, but it was definitely worth reading.  It delivers on the entertainment front, but it also left me wondering about the overall future of humanity and the planet given our current actions.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

12/24/2011

Book Review - How's That Underling Thing Working Out for You? by Scott Adams

Category Book Review Scott Adams How's That Underling Thing Working Out for You?
A picture named M2

There's really not a whole lot you can say about a Dilbert compilation.  The latest installment, How's That Underling Thing Working Out for You? by Scott Adams covers the comic strips from May 3rd, 2010 through February 12th, 2011.  If you're used to seeing the strip in the newspaper, it's a bonus to get the full-color versions here.  As a regular reader, I've seen the material before, but it's fun to re-read as various strips take on different meanings based on your day-to-day work experiences.  For example, January 17th's strip has the pointy-haired boss say "I have a GREAT idea! Why don't we make our product social?" Dilbert responds with "Because when YOU start to understand a concept, it marks the beginning of its decline."  Given the latest emphasis on vendors trying to rebrand everything as "social", this strip is funnier now than it probably was to me back then. :)

Nothing much more to add here. You know what you're getting with a compilation, and if you like them, you'll like this.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

12/24/2011

Book Review - Pan American World Airways: Images of a Great Airline by James Patrick Baldwin

Category Book Review James Patrick Baldwin Pan American World Airways: Images of a Great Airline
A picture named M2

For some reason, going back in time in aviation history fascinates me. It used to be that air travel was an adventure, one where you were expected to dress and behave with class.  Planes came with actual tables for meals, and you had sleeping bunks much like trains.  Now, it's mostly a cattle car experience, seen as a necessary evil to get from one point to another in a reasonable amount of time.  Given that mindset, I looked forward to reading Pan American World Airways: Images of a Great Airline by James Patrick Baldwin when I saw it appear at our library.  Unfortunately, it didn't quite measure up to my expectations.  There *are* some unique pictures in the book, pictures of items that have been lost and forgotten over time.  But due to repetition and undersized images, the book went from "savor" to "scan" in short order.

Contents:
Beginnings; War Years; Piston Era; Jet Age; Top of the World - Boeing 747; End of an American Icon

Baldwin starts each of the sections with a bulleted list of Pan American firsts and key events.  I learned such things as Pam Am being the first to use cabin attendants and serve meals in 1929.  They were also the first airline to take delivery of the Boeing 747 in 1969. That may be why I always tend to link 747s and Pam Am in my mind.  The rest of the section then consists of various images of planes and items associated with the airline.  There are luggage tags starting in the 1950s and going up to the last luggage tag issued for their final flight in 1991.  The covers of the annual reports from 1930 through 1978 make an appearance, as well as the route maps and schedule brochures over the years.  The various styles and designs are interesting, as you see Pam Am expand, mature, and speak to various classes of travelers.  The images also reminded me of how much of the travel experience is now digital, as baggage tags are just barcoded strips of paper and time tables change online continuously.

Where I was disappointed was in the execution of the layout and choice of material.  The luggage tags became repetitive, and I was just glancing at those by the end.  The bigger problem came with the time tables, maps, and various brochures and publications.  The annual report covers didn't change a lot in the early years, and I found myself wishing I could have seen some content from each one.  Time table brochures were *very* small, which made reading anything on them nearly impossible.  Yeah, I could have found a magnifying class and deciphered much of the text, but I wasn't up to that level of effort just to read the book.  It's too bad that those images weren't made larger, as seeing the reduction in flight times and fuel stops over the years would have been interesting.  Since the book is only 112 pages long, I understand why the images were smaller. In this case, more pages (or less repetition) would have been better, so that the detailed images could have been larger.  That change would have doubled (at least) the amount of time I spent with this book.

Pan American World Airways: Images of a Great Airline was a great concept that would have benefited from larger pictures and more pages.  Now with the prevalence of e-books, I'd love to see this book redone without the restriction of page count and printing costs.  I'm guessing the results would be outstanding.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

12/22/2011

Book Review - Throwaway Players: Concussion Crisis From Pee Wee Football to the NFL by Gay Culverhouse

Category Book Review Gay Culverhouse Throwaway Players: Concussion Crisis From Pee Wee Football to the NFL
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If you watch sports (the National Football League in particular), you know there's been a greater focus of late on concussions and how players should be treated if a concussion is suspected.  Unfortunately, the pervasive attitude still seems to be "just sit for a couple of minutes, shake it off, and get back out there."  The mentality is "win at all costs," both for the player and the team management, not to mention the fans.  But will this lack of regard for the cumulative effects of these "dings" be a cause for significant health issues down the road?  Throwaway Players: Concussion Crisis From Pee Wee Football to the NFL by Gay Culverhouse makes a very strong case for the physical and mental crisis facing those who participate in sports, subjecting their bodies to cumulative injuries that it was never designed to endure and is ill-equipped to handle.

Gay Culverhouse was the president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three years during the period of time her father owned the team.  In that role, she started to see the less-than-pretty part of the game. Being a woman in a role almost entirely composed of men, she was excluded from many of the normal activities that owners and executives are part of when it comes to running an NFL franchise.  She maintained a certain distance from the players, tending towards an employer-employee relationship.  But after the team was sold, she started to see a number of disturbing stories of players dying long before a "normal" person would.  Suicides, dementia, short-term memory loss, confusion... These symptoms were showing up in players in their 30's.  Once she started her research, it became clear that steroids and concussions were responsible for premature death and decreased quality of life as players aged.  Players used steroids to get bigger and compete, as well as to recover more quickly from injuries so they could keep their jobs.  But the body is not equipped to handle that much body mass, nor are players often able to go back to being smaller and no longer "larger than life."  The larger bodies deliver harder hits that cause concussions, and the repeated brain trauma adds up.  From pee-wee sports up through college and pro levels, the focus is on winning now and doing whatever it takes to get back on the field.  Unfortunately, the result is often CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.  This used to be seen only in older people or those suffering from Alzheimer's. Now it's appearing in people in their late 20's.

To say this book makes an impact is an understatement.  There are the high-profile cases that appear three or four times a year in the news, but Culverhouse runs an outreach program to help retired players get NFL benefits.  That means she sees *far* more than the headline names.  She sees those who can barely walk, who have diminishing cognitive functions, and who are unable to hold a job due to these conditions.  They sacrificed everything to play a game, the game used them up, and now they're just tossed aside... "throwaway players."  Those in the stands might say "well, they knew what they were getting into," but that's not really a true statement.  The cumulative effect of concussions are just now being understood, and for those who have focused their entire life on playing football, it could well be too late.  Playing with concussions, or even just the "normal" amount of banging around that happens in a game, is setting up players for a future that isn't very bright once they leave the game (or the game leaves them).

This is a book that should be widely read by those who play, coach, or attend various sporting events.  Culverhouse makes it very clear that the game is temporary, as is any associated fame and glory.  The true cost for the player comes due after they leave the playing field, and in far too many cases, it's a cost that's much too high for anyone to afford.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

12/14/2011

The IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Adminstration Guide book is now on Facebook...

Category Sametime Administration Guide
A picture named M2

The IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide book written by Marie Scott, Gab Davis, and myself now has its own Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sametime-Administration-Guide/326666937348851.

We'll be posting updated information, reviews of the book, pictures of the book "in the wild", and anything else that we think will help you be successful in your Sametime administration efforts.

Head on over and Like us there if you'd like to follow and stay current on what's happening.

You can buy a copy of the IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide on Amazon or direct from the publisher, Packt.

12/11/2011

I'm speaking at Lotusphere...

Category ls12 Lotusphere 2012
A picture named M2

Working on my TDI slides along with Marie Scott...

12/04/2011

Book Review - The Skinny on Time Management: How to Maximize Your 24-Hour Gift by Jim Randel

Category Book Review Jim Randel The Skinny on Time Management: How to Maximize Your 24-Hour Gift
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There's no real way to "save" time... it passes by whether you do something productive with it or not.  Once gone, it can't be regained. The best you can do is "manage" your time and what you choose to do with it.  Jim Randel covers this topic in his book The Skinny on Time Management: How to Maximize Your 24-Hour Gift.  The Skinny series is great in condensing the essential information on a topic, and this volume is no different.  It's 134 pages of stick figure cartoon panels that pass along the information in a fun, fast, concise manner.

If you've read books on time management, you've probably heard most of the material in various formats before.  Randel starts off with having you record/capture how you spend your time. Until you know how it's being spent, you won't be able to make changes.  It's also very likely that you don't have a clue as to how much time wasting is going on (TV, surfing the web, etc.)  Then, based on your goals, you can start to make choices that help propel you towards them.  Figure out your most productive timeframes in terms of energy, and make sure those timeslots are not wasted.  You can also learn how to make use of smaller time chunks (like waiting in line or for appointments) to do things that would eat into your larger time chunks, like answering email.  Add in to-do lists and prioritization, creating good time habits, and overcoming inertia, and you have a framework in place to get more done than you thought possible.

The appeal of the Skinny books (in my opinion) lies in their brevity and conversational tone.  It feels like you're having a 30 minute conversation with a friend who happens to know the topic at hand very well.  Yeah, some the jokes might be cheezy, but it feels more like self-deprecating humor rather than someone who takes themselves far too seriously.  If I didn't have any background on the topic being discussed, a Skinny book would provide a quick framework for further reading.  Since I do in this case, it's a good reminder to refocus on the basics.

The Skinny on Time Management does exactly what it sets out to do... it gives the reader a way to start doing more with the time they have.  On top of that, it does so quickly and with humor. I can't ask for much more than that.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

12/04/2011

Book Review - Get Off Your "But": How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself by Sean Stephenson

Category Book Review Sean Stephenson Get Off Your "But": How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself
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Another one of the personal improvement books I just finished was one I got at the library... Get Off Your "But": How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself by Sean Stephenson.  I had never heard of the author before, and it was the creative title that snared me.  But after reading this book and checking out the author's story and videos on Youtube, I came away with a huge appreciation and respect for what he's done and the message he has here.  He definitely qualifies as someone who got off his "but"...

Contents:
Acknowledgments; Foreword by Anthony Robbins; Born to Kick BUT - The Short Story of a Big Life; Lesson 1 - Start Connecting; Lesson 2 - Watch What You Say to Yourself!; Lesson 3 - Master Your Physical Confidence; Lesson 4 - Focus Your Focus; Lesson 5 - Choose Your Friends Wisely; Lesson 6 - Take Full Responsibility; One Last Thing; Resources; The Author

Stephenson was born with a genetic disorder called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or "brittle bones disorder."  With this condition, his bones were extremely fragile and could (and did) break at the slightest touch.  Even a sneeze could break a rib.  The birthing process left him with far more broken bones than complete ones, and the doctors gave him approximately 24 hours to live after being born.  But his parents didn't accept that diagnosis, and Sean was a fighter. He spent the first few weeks of his life encased in a body cast to try and repair the damage, and slowly he healed enough to head home.  But even then his struggles were far from over.  His legs would never be strong enough to support him, so he was confined to a wheelchair to move around.  Everything was designed to help him avoid inadvertent contact that would lead to yet another fracture.

If anyone had a "right" to offer up excuses for what he couldn't do, it would be Sean.  He was adapting to his limits, but that doesn't mean he wasn't frustrated or angry with what he was going through.  At the age of 9, he broke his femur on Halloween, the one day of the year he loved because everyone dressed up to look strange, and he fit right in.  As he was wailing in pain, his mom looked at him and said "Sean, is this going to be a gift or a burden?"  That question stopped him dead in his tracks, and subsequently changed his life.  It didn't mean that he was now excited about his condition or never wished he could be something else.  But he did decide at that point to start focusing on what he *could* do instead of what he couldn't do.  That moment affected him deeply, and led him to be able to share his story with millions, allowing others to toss out the "but" sentences that limit them... I'd like to be successful BUT I was born into poverty... I would move on with my life BUT a drunk driver killed my wife... I'm overweight BUT it's not my fault.  

His six lessons, complete with many stories, involve the reader in a number of exercises to identify and pinpoint the reasons and causes for not being able to move forward.  For some, it may be self-talk that is extremely negative.  For others, it may be the lack of physical confidence that causes them to feel and project inferiority and a "woe is me" attitude.  Regardless of which lesson resonates most deeply, the material is informative and easy to follow, and you can't help but be amazed that the person this advice has more reasons than most to be affected by all of the problems he talks about.  When you're a three foot guy who needs a wheelchair to get around, it's not like you've led a charmed life and haven't had to apply any of the concepts you're talking about...

Get Off Your "But" hit me on a number of levels, both in terms of things to consider and with inspiration to look beyond self-imposed limits.  While it might be easy to think "I know a number of people who need to read this," the reality is that *I* need to read and remember this... and act on it.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

12/03/2011

Book Review - Creating the Perfect Lifestyle by Oli Hille

Category Book Review Oli Hille Creating the Perfect Lifestyle
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I was contacted by Oli Hille, asking if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing his ebook Creating the Perfect Lifestyle.  I'm always open to learning and exploring ways to improve the life I live, so I accepted.  His book is an interesting collection of ideas and principles that he's applied to give himself an opportunity to break out of the 8 to 5 routine that most people seem to accept as normal.  Not all of them are applicable to everyone, such as finding your soul mate or having children.  But by and large you can glean value from most all of the book.

