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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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03/26/2011

Book Review - Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work by Russell Bishop

Category Book Review Russell Bishop Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work
A picture named M2

I'll admit I'm a fan of "it's better to ask forgiveness than permission" when it comes to getting things done.  It's more important to tear down broken processes than to just follow along because "that's how it's done here."  Given that mindset, I had to accept the offer to read and review Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work by Russell Bishop.  Bishop offers up various situations and strategies that you can use personally and professionally to circumvent or break down the barriers that hold you back.

Contents:
Introduction; It All Starts with You; Getting the Right Things Done; Misaligned Leadership and Unclear Direction; How You Frame the Problem Is The Problem; Communication and Action; Accountability and Response-Ability; Breakdowns Between Silos; When Cultures Clash; Death by Decision - Stop Deciding and Start Choosing; Moving Beyond Consensus; Are You a Corporate Firefighter?; When the Best and Brightest Are Wrong; Making the Most of Meetings; The Email Avalanche; When Process Gets in the Way; Overcoming Criticism, Complaints, and Resistance; Multitasking Our Way to Oblivion; Conclusion - Workarounds Get Things Done; Index

Each chapter follows a similar format which makes it easy to frame the content.  The situation that presents the roadblock is described, followed by how a particular workaround can get you through or around the issue.  The chapter then closes with a number of questions you can ask yourself to analyze the situation and determine how best to implement the workaround put forth.  

As an example, take the chapter on being the "corporate firefighter."  Many of the fires we end up fighting are issues that have been known for some time, but action has been put off until "later", whether on purpose or by forgetfulness.  Then when "later" becomes "now", everything needs to be dropped to respond to the problem.  To work around this, implement a weekly review to help get things out of your head and inbox, and onto a master task/to-do list of actions you need to take.  This workaround allows you to handle things before they become a crisis, and life starts to work more smoothly.

Another example would be when you work in an area that is overwhelming you with things to do.  You can try to work harder and smarter, but that cliche means little.  Instead of working yourself into the ground, examine what you're doing with the "Stop, Start, Continue" workaround.  Based on your direction, strategy, or goals, ask yourself what you can stop doing, what needs to start being done, and what things you're currently doing that should be continued.  This breaks the cycle of doing things because they've always been done, and gets to the root of the problem.

Bishop recognizes that not all workarounds are long-term, nor can every obstacle be resolved by going around it.  Sometimes there's only so much you can do as an individual, and the problem needs to be resolved at a higher level.  But if you're tired of banging your head against a wall because nothing changes, a read of Workarounds That Work may help you get beyond your frustrations and improve your work and personal life.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

03/26/2011

Book Review - Treachery In Death by J. D. Robb

Category Book Review J. D. Robb Treachery In Death
A picture named M2

Time out for some guilty pleasure reading... The prolific Nora Roberts (writing as J. D. Robb) cranks out another In Death novel, this time titled Treachery In Death.  Few authors have been able to crank out 33 novels period, much less in a single series.  But Roberts somehow continues to keep the Eve Dallas series fresh and entertaining, sucking me in and keeping me up later than normal for more than one evening.

In Treachery, Detective Peabody gets her own case with Dallas assisting.  After investigating a murder, Peabody decides to start working out in an empty and abandoned gym at Central.  After she showers, two cops barge into the locker room and start talking about their role in the murder of an informant to cover up their own roles in an internal racket.  Peabody sees and hears just enough to identify the two, and it turns out that one of the cops is a lieutenant who is the daughter of a retired legend on the force.  Peabody informs Dallas, who then informs the captain of the precinct, and an undercover investigation starts to ramp up to see just how pervasive the corruption might be.  Dallas takes it as a personal crusade to take down the two cops and everyone else who might be part of what's going on, and she starts to goad the lieutenant into taking reckless steps to get back or silence Dallas and Peabody.  The action escalates as the pressure increases and desperation sets in to deflect the investigation and to keep everything undercover.  

Treachery helps to advance the Peabody character, as you get to see her in a lead role in a crime investigation.  On top of that, she's the central person in the corruption investigation, and she has to stand up to some high-powered people and scrutiny along the way.  The plot is more tense than normal, as it's not just a matter of catching a street criminal.  This time the criminals are cops, and that goes to the core of who Dallas is and what she represents.  

Treachery In Death is a great installment in the series, and I'm still amazed at how Roberts can continue to write as much as she does, yet still keep the characters and plots fresh.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/26/2011

Book Review - Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

Category Book Review Ori Brafman Rom Brafman Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behavior
A picture named M2

Why do we do things that defy rational logic?  We accept advice from a "consultant" that we rejected from our own staff.  We continue to cling to a course of action long after it's been shown to be wrong or dangerous.  Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman look at this universal human phenomenon in their book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.  Part of the solution is knowing there's a problem, and I think that the two authors do a good job in pointing out where sway comes into play.  Once you recognize those situations, it's possible to step back and take the emotions out of the equation.

Contents:
Preface; Anatomy of an Accident; The Swamp of Commitment; The Hobbit and the Missing Link; Michael Jordan and the First-Date Interview; The Bipolar Epidemic and the Chameleon Effect; In France, the Sun Revolves Around the Earth; Compensation and Cocaine; Dissenting Justice; Epilogue; Acknowledgments; Notes; Index

One of the first stories that sets the theme of the book is the Tenerife airport accident in 1977 where 584 people lost their lives due to "pilot error."  What made this even more unusual is that the captain of the plane that caused the accident was the head of KLM's safety program.  But when the story unfolds, you see that he got locked into a mindset and a course of action that caused him to disregard every safety check in the book.  Even worse, his co-pilot did little to intervene because of the general attitude that prevents an open challenge of a captain's actions and decisions.  While everyone knew the actions were wrong and dangerous, they continued down the path, leading to a tragic outcome.  The Tenerife incident led to changes to overcome the sway of the captain, creating steps that everyone in the cockpit is allowed to follow if they think that someone is wrong.  

While Tenerife is a dramatic example of sway, there are other situations that occur in our everyday lives.  The authors discuss how job interviews are often an ineffective way to choose someone for a position (we're swayed by irrelevant information or the "attractiveness" of the candidate), how medical diagnoses are often a case of getting locked into a subset of symptoms (doctors are swayed by their expertise areas and what they've been trained to see), and why we refuse to cut our stock losses as we "know" things will rebound (we're swayed more by a potential loss than an unreasonable risk).  In these cases and others discussed in the book, you get a good look at why we make certain decisions that seem senseless in hindsight.  Once you recognize the factors in play, you might be able to avoid the outcomes that you don't want.

Sway is an easy and relatively quick read, and comes down solidly on the side of practicality.  Unlike some books that delve into how the mind works, it doesn't get bogged down in psycho-babble and theory.  I took away a number of tips and ideas on how to apply these concepts in my own life, and with any luck I'll actually see myself in those situations next time.  Sway is worth reading, and might well be the difference in a few of your own important situations.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/23/2011

IBM Lotus Domino Server Controller Authentication Bypass Remote Code Execution Vulnerability

Category IBM/Lotus
From ZDI: IBM Lotus Domino Server Controller Authentication Bypass Remote Code Execution Vulnerability

Affected Products
Lotus Domino

Vulnerability Details
This vulnerability allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code on vulnerable installations of Lotus Domino Server Controller. Authentication is not required to exploit this vulnerability.

The flaw exists within the remote console functionality which listens by default on TCP port 2050. When handling A user authentication the server uses a user supplied COOKIEFILE path to retrieve stored credentials. The application then compares this data against the user provided username and cookie. The path to the COOKIEFILE can be a UNC path allowing the attacker to control both the known good credentials and the challenge credentials. A remote attacker can exploit this vulnerability to execute arbitrary code under the context of the SYSTEM user.

Vendor Response
IBM states:

March 22, 2011 - This vulnerability is being disclosed publicly without a patch in accordance with the ZDI 180 day deadline.

-- Mitigations:
Setting a console password provides another level of authentication and limits the commands available in the console.
To further mitigate this vulnerability access to 2050/tcp on hosts running the Domino Server Controller application should be restricted to authorized hosts.


Disclosure Timeline
2010-09-23 - Vulnerability reported to vendor
2011-03-22 - Coordinated public release of advisory

03/12/2011

Product Review - Joby Gorillamobile Yogi for iPad

Category Product Review Joby Gorillamobile Yogi for iPad
A picture named M2

One of the things I often use my iPad for is to watch videos.  But I've yet to find a stand that works well for propping up the iPad in various positions, such as on the desk or on my chest while I'm stretched out on the couch.  When Amazon Vine offered me the Joby Gorillamobile Yogi for iPad, I figured it was worth a try.  I've seen the ones for the iPhone, and they looked interesting.  After having used it for a couple of weeks, I can say this stand is WAY cool.  As far as I'm concerned, this is now part of my iPad.  It won't be coming off anytime soon.

The white protective case that attaches onto the back of the iPad does a good job.  The edge is set up well to allow exposure to the side controls without much difficulty.  Although the screen is not protected, I have no doubt that a drop on the back or edge of my iPad would not even be noticed if I'm using the case.  

The selling point on this is obviously the multi-positional legs.  They attach to the back of the case using one of the slotted tabs on each side, so you're not restricted to just a portrait or landscape viewing angle.  The cool part is that the legs are a series of small round sections that can move, swivel, and stick in various angles.  You could stretch them out straight and use them as a traditional stand.  You could curl one slightly if you're on an uneven surface to get the iPad to stand up level.  You can put them together and pull them slightly away from the case to use as a handle to hold the iPad (I do that often when watching a video).  You can even wrap it around a horizontal bar if you wanted to let your iPad hang down from something (like a paper towel holder in the kitchen while watching a cooking show).  The variations are endless, and it's what makes this something that I absolutely love using.

There's something to be said for having a stand as part of a case that completely covers and protects your iPad.  But if you're just looking for something to use as a stand in a non-travel situation, or if you're wanting to place the iPad in an unusual position, the Joby Gorillamobile Yogi should definitely be on your list for consideration.  I love mine...

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

03/09/2011

Lotus fans: Show me the money or shut the hell up

Category IBM/Lotus
From ITWire: Lotus fans: Show me the money or shut the hell up

I really had to laugh at this article... not because it was so edgy, but because the characterization isn't so far off:

If there is one thing I am absolutely sick to death of, it is the pathetic rantings of die-hard Lotus Notes fanboys about how technically superior their product is, and how everyone else who isn’t drinking the IBM kool-aid is somehow incredibly “biased” and don’t understand Notes’ obvious superiority.

That should be enough to get you all riled up.  If you haven't read what follows, go ahead and do so now.  I'll wait... both for you to read and for your blood pressure to go back down, as it'll skyrocket when you read it..

Yes, the picture painted of the Lotus community is not a pretty one, but I must say I found that the underlying truth struck home.  I used to be one of the rabid ones, and I saw myself in there.  The amusing part is that it's also noted that the Microsoft fan-boys do the same thing when articles about Exchange shops going to Google get written.  Just goes to show that most technology wars get fought with the fervor of religious battles.

But before you write off this article as the rantings of a biased journalist, read to the bottom for the challenge:

So today I am issuing an OPEN INVITATION and AMNESTY to Lotus Notes fanboys.

If you come up with an Australian organisation who is deploying a new installation of Lotus Notes/Domino of 100 seats or more, I will guarante to interview them. I will guarantee to write a story of at least 500 words and probably longer about their deployment. If they will let me and it is in Sydney, I will even physically travel to their office and do a video interview with them.

This guarantee also extends in part to those upgrading old installations of Lotus Notes. I guarantee that if you can come up with an organisation of 500 seats or larger who is upgrading their copy of Notes/Domino, I will guarantee to interview them as well and publish a story.

I issue this amnesty so that it is on the public record that I am not a “BIAS” journalist and that I am interested in email platforms of all stripes. If I break my word on this, please feel free to slander me in public as much as you want to.

But, Lotus Notes fanboys, here’s the kicker.

If I do not receive any invitations to interview Australian Lotus Notes customers over the next 12 months, you must acknowledge this. You must acknowledge that IBM’s precious email and collaboration platform is suffering a slow and prolonged death by a thousand cuts, and that it will shortly be consigned to the graveyard of history as Microsoft and Google divide up its once strong empire between them.

If, Lotus Notes fanboys, you do not come up with the goods in the next 12 months and let me know about some new Notes/Domino customers, you must quit your incessant bitching that journalists are “BIASED” and walk away. It would make me extremely happy if you then undertook Microsoft or Google re-education and admitted the error of your ways, because then I could laugh at you and point out that you had sold out to one or both evil empires, and that if you were real men, the truth is that you should never have stopped using EMACS in the first place and that graphical user interfaces are for wimps.

That's more of an offer than I've seen any other journalist make when it comes to covering stories about email and collaboration platforms.  You think the press is biased?  Here's your challenge.  You say the platform is healthy and there are migrations going the other way?  Here's your opportunity to get it highlighted.  As we would say here in the States... put up or shut up.

I'd love to see some Aussie partner take advantage of this and tell a great story...

03/07/2011

Ah... so THIS is the whole "Lotus eating their own dog food" thing...

Category IBM/Lotus
Glad I got that figured out...

A picture named M2

03/05/2011

Book Review - Strobist Photo Trade Secrets, Volume 2: Portrait Lighting Techniques by Zeke Kamm

Category Book Review Zeke Kamm Strobist Photo Trade Secrets Volume 2: Portrait Lighting Techniques
A picture named M2

Many of the most dramatic photos you see rely on lighting to get the effects that turn a picture from ordinary to extraordinary.  Strobist Photo Trade Secrets, Volume 2: Portrait Lighting Techniques by Zeke Kamm is an interesting look at 25 photos and the lighting setup that allowed the photographer to get the effects that you see in the final result.  Once you see how it's done, you can take that same information and use it to your own advantage.

This volume differs slightly from the first book which looked at overall lighting techniques for any type of photos.  Volume 2 focuses on portraits and people instead.  Using lighting to your advantage, you can draw attention to a person's face or add a mood that tells a story.  Since all the pages are perforated and printed on heavy paper stock, you can detach each picture and take it with you if you're going somewhere to capture your picture.  Granted, the book isn't that large to begin with, so I think I'd just leave everything intact.  But the choice is definitely yours.

The only thing that put me off a bit was that some of the pictures were composed of two separate images merged together after the fact.  I realize and accept that most spectacular images have been enhanced in the "digital darkroom" after they leave the camera.  But creating composite images to feature lighting seems to be a bit "unfair."  Still, Photo Trade Secrets is a good way to add some lighting techniques to your photographic tool kit.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

03/05/2011

Book Review - The Devious Book for Cats: A Parody

Category Book Review The Devious Book for Cats: A Parody
A picture named M2

If you have a cat, you know they live their lives by a set of rules that are uniquely their own.  And more than once, you've probably wondered what's going on in that head of theirs.  I don't know that this book answers it, but it's good for quite a few laughs... The Devious Book for Cats: A Parody by Fluffy and Bonkers (with the assistance of Joe Garden, Janet Ginsburg, Chris Pauls, Anita Serwacki, and Scott Sherman).  I'm sure the only reason they needed help was the whole opposable thumb thing.  Regardless, Devious is a funny look at a cat's life through the eyes of a cat, and I had a great time reading along.

Devious goes all over the place, and has far more laughs than duds in the different chapters.  For instance, you learn that cats really have no word for "mistake," as everything they do is correct and on purpose.  So when your cat falls into the fish tank, he's merely demonstrating to the fish that they aren't safe regardless of where they hide.  Fall off the couch? They just didn't want to ruin their nails with a layer of dust that's on the floor.  Did you know that cats have a variety of napping techniques depending on the situation? There's snoozing, dozing, resting, catching some z's, catnapping, the siesta, and shut-eye.  It's only us uninformed humans that think it's all just sleeping.  Oh, and if you declaw your cat, they still have plenty of ways to maintain their quality of life and destroy your home... :)

While reading The Devious Book for Cats, it was hard not to keep an eye on my cats and wonder how much of this just might be factual.  I know I saw Snoogie and Baxter in a number of the pages, and I wondered just how much they collaborate at night to create mayhem during the day...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/05/2011

Book Review - Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Category Book Review Seth Godin Poke the Box
A picture named M2

What is the difference between those individuals who have significant accomplishments to their name, and those who you don't know because you've never heard of them?  One of the factors is simple... they started.  They didn't wait for permission or spend inordinate amounts of time planning to launch their ideas.  They just got started.  Seth Godin talks about this valuable skill in his latest book Poke the Box.  At 85 pages, it's not a long read nor is it stuffed with endless programs and processes to get started.  It's simply an exhortation to go...

Godin points out that far too many of our institutions and much of our culture is based on waiting for permission.  You follow the rules, you adhere to the accepted processes, and those who are in a position of power will let you know when and if it is OK to proceed.  That's fine if you want to be just another replaceable cog in the wheel, but it sucks if you want to stand out and make a difference.  Waiting for a road map on how to proceed means you will likely be waiting a very long time.  Instead, make your own map.  Try sometime new and different.  There's a very good chance you'll fail.  But that failure can be a stepping stone to adjust and learn and, most importantly, to try again.  Godin's "poke the box" is a metaphor to look at your life and surroundings, and start poking things to see how they work.  The more you poke, the more feedback you get, and the more you learn.  Those who have accomplished things are those who have poked the box with abandon, and have learned how to make the box work to get where they want to be... to live the type of life they want to live.

I can see how some people can get a bit frustrated reading a Seth Godin book, as it often lacks the flow of what you'd consider a "normal" book.  It's a mix of information, ideas, and exhortations to think differently about life and about what you do with it.  In my opinion, Poke the Box was perfect for what he's trying to say here.  It's short, so you don't end up with an imposed structure and filler to try and meet some pre-planned page count.  It aims to motivate, and it certainly did that for me.  I struggle with the actual "go" aspect of many of the things I want to do.  After reading Poke, I have a better idea as to why I do that, and hopefully I'll correct that action.

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

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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