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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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07/31/2011

Book Review - The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman

Category Book Review David E. Hoffman The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy
A picture named M2

Remembering back to the Cold War, it was simple and tempting to paint "them" as evil, and "us" as right and moral.  But in reality, both the US and the Soviet Union were prepared and able to kill millions of people to "win" a war that could never be fought.  David E. Hoffman digs into that period of history with extensive research and insight with his book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy.  Using archives and documents from Russia and the US from that period, he paints a picture of how easy it would have been to miscalculate and make the planet largely unlivable.  On the other hand, I have a great deal more respect for what Gorbachev tried to accomplish against a bureaucracy entrenched and committed to maintain the status quo.

Contents:
Part One: At The Precipice; War Games; War Scare; The Germ Nightmare; The Anthrax Factory; The Dead Hand; Morning Again In America
Part Two: "We Can't Go On Living Like This"; Year Of The Spy; Of Swords And Shields; The Road To Reykjavik; Farewell To Arms; Germs, Gas, and Secrets; The Lost Year; The Greatest Breakthrough; The Year Of Living Dangerously
Part Three: A Great Unraveling; The Scientists; Revelations; Yeltsin's Promise; Project Sapphire; Face To Face With Evil
Epilogue; Acknowledgments; Abbreviations In Notes; Endnotes; Index; Text And Illustration Permissions

It was well-known that the Soviet Union was obsessed with secrecy within their borders, and that obsession was part of every facet of their existence.  When it came to military matters, that obsession became paranoia.  Nuclear research was conducted in closed cities situated hundreds of miles from civilization.  Same with biological weapons research facilities.  If a test of biological agents got out of control and civilians died, it was covered up to look like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.  Everything was perfect, and that was the only image they would allow to be portrayed to their citizens and to the rest of the world.

It was this mindset that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were up against  as leaders of their countries trying to step back from an arms buildup that was costing billions, wrecking the economy, and threatening the lives of everyone on the planet.  Gorbachev had to fight most of the members of his own government who were steeped in regimented Soviet thinking.  Reagan wanted to break the communist hold over the Eastern bloc countries and eliminate the threat of nuclear war.  The problem is that Reagan wanted to do that with his Star Wars missile defense system, while Gorbachev saw that as something that would forever put the Soviet Union at a military disadvantage.  It wasn't until the Soviet Union *was* breaking up that arms reductions started to be made at a rapid pace, and all the posturing largely disappeared.  But then came another issue that was just as unsettling... what would become of all the nuclear and biological weapons that were now controlled by newly independent countries that had no clue as to how to manage and secure them?  And would some leader of a small country from the former Soviet Union decide to hold on to the weapons and declare themselves a nuclear power?

I was impressed by Hoffman's work on a number of levels.  First off, there was no overt axe to grind or platform to push.  In a book that wants to tell me the "untold story" of something, I'd prefer the information to be largely factual and not a means to an end for the author.  I didn't sense that in Dead Hand, and I appreciated it.  I was also pleased that he was able to to take the material and make it a compelling narrative that wasn't a chore to read.  Like a good novel, Dead Hand had me staying up past the point that my body was screaming for sleep, all because I wanted to see what behind-the-scenes action was going to occur next.

While I think the whole book is eye-opening and provocative, I felt the strongest material was in the final section of the book.  It's there that he looks at what became of the nuclear and biological material as the country collapsed and workers walked away from jobs they were no longer being paid to do.  American teams that went into certain areas found highly enriched plutonium sitting in abandoned warehouses, with no guards and no security.  The records for how much material was stored were incomplete or missing, which means there's no way to know whether any of the material ended up in the hands of other countries or terror groups.  The same goes for biological agents.  The worst part is that this lack of control was well-known by countries who should *never* have nuclear capabilities, and attempts were made to purchase the material and know-how.  While some were stopped, no one can be certain if they all were uncovered or how much material may have made it out of the country.

The Dead Hand is a well-written look into a period of time that still continues to have implications to this day.  If someone is trying to go beyond the headlines and understand what truly happened, this book should be on the list of recommended titles to read.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

07/31/2011

Book Review - Iron House by John Hart

Category Book Review John Hart Iron House
A picture named M2

My first exposure to John Hart comes through his latest novel Iron House.  His publisher contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing the novel, and the premise of a Mafia enforcer trying to leave the business sounded intriguing.  In this case, I made a good choice, as Iron House ended up being one of those books I couldn't put down.  Its dark and graphic nature hooked me quickly, and there were enough twists to keep me guessing as to how it was going to play out in the end.

Michael is a Mafia hitman who decides he's had enough of the business.  He's met a woman who he loves and who is pregnant with his child, and the head of the family has given his blessing to leave without retribution.  But the father is dying, and his son doesn't see the situation in the same light.  He resents the relationship that Michael and his father had, and he's determined to keep Michael in the business or see him dead.  He'll stoop to any level to apply pressure to get his way, and that includes threatening Michael's brother, Julian.  Wrong move...

Michael and Julian were raised in an orphanage called Iron House.  While Michael was tough and was not to be messed with, his brother was the target of brutal bullying by others in the orphanage.  Michael was the only refuge that Julian had, and Michael was determined to keep his weaker brother safe.  But Julian cracks after an attack and kills one of the tormenters in self-defense.  To protect his brother, Michael stages the scene to look like he killed the kid himself, and then takes off into the woods to flee the police and start his life on the streets.  His street-tough ways are what brought him to the attention of the Mafia leader and eventually made him a trusted insider.  

Michael needs to rely upon all his smarts (and skills as a killer) to protect the ones he loves, while trying to unravel what happened at Iron House so many years ago, and why those events matter so much now...

This is not a novel I'd recommend to someone who gets offended or queasy at graphic violence.  The main character who hunts down Michael is definitely missing a few normalacy genes, and he has no qualms with using pain and suffering to get the information he wants.  The passages and images Hart evokes of Iron House are indeed dark, reminding me of photographs of abandoned and decrepit mental hospitals.  On the other hand, Hart's characters are interesting, with a number of layers making them who they are and driving the decisions they make.  Mix in a heavy dose of mental instability, and I was never quite sure if what I was reading was the entire picture.  Usually it wasn't. :)  

Since this is a stand-alone novel in terms of characters and stories, you can dive in here and not miss anything from his earlier writings.  I'm sure I'll be headed back to pick them up, regardless.  If they're anywhere as good as Iron House, Hart will end up being an author I need to read as soon as something new comes out.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

07/28/2011

IBM announces their Federal Cloud offering just as GSA completes their migration away from Notes...

Category IBM/Lotus
Back on July 20th, Ed Brill announced that IBM was set to offer up a US Federal Cloud Collaboration offering consisting of FISMA-compliant data centers hosting Connections, Sametime, and Domino/iNotes.  Against that backdrop, GSA made the news in the IT press this week by completing their migration away from on-premises Lotus Notes to Google Apps for Government.  It apparently took Unisys six months to migrate 17000 employees over to the new platform.  I don't know if they migrated mail or started fresh or what, but six months isn't too bad in either case.  I know how slow huge organizations can be...

On one hand, I'm happy to see that IBM has finally addressed the market for government cloud computing.  In one of the battles they lost for a government contract, the IBM spokesperson was quoted as saying that pursuing FISMA certification wasn't overly important to their plans.  That told me that they were going to concede the government market for email, as moving government agencies to the cloud for email systems is a high priority now.  Someone either wised up or the original IBM spokesperson "misspoke".  Either way, it's nice to see that IBM now has the pieces in place to be allowed at the table.

On the other hand, are they considered a viable option?

In the various stories about the GSA migration, