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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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04/24/2011

Book Review - The Big Book of Spy Stuff by Bart King

Category Book Review Bart King The Big Book of Spy Stuff
A picture named M2

I enjoy Bart King's Big Book series.  I can see why kids would like them, and they usually have a few laughs for the adults too.  It doesn't hurt that he's a local author, either.  His latest book, The Big Book of Spy Stuff, follows in the path of the previous Big Books, and may indeed be one of the best ones he's written.  If a kid is interested in espionage and spying, he'll actually learn quite a bit.  Adults might even pick up a few knowledge nuggets along the way, too.

Contents:
Danger Is My Nickname; "Ethical Issues"? What Are Those?; High-Tech Espionage!; Secret Agent Tool Kits & Self-Defense!; Espionage & Communication; Dishonesty - It's the Best Spy Policy; Eavesdropping!; Surveillance; Disguises, Alibis & Covers; Animal Spies; Sneaking, Following & Escaping!; Operation Mincemeat - Based on a False Story; Misinformation; Sabotage & Assassination?; Secret Messages & Code-Breaking; Spymasters; Keeping Secrets Secret!; The Best (and Worst!) Secret Names Ever; Spy-Catching and Lie-Detecting; The Best-Dressed Agents; Famous (& Infamous) Spies; The 12 Types of Spy Screw-Ups; Weird Assignments; Becoming a Pro; Agencies!; Terminology; Selected Bibliography

King writes in a style that would appeal to the 8 - 12 age frame.  The jokes and puns are juvenile (no pun intended... well, maybe a little), but it works here.  Kids will be laughing about assassins on tricycles and hamsters sending blackmail photos (although the idea does sound intriguing).  But along the way, King mixes in real history and information.  For instance, your kids will learn about Operation Mincemeat, a disinformation operation by the Allies in WWII that was a key reason for the success at Normandy.  They'll find out how secret messages used to be sent thousands of years ago (only those with fast-growing hair need apply).  And if they can't make it as a secret agent for the government, they can set their sights on doing the same things for corporations (never too early to plan for a career!)  

On the serious side, the book *does* cover the topic thoroughly at an appropriate age level.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that an adult reader would even learn a few facts or techniques that they didn't know about before.  If you thought you were being followed, would you know how to clear a tail?  Surprisingly, this book covers how to do that.  Granted, if my life depended on it, I'd want more detail ("de-tail"... get it?), but I *would* learn the basics here.  Of course, that does raise the question... do you want your kid to know how to ditch you in a store? :)

I enjoyed The Big Book of Spy Stuff, and I would have loved this book as a kid.  I'm not sure my parents would have wanted me to know some of this stuff, however.  I was sneaky enough on my own... :)

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

04/24/2011

Book Review - The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom by Susan Veness

Category Book Review Susan Veness The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom Epcot Disney's Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom
A picture named M2

Hi, I'm Tom, and I'm a Disney addict.  I couldn't help myself when I ran across The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom by Susan Veness at the library.  I had to check it out and see what I had overlooked and missed in my many trips there.  Turns out, the answer is "quite a lot."  Veness compiled a large number (gee, over 600!) observations and details to look for on your next trip to WDW.  Even though I picked this up as a library book, I'd think seriously about purchasing a copy before my next trip just so I could use it as a "follow along" guide.

Veness covers each of the main theme parks at Walt Disney World and takes you on a tour as she points out things that have hidden meanings or details that most everyone overlooks.  Some are quite significant, such as noticing how each land transitions to the next by way of music, plants, and structure design.  The goal is to have you seamlessly move from one area to another and be totally submersed in the new environment without any remnants of the one you just left.  Others are small details that I've never noticed, such as how the lamp posts on Main Street go from gas lights to electric lights as you travel from one end to another.  Even on my favorite ride, Tower of Terror, she pointed out a couple of things to look for (and try) that I had never knew existed.  Now if I can only remember long enough...

One of the reasons I liked this book as much as I did was due to our last trip to WDW.  We took the Keys To The Kingdom tour, where a Disney guide takes you behinds the scenes and points out some of these same things.  The Magic Kingdom is rich in detail and history, and it's impossible to point out every single thing that's there to see.  But with a book like this, I felt as if I was off on another tour, being shown the attention to detail in ways I hadn't never noticed before.

Needless to say, The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World has me all jazzed up and ready to go back to the parks again.  I'm not sure when we have the next trip planned, but I know I'll be taking a few little detours throughout the day to catch some of these gems...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/23/2011

Book Review - Come and Find Me: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron

Category Book Review Hallie Ephron Come and Find Me: A Novel of Suspense
A picture named M2

I'm always ready for a good cyberstory, and a review of Come and Find Me: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron piqued my interest. I don't know that I liked it quite as much as my friend did, but it was an entertaining read that put the characters in interesting situations throughout the story.