In many ways, Creating the Perfect Lifestyle reminds me of Timothy Ferris' book The 4-Hour Workweek.  Goals need to be set in order to do more than drift along in life.  To achieve the goals, you need to be making to-do lists to keep the goal fulfillment moving forward.  Keeping your body in shape via proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep is necessary to have the energy to both accomplish your goals and enjoy them once you get there.  Multiple sources of income works well to keep from having financial issues if your main job disappears.  On top of these more visible actions, you also need to deal with mental obstacles that can derail progress.  These roadblocks could be an overwhelming fear of failure, lack of focus, or the belief that you don't amount to much.  Hille could expand nearly any of the chapters into books to more deeply explore the topic at hand.  But in terms of a broad coverage of many different ways to improve your lot in life, Creating the Perfect Lifestyle works well.

Hille has a God-centered approach to his life, and there are a few chapters that delve into his beliefs in those areas.  If that's something that you find objectionable, you can bypass those particular chapters and still gain value.  Keep in mind that what he considers a perfect lifestyle and what you would wish for will likely be two different things.  The key is to do what's necessary to get to the point where you *can* make choices on your terms.  My major objection in the book is the chapter titled "The Best Game in the World".  In that chapter, he advocates the trading of foreign currencies and commodities as a good choice for making money.  He also talks about a fund that he's managed for his own money (stated returns of 76.06% per year from 2007 through 2010) and his plans to launch it as a public fund in 2013.  I'm incredibly cynical when it comes to claims such as that, and he admits that he's lost a lot of money while learning to trade, even going against his own processes when he was overly excited or emotionally invested in some trade.  He has links to other free e-books of his to explain things more completely, but I don't see this kind of activity being consistent with creating a solid financial foundation if you're already struggling to begin with.  Having said that, your mileage may vary.

If you've read other books on personal improvement, some of the material in Creating the Perfect Lifestyle will be familiar.  You'll still be able to gain insight and value from it.  If you've never given any thought to these concepts, then this book is a good place to get started.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

12/03/2011

Book Review - Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales by Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

Category Book Review Bill Bass Jon Jefferson Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales
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With shows such as CSI and novels by Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, it's hard to remember that forensic analysis of dead bodies used to be non-existent. No one was able to look at a decomposed body and tease out the story that it told.  That all changed with the Body Farm, the forensics laboratory created by Dr. Bill Bass.  With the help of Jon Jefferson, Bass tells the story of how the Body Farm came to be in the book Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales.  Bass is an entertaining storyteller, and it's interesting to see how a single person was able to have such a dramatic impact on bringing killers to justice.

Contents: The Bones of the Eaglet; Dead Indians and Dam Engineers; Bare Bones - Forensics 101; The Unsavory Uncle; The Case of the Headless Corpse; The Scene of the Crime; Death's Acre - The Body Farm Is Born; A Bug for Research; Progress and Protest; Fat Sam and Cadillac Joe; Grounded in Science; The Zoo Man Murders; Parts Unknown; Art Imitates Death; More Progress, More Protest; The Backyard Barbecue; The Not-So-Accidental Tourist; The Bloody Beneficiary; Ashes to Ashes; And When I Die; Appendix I - Bones of the Human Skeleton; Appendix II - Glossary of Forensic and Anthropological Terms; Acknowledgments; Index

Death's Acre was written back in 2003, so a number of years have passed.  Even so, the material holds up well.  The collaboration of Bass and Jefferson makes this a much better read that I expected.  These two have written a number of forensic novels under the pen name of Jefferson Bass, and their ongoing collaboration can be seen here.  The different stories told by Bass are used as a framework to weave the story of how the Body Farm came to be.  Often these types of books end up as either disjointed reminiscing or a chronological history of the person's life and career.  Neither of those extremes happen in Death's Acre, and the result is entertaining and educational.  The writing also brings out Bass's respect of the dead, and his humility at being entrusted with the remains of people who once had lives, families, and loved ones.  Yes, what he does with the remains can easily be viewed as morbid or disgusting.  But he never seems to lose sight of the fact that the sacrifices of these people will help others find answers if and when their loved ones are victims of killers who may avoid capture and justice without the information Bass discovers.

Death's Acre is pretty much required reading for fans of forensic TV shows and novels.  It provides the necessary context as to how a murder can be solved by the presence or absence of a single insect.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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