Diana Highsmith is half of the computer security firm Gamelan along with her partner Jake.  The only unusual aspect is that all her business is conducted in OtherWorld, a virtual reality site that allows her to interact with others via her avatar Nadia Varata (a scrambled version of Diana Avatar).  She doesn't leave her house since she lost her husband in a climbing accident in Switzerland.  Her post-traumatic stress syndrome causes her to launch into full-fledged panic attacks when she steps outside the safe confines of her four walls.  She's working to overcome it, but it's slow going.  

Her white-hat hacking skills have Gamelan doing quite well, but it appears a group of hackers are targeting their clients, and the clients call off the engagements before Diana and Jake can close in on them.  But all this becomes a secondary concern to her when her sister (and main link to the external world) goes missing after she attends a flash mob event in Diana's place.  In order to investigate the disappearance and find her sister, she has to overcome her agoraphobia and go out in the real world.  She also has to decide whether to trust certain people she's never met in real life and only knows as online avatars.  Are these people who they seem to be, or is she being manipulated by unknown parties who might be linked with her security work?

On the positive side, I loved the setup of how Highsmith could conduct her entire life and job without ever leaving the house.  Some would say I relate to that situation far too well. :)  Ephron also captured how easy it is for some of us to make and trust online "friends" who we've never met but know better than others we see in real life.  Where I struggled a bit was how much Highsmith was able to shed her debilitating panic attacks in crunch time.  They still occurred, but based on the earlier parts of the book, she seemed to be too functional on a number of occasions.  I would have thought that what she had to accomplish towards the end would have been beyond her, even given her new-found motivation.

All that being said, Come and Find Me was still a fun read.  It kept me company for a few evenings, and I think a number of my techie friends would enjoy it.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/23/2011

Book Review - 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks

Category Book Review Albert Brooks 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America
A picture named M2

Via the Amazon Vine review program, I had the chance to read and review 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks.  The story premise definitely had promise... take the direction and problems we currently have in America and play them out for the next twenty years to see what happens.  In the beginning, it worked well for me.  But by the end, I was solidly in "so what?" mode.  

In 2030, the US is facing horrendous financial issues.  Nothing new can be done in the country as the debt burden is crushing.  America is basically broke, and it's all the government can do to make the interest payments.  Much of the burden comes from the drastically increased lifespan of people now that cancer has been cured.  These people, referred to as "the olds", are costing the government more in medical and Social Security payments, and the taxes on the working class are astronomical.  Coupled with more jobs moving offshore due to cheaper labor costs, young people have no chance of living the same type of life as their parents, and this disparity is causing a major division in society.

All these issues come to a head when a 9.0 earthquake destroys Los Angeles.  For the first time in history, the government can't come to the aid of its people in a natural disaster, as they can't afford the costs involved.  When they turn to China to borrow money, China turns them down.  They already hold the majority of America's debt, and they know that loaning more money is a losing proposition.  But they offer up a different kind of aid to Los Angeles, one that offers hope to those in LA while turning the city into a jointly-run entity of two countries.

This story is glued together by the actions of a number of characters who are affected by these actions.  You have the rich guy who developed the cure for cancer, and is the savior/villain of the old age issue, depending on which side you happen to be on.  There's the financially secure rebel who sees the olds as the reason for all the problems in America, and is willing to get his hands dirty to "solve" the problem.  A rich Chinese guy spearheads the rebuilding of Los Angeles while also trying to implement his successful brand of health care in America after it revolutionized medicine in China.  And finally, you have the President of the United States, desperately trying to make a difference in the country, but struggling with his own life after he falls in love with his Secretary of the Treasury and his wife decides she's had enough.

So why the "so what" feeling at the end?  I think I had problems because the book couldn't decide whether it wanted to focus on the issues or the characters.  I was reading more for how debt and borrowing would play out, as well as how much of a crisis it would become with a foreign country having a financial stake in the success of a major US city.  Instead, the story just fizzles out with US citizens thinking the LA deal with China is great, the President moving on to a new life after he loses the election, and the promise of a new President running the country based on successes in LA.  

Blah, blah, blah... new era... yada, yada, yada...

Perhaps the author meant for that to be the new reality and to have that be the truth of what happened, but it's an unrealistic ending to a complex set of problems.  The olds are still there, the debt is still there, and unless America is bought by China, a new President isn't going to fix everything.  The story needed a more dramatic conclusion than what was delivered.

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

04/23/2011

Book Review - Zero Day by Mark Russinovich

Category Book Review Mark Russinovich Zero Day
A picture named M2

Zero Day by Mark Russinovich popped up on my radar awhile back via one of the tech blogs I read.  Russinovich is a Microsoft Fellow deeply versed in the internals and security of Windows, and his first novel plays to his strengths.  Zero Day is a novel centered around suspicious computer viruses and rootkits that seem to point to a more ominous event on the horizon.  For those not familiar with the term, Zero Day refers to a computer exploit that is used in the wild before a company or developer knows the vulnerability exists.  Depending on the severity of the exploit, these can be quite dangerous as the vendor has to play catch-up to fix the problem, and by then the damage might already be inflicted on the users of the software.

The story centers around a security expert, Jeff Aiken, who is called in to fix  a computer virus that infects a law firm.  The main server of the company died, and when rebooted, the system is wiped clean of everything, even the operating system.  Aiken quickly realizes this is not a garden-variety virus, and starts sifting through the scrambled mess on the drives to find clues to what it is and how to fix it.  Meanwhile, a colleague of his who works for Homeland Security, Daryl Haugen, is seeing similar patterns that point to an organized wide-scale computer virus attack targeted at the West.  When they touch bases to compare notes, they find that a single name, Superphreak, is a common thread in these early attacks.  Unless they can find this mystery hacker, there's little chance that the full scope of the attacks can be stopped or even contained.  Making it even more difficult, there are some powerful people and huge sums of money that are working hard to make sure the attacks go off as planned.  

Russinovich does a good job with his first novel.  As a technology geek, I quickly got immersed in the story and found it hard to put down.  The details and general settings ring true, and when you look at things like the Stuxnet worm, you realize that this particular novel isn't a huge stretch.  I also appreciated that Russinovich didn't try for a "and everything works out in the end" finish.  Our society is highly dependent on computers, and unfortunately security is often an illusion.  Even when security is a priority, it's nearly impossible to be 100% secure.  Zero Day plays out some of the resulting scenarios with sobering conclusions.  

Non-technical readers might find Zero Day a bit too heavy on the details, and could get bogged down a bit as a result.  But if you live and breathe technology, Zero Day is an enjoyable read that brings up some interesting "what if" questions.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/20/2011

Have you been thinking about buying some Midas software from Genii? Now's the time...

Category Software
Ben L. has a great deal he's offering for the rest of April... He's going the BOGO route... buy one, get one free.  We use the CoexLinks software at work so that doclinks sent to Exchange from Notes come across as working links.  Great stuff, and my life would be much more complicated without it.

This is a great deal, so if you've been putting off purchases wishing for cheaper prices (although it's already worth the price), now's your chance!

Check out his offer here...

If you need a refresher as to what Genii Software offers, here's the list:

CoexLinks - Email coexistence for mail routed between IBM Lotus Notes/Domino apps/users and other email platforms. Gives you greater control over doclinks and other fidelity issues.

CoexEdit - Notes/Web editing coexistence allowing you to edit from Notes client and web client, inside or outside of XPages, with excellent fidelity. Social business connections coming soon, and would be available for free as part of upgrade plan/

Midas Rich Text LSX - Multi-purpose rich text LotusScript extension allowing you to do almost anything you want with Notes rich text, and also export to and import from HTML, XHTML, MIME and more with high levels of fidelity and control.

Midas Rich Text C++ API - Same engine as Midas Rich Text LSX, except exposed to C++, C# or any other compiled language that accepts C++ shared libraries.

04/20/2011

It's OK to suck when you try something new... it's how you learn!

Category Everything Else
Like many people, I'm often intimidated when trying something new, something I haven't done before.  Sometimes that intimidation is so large that I don't even bother to try it, as I know I'll look stupid or suck at it.  But then again, you have to start somewhere, and you can't be good at everything right out of the starting blocks.

For instance...

My wife "suggested" recently that we take dancing lessons.  If you've ever met me before, this idea should either amuse you or cause you to ask for eye bleach.  Imagine one of the ewoks from Star Wars (preferably one that is overweight) out on the dance floor, and you start to get the image.  It's not pretty...

Our first lesson was a group lesson where we tried to learn to cha cha... operative word being "tried".  What looks simple in a video, isn't.  You're trying to remember what step comes next, how to hold your body, how to position your weight, how your hips should be moving (mine do NOT move like that!), etc.  Oh, and you get to do all this while someone is holding your hands in front of you.  And then horror of horrors, they have everyone shift one person over... Now you get to injure ANOTHER person in the class!

After the hour lesson, we decided that perhaps cha cha and/or group lessons weren't quite our cup of tea.  After my wife talked with the instructor afterwards, we found out a few things... such as cha cha is NOT a beginner's dance, and the group lessons are often populated by people who have already taken private lessons and are supplementing their practice time.  So the fact that I could even keep up might have been a minor miracle.

So this week we went back and tried again, only this time with private lessons and a different dance... the rumba.  That's a four-step box movement, it can be done to quite a few songs (anything in 4/4 time), and it's a common dance step that you might actually *do* when at a wedding or out for an evening.  You can still imagine the ewok on the dance floor, but this time I actually started to "get it."  My drumming background had me comfortable with the beat, and I could actually start to let some of the movement flow instead of having to concentrate on every little step.  No, I'm not an expert, but I didn't feel completely out of place, either.

So now taking this off the dance floor (you're welcome) and into life in general...

How often do you avoid trying something new because you know you'll look stupid or fail?  Do you avoid learning a new technology because you won't know it as well as the one you currently use in your job?  Do you avoid trying new activities because you don't want to be laughed at?  Do you not even *try* something (like writing a book!) because you know you "can't" do it?

It's OK to suck when you start something new.  It's OK to fail.  It's how you learn.  Bestselling authors get dozens of rejection letters before they're "discovered."  Top musicians had to learn basic scales and chords before they became what you hear today.  Speakers had to talk in front of small groups (and likely bomb) before they could captivate a roomful of listeners.  The important thing is they tried, they practiced, and they didn't let failure or fear cause them to quit.

Step out and try something new.  Embrace the awkwardness, the flub-ups, the mistakes.  Know they'll happen, learn from each one, and keep moving on.  Then you'll have that moment in time where you suddenly realize that you're no longer trying... you're doing.

And you'll be that much richer for having taken that first step.

04/16/2011

Book Review: Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen

Category Book Review Kevin Poulsen Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground
A picture named M2

It's rare these days to not suffer through at least one instance of credit card fraud, where you get that bill that has charges from places you've never visited for items you never purchased.  Kevin Poulsen uncovers the murky world that traffics in credit card fraud and data theft in his book Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground.  It follows the story of one Max Butler and his turn from white-hat hacker to head of am underground data theft crime scene.  It's a fascinating read, and by the end you have a good understanding of the massive cost to consumers, retailers, and banks.  

Contents: The Key; Deadly Weapons; The Hungry Programmers; The White Hat; Cyberwar!; I Miss Crime; Max Vision; Welcome to America; Opportunities; Chris Aragon; Script's Twenty-Dollar Dumps; Free Amex!; Villa Siena; The Raid; UBuyWeRush; Operation Firewall; Pizza and Plastic; The Briefing; Carders Market; The Starlight Room; Master Splyntr; Enemies; Anglerphish; Exposure; Hostile Takeover; What's in Your Wallet?; Web War One; Carder Court; One Plat and Six Classics; Maksik; The Trial; The Mall; Exit Strategy; DarkMarket; Sentencing; Aftermath; Epilogue; Notes; Acknowledgments

Poulsen follows the story of how Max Butler went from a teenager who didn't fit in  to someone who was able able to buy and sell stolen data, earning an incredible amount of money in the process.  As a security expert and a white hat hacker, he was able to uncover and expose security flaws that put clients at risk.  But due to an early run-in with the law, he had difficulties finding work as no one wanted to hire him with his criminal background.  Those monetary concerns led him to venture into the world of data theft, where stolen credit card and identity information is sold and used to steal billions in cash and merchandise.  

As Butler honed his skills and moved up in the underground along with his partner Chris Aragon, they started to attract the attention of the Feds, specifically Special Agent Keith Mularski.  Mularski got authorization to create an alias (Master Splyntr) and start digging into the main web sites where data trafficking was centered.  He started to make the connections and figure out who were the main players and where they were located.  With a few key informants, Mularski was able to start making raids and arrests that shut down the top players, both national and international.  

Poulsen had an incredible amount of access to the players in this story, and the authenticity of the dialogue and action rings true.  Kingpin highlights a couple of different aspects of the topic of data theft.  Primary is the sheer size of the market for data theft.  Butler was able to steal account information with little effort, and in many instances it wasn't even a case of the hackers being one step ahead of the companies.  Either the data was stored in unencrypted text files available to anyone who could hack the server, or the card encryption safeguards weren't even implemented by the people charged with keeping the data secure.  The other aspect is how international borders mean nothing when it comes to data theft.  Numbers stolen in one country are sold in another and used in a third.  It was quite remarkable that authorities in separate countries were able to work together to shut down some of the operations.  It's not often you get that level of international  cooperation when dealing with multiple jurisdictions.

Kingpin is the perfect read if you're wondering why banks can't just snap their fingers and prevent credit card fraud.  There's always some way to hack the system, and your data is at risk no matter how careful you might be.  

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

04/16/2011

Book Review - The Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle That Will Save Humanity by Andy Andrews

Category Book Review Andy Andrews The Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle That Will Save Humanity
A picture named M2

Andy Andrews does a good job when it comes to writing motivational and inspirational material with a readable story wrapped around it.  His latest work is The Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle That Will Save Humanity which is a follow-on to David Ponder's story as told in the book The Traveler's Gift.  While the principle revealed in the end is important and useful if followed, I don't think this book had quite the same impactful message as The Traveler's Gift.  

Summit picks up David Ponder in the golden years of his life.  He's become extremely successful in business and life by spreading and using the principles he learned as a traveler going back in time to learn from those who came before him.  But since his wife died, he's been lost and is ready to end his life.  A visit from Gabriel and a mission to save humanity puts those plans on hold.

He is taken to a celestial "conference room" where he's charged with finding the single principle that will allow humanity to avoid imminent destruction.  He's assisted by a host of historical figures who are also travelers, and together they have five chances to come up with the two word principle that Gabriel needs from them.  His main partner in this effort is Winston Churchill, but they are allowed to  call upon five fellow travelers who are in the audience watching and debating the potential answers.  The group comes up with important principles and concepts, but each one fails to get Gabriel's approval.  With time running out, they give their fifth and final answer, but that doesn't pass muster with Gabriel either.  It's only through breaking a few rules that they get one additional chance to keep the human race from self-destruction.

Andrew's strength lies in being able to take the lives of historical figures and distill qualities and principles that contributed to their purpose and success.  In The Final Summit, you look at people like Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington Carver in ways that history books can't duplicate.  The dialogue and interactions with Ponder and others put flesh and blood on them, and as a result you learn things that you can implement in your own life.  

To leave some level of surprise in the story, I'll refrain from giving away the final principle.  Needless to say, it *is* something that is missing from far too many lives, mine included.  I'll benefit from making this part of my own plan of action.  But it focuses more on "what you do" rather than "who you are", and as such I don't think it's as powerful as the material presented in The Traveler's Gift.  Even so, The Final Summit is worth reading and can make a difference in your life if you take the call to action to heart.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

04/16/2011

Book Review - Live Wire by Harlan Coben

Category Book Review Harlan Coben Live Wire
A picture named M2

It was good news when I finally made it to the top of the library hold list for Harlan Coben's return of Myron Bolitar in Live Wire.  It's been a favorite series in the past, and I looked forward to some fast-paced adventures with Bolitar and his sidekick, Win (Windsor Horne Lockwood III).  But this novel ended up being more introspective than I expected, and it didn't have quite the same drive as previous works.  As a fan of Coben and the Bolitar character, it was worth reading.  It just wasn't worth staying up late over...

In Live Wire, Bolitar is drawn into an investigation by Suzze Trevantino, a young tennis star he represented in her short but successful career.  She's been clean from drugs (or so she says), happy, and pregnant, but an anonymous comment on Facebook suggests that the baby doesn't belong to her husband.  The hubby has run off and hid, and she wants Bolitar to find him.  But the more he digs into the mystery, the more he's forced to confront his own past.  His drug-addicted sister-in-law, his brother, his father, and a nephew he doesn't know much about all figure into the mix, and he's forced to confront the effects of a rash and harsh choice he made many years ago.  Meanwhile, no one is really who they appear to be, and each uncovered mystery spawns new threads to be pulled.

Live Wire does show off the great dialogue of past Bolitar novels, but it doesn't seem to have much room to navigate here.  While the main plot involves murder and mystery, it shares equal space with Bolitar's past and introspection of his current life.  New readers of the Bolitar series would be lost on many of the important twists, and I was even a bit confused as it's been awhile since I last "visited" Bolitar.  I also missed the constant Bolitar/Win interactions, as Win plays a much smaller role in Live Wire.  

If the Bolitar series continues (as there's some question about that at the end), then taking a novel to reveal some character history is occasionally needed.  I just wish that there had been more of the magic that made these novels so much fun to read.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/07/2011

Industry Leaders Worldwide Embrace IBM Clouds to Transform Business Processes (Press Release)

Category IBM
Industry Leaders Worldwide Embrace IBM Clouds to Transform Business Processes
American Airlines, Aviva, CARFAX, Frito-Lay, IndiaFirst Life Insurance Co., 7-Eleven


ARMONK, N.Y. - 07 Apr, 2011:
 IBM (NYSE:IBM) today announced increased client adoption of its cloud computing software and services with more than 20 million end-user customers worldwide, making it one of the world's largest providers of software-as-a-service (SaaS).  

New clients include American Airlines, Aviva, CARFAX, Frito-Lay, IndiaFirst Life Insurance Co.,
Shriram Transport Finance Company Ltd., and 7-Eleven among millions of users of IBM's cloud services focused on business process management and collaboration.

Organizations are increasingly choosing IBM to help them transform their key business processes in departments such as marketing, finance and customer service, and deliver them through the cloud for increased efficiencies and improved productivity and innovation.  

The demand for cloud computing is on the rise as organizations seek to expand the impact of IT to deliver new and innovative services while realizing significant economies of scale.  According to IDC, $17 billion was spent on cloud-related technologies, hardware and software in 2009. IDC expects that spending will grow to $45 billion by 2013. (1)

IBM has helped thousands of clients adopt cloud models and manages millions of cloud based transactions every day in areas as diverse as banking, communications, healthcare and government, and securely tap into IBM cloud-based business and infrastructure services. By offering proven solutions to unify, accelerate and automate these cloud infrastructures, IBM will help global organizations optimize their return-on investment from technology.  In fact, 80 percent of the FORTUNE 500 are using IBM cloud capabilities.

IBM's SaaS portfolio ranges from business process management to collaboration, social business, Web analytics, B2B commerce, supply chain management, marketing and enterprise systems management.   In IBM's new Smarter Commerce business, cloud services from Coremetrics, Unica and Sterling Commerce assist 36,000 marketers, manage more than 6 billion business/consumer interactions, and 1.1 Billion B2B electronic transactions per year worth approximately $15 Trillion of client value with nearly all the top banks, retailers and manufacturers in the US alone.  

BlueWorks Live Helps Company Departments Improve the Way They Work......in Seconds


An example of IBM's SaaS service adoption, BlueWorks Live makes organizations more efficient by enabling social communities to form around a specific line-of-business functions and automating simple processes that run over email in as quickly as 90 seconds.   Blueworks Live improves the way people work by helping them collaborate fluidly across roles, teams and locations while enabling all members to be informed of important changes as they happen.

"We were looking for cloud technology that was easy to use, rapid to implement and would provide immediate, tangible benefits for our key business processes within a couple of days, if not weeks," said Andy Kim, Director of IT Governance at MedImpact Healthcare Systems, Inc., a national pharmacy benefits management company based in San Diego.

In addition to MedImpact, many other industry leaders have moved their business process planning and improvement cycles into the cloud.   Companies as diverse as American Airlines, Aviva, CARFAX, Frito-Lay, and 7-Eleven are using Blueworks Live for a range of activities such as: blueprinting processes for use in training and orientation for employees; documenting key finance processes; capturing and improving process documentation such as audit and order-to-cash processes.  

The newest version of Blueworks Live, available for a free, 30-day trial, will debut at IBM's Impact Conference (
http://www-01.ibm.com/software/websphere/events/impact/), April 10--15 in Las Vegas.

LotusLive Delivers Social Collaboration Services to Organizations Around the Globe


IBM's LotusLive social collaboration services deliver easy-to-access integrated email, social networking, and third-party applications from the cloud, helping transform businesses. Joining the millions of users already embracing LotusLive include IndiaFirst Life Insurance, Shriram Transport Finance Company, Bumbu Desa and Lofotkraft.

IndiaFirst Life Insurance, an insurance company headquartered in Mumbai, India, has a branch network of over 4,800 banks across more than 1,000 cities and towns in India. With a large sales force, including office employees and sales agents scattered across the country, the company needed an easy way to hold essential business meetings without requiring all employees to meet in one location. Using IBM LotusLive Meetings,  top management, sales managers and the sales force can meet on the fly and during regularly scheduled meeting to ensure the sales force has all of the information to make successful sales, and to ensure monthly sales goals are being met. With Web meetings, employees can use the "chat room" feature in LotusLive Meetings to communicate with one another, and can share information and charts using the "screen sharing" feature.

Diners are flocking to
Bumbu Desa, an Indonesia restaurant chain, with new locations expanding into Singapore and Malaysia.  Growing from three branches five years ago to 38 branches in 2010, the different franchises of Bumbu Desa were having a hard time staying connected with one another. Using IBM LotusLive Engage for essential collaboration tools like Web conferencing, social networking and instant messaging, employees across the franchises can now quickly share information regarding new menus, new ways to greet guests, and other restaurant related issues. For example, each Bumbu Desa franchise can now submit their daily sales reports to franchise headquarters via file sharing in LotusLive Engage, a method that was previously handled using fax or overnight mail. Bumbu Desa is also embracing LotusLive's unique "guest account" model, which provides free-of-charge access of LotusLive to customers and other stakeholders such as cooks or food reviewers.

Shriram Transport Finance Company Ltd., India's largest commercial vehicle financing company, needed a better way to communicate with its field sales force. With 484 office and services centers and more than 14,000 employees and growing, Shriram Transport Finance employees and sales rep found it challenging to do with business with their clients and with one another.  While some employees had access to email, the provider was often unreliable -- emails were lost and performance was low. Shriram needed an email solution that could accommodate rapid growth and perform with speed and consistency. The company chose IBM LotusLive iNotes to provide all of its field sales reps with reliable, cost-effective and easy to use cloud email, which can be accessed on the road, at their desk and from their mobile devices.

Lofotkraft, an energy company serving more than 16,000 customer with operations in five branches throughout the Lofoten Islands, Norway, needed a better way to do business with key external business partners and vendors without worrying about security.  They also needed to better communicate with employees working in the different branches. Lofotkraft chose IBM LotusLive Engage to share files, manage projects, host meetings and chat with partners, vendors and colleagues. They have also been able to reduce confusing email threads and eliminate version control issues.   Because all the services are integrated and available from one single dashboard in the IBM cloud, Lofotkraft and its partners can easily collaborate and meet anytime, anywhere.  

For more information about Blueworks Live, please visit
www.blueworkslive.com

For more information about LotusLive, please visit
www.lotuslive.com

About IBM Cloud Computing

IBM has helped thousands of clients adopt cloud models and manages millions of cloud based transactions every day. IBM assists clients in areas as diverse as banking, communications, healthcare and government to build their own clouds or securely tap into IBM cloud-based business and infrastructure services. IBM is unique in bringing together key cloud technologies, deep process knowledge, a broad portfolio of cloud solutions, and a network of global delivery centers. For more information about IBM cloud solutions, visit
www.ibm.com/smartcloud

Source:

(1) IDC's Worldwide Collaborative Applications 2010–2014 Forecast Update: Market Poised for Slight Rebound Within Next Five Years (#224269, August 2010).

04/03/2011

Book Review - The Code: The Unwritten Rules Of Fighting And Retaliation In The NHL by Ross Bernstein

Category Book Review Ross Bernstein The Code: The Unwritten Rules Of Fighting And Retaliation In The NHL
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I like hockey, and I like the fights.  I make no apologies for that.  But I also know that fighting isn't normally done just for the sake of punching out someone.  There's an unwritten set of rules that dictate how and when fights start.  To find out a bit more about that, I got the book The Code: The Unwritten Rules Of Fighting And Retaliation In The NHL by Ross Bernstein from the library.  Although it's a bit scattered and unfocused at times, it does a good job in explaining the basics behind how a team's "tough guy" does his job on the ice.  And yes, it *is* a recognized role with a code that dictates who gets hit when, and why it happens.

Contents:
Section 1 - The History of Fighting in the NHL: A Look Back at the History of Fighting and Violence in Professional Hockey
Section 2 - Defining the Code: Why Is There Fighting in Pro Hockey?; What Prompts Dropping the Gloves?; What Are the Rules of Engagement anfter the Gloves Come Off?; How Does the Code Work?; The Code and the Special Games
Section 3 - The Enforcer and His Impact on the Game: Big Hitters Mean Big Business; On Playing Hurt; On Respect and Toughness; Fear; Friendly Fire; Life Off the Ice
Section 4 - How League Rules and Officials Affect Fighting: The Instigator Rule; Divers; On Bench-Clearing Brawls; Facial Protection; The Official's Influence
Section 5 - After the Game and Beyond the Pros - How Fighting Affects the Rest of Us: Junior Hockey; Southern Cookin'; To Fight or Not to Fight; The Effects of Fighting on Youth
Section 6 - The Lockout and Its Aftermath: On the Events That Led Up to the 2004 NHL Lockout and Its Aftermath
Appendix - Neal Sheeny on the Aftermath of the Rules Changes
Notes

To the average hockey fan, this will be an eye-opener.  In the "olden days" of hockey, fighting was often nothing more than mayhem to take out top players, pay back real or imagined offenses, or just to draw more fans.  But as the game evolved, the role of the enforcer actually became a way to keep the peace on the ice.  If someone took a shot at a team's top player, their enforcer would let that person know that any more liberties taken on the ice would be paid back in same.  This normally kept things under control and gave the top skaters room to work on the ice.  If the harassment continued, it would lead to a fight and that would settle things.  Of course, there are exceptions to the code and some players chose not to play by "the rules."  But by and large, most players view this code as an accepted part of the game that actually benefits everyone.  Conflicts are settled between two matched enforcers instead of having tensions escalate and involve the entire team.

One thing I learned from the book is that the instigator rule is viewed by many as causing *more* chippiness rather than less.  It allows skaters to take cheap shots at other players, knowing that if an enforcer comes after them and drops the gloves, he'll end up getting an extra two minutes on top of the five minutes for fighting.

Bernstein includes a *lot* of quotes and sidebars from various players and enforcers over the years.  While they add some color to the material, it seems to detract a bit from the core material as not all of them are specific to the point being discussed on those pages.  I also don't know how much of a hockey expert Bernstein actually is, as there were a few errors that even a casual fan should have known, like the actual penalties for fighting (there isn't an automatic ten minute misconduct added onto a fighting major).  The research or proof-reading could have been better...

Overall, The Code is an interesting read for a hockey fan who wants to understand a bit more about the role of the enforcer in the game.  I don't know that I would actually buy the book, but as a library read, it was fine.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/02/2011

Book Review - Write More Good: An Absolutely Phony Guide by The Bureau Chiefs

Category Book Review The Bureau Chiefs Write More Good: An Absolutely Phony Guide
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As a writer, there are certain "rules" you're supposed to follow in terms of style.  Even if you're not a writer, you're affected by these styles as they dictate what you read in media stories.  A couple of guys decided to take some liberties with those guidelines and created a Twitter account named fakeapstylebook to parody the rules, and that led to this book... Write More Good: An Absolutely Phony Guide by The Bureau Chiefs.  If you've ever had to write an article for some publication (and you have a sense of humor), this is a great parody that offers plenty of laughs and hits close to the truth on more than one occasion.

Contents:
News & Headline Writing & You & Journalism
Politics: When The Horse Race Lasts 30 Months
Entertainment: The Glitz, The Glamour, The Death of the Superego
Sex: Ew
Religion
Sports: The Sport of Kings
The Shiny Money Box, Or, Technology and the Death of All Paper
Science (and the Blinding By Thereof)
Pseudoscience and the Supernatural: Ya Rly
Weapons and the Military: Shoot First, Then Ask Questions About Shooting
Citation and Attribution: Do Not Hit the Snooze Button
Punctuation and Grammar: LOL
Media Law: You Are So Screwed
The Morgue: The Dead Live!
The Ghost of Basics Past
Glossary

Each chapter starts out with a few snide comments about the topic, slides into the "basics" along with related detail that spares nothing and no one, and then ends with a topic glossary that is far more interesting than any other glossary you've ever read.  Do you want to be an entertainment writer? Learn how to become a blogging review quote machine so you'll get free tickets and videos!  Sports writer? Get a nickname and a stance, and then market yourself shamelessly!  

But there are always things to remember... For instance, if you're a sports writer, remember that professional bowlers should never be referred to as "heavy-set."  It's assumed.  If you're writing about soccer for North American audiences, remember to consider the fact that no one cares.  And of course, any story on Brett Favre's retirement should end with the ;) emoticon.

What I found impressive about this book (and which was also pointed out by Roger Ebert in the forward) is that it's not a book composed solely of tweets from the authors.  Too often a book based on a blog or Twitter account is just a compilation of the same material that's already been used.  Fine if you don't follow them online, but a waste of money for regular readers.  
Write More Good borrows the attitude and style of the fakeapstylebook tweets, but that's where it ends.  As such, this is an entertaining read regardless of how much you've read on Twitter.

One small caution... if you're easily offended when someone pokes fun or parodies something that is close to your heart, then you might want to stay away.  Everything is fair game here... you have been warned. :)

Write More Good is one of the more entertaining books I've read of late, and I know plenty of writer colleagues who will enjoy it as much as I did.  They just need to remember the warning on the cover... "If you use this, you will get FIRED!"

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

04/02/2011

Book Review - So Close the Hand of Death by J. T. Ellison

Category Book Review J. T. Ellison So Close the Hand of Death
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I was recently offered the chance to read and review J. T. Ellison's novel So Close the Hand of Death.  I was a bit hesitant as it's part of a series of novels based on the Taylor Jackson character, and coming into the middle of a series isn't always a good idea.  But I haven't had much recreational reading of late, and a good crime novel is always appreciated.  So Close was an enjoyable read and after finishing the book, I think I'll be going back to read the prior books in Ellison's series.  There's enough mystery and prior backstories alluded to in this book to make me interested in the characters and how they came to be at this stage.

In So Close, Taylor Jackson gets a message from someone in her past, someone who wants her dead.  A serial killer going by the name of The Pretender has three protegees committing copycat killings based on The Boston Strangler, The Son of Sam, and The Zodiac Killer.  They're all moving towards Nashville, towards Taylor, and towards a final "play date" where The Pretender will be able to finish off his quest to kill her as payback for what he thinks she's done to him.  Taylor and her fiancee, both in law enforcement, are drawn into this web of killings when commenters on a crime reporting website start to fall victim to the copycat killers.  Taylor knows how she wants the end game to play out between her and Pretender, but she has to make it look like it was a justified shooting.  In reality, she wants to murder him before he does the same to her.  As the killings get closer, it turns out that the Pretender is a lot closer than anyone expected, and he has her close friend as bait for a final showdown.  Does she do this "by the book", or does she allow herself to mete out the justice that she knows is the only way it can end for her?

As I mentioned, I enjoyed the read.  I know I missed some of the nuances of the story, as it is tied to a kidnapping and assault of one of her mentors (who is the person who has to deliver the message from The Pretender).  I'm assuming that story is told in an earlier novel, as well as the story behind a subplot involving the past of her fiancee and a secret he hasn't told her.  But the action in So Close stands up well on its own, and it didn't significantly detract from the experience as a first-time reader.  

I'll be adding some J. T. Ellison books to my reading list, and I'm glad I had the chance to discover another author who spins a crime novel with plenty of dark twists.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

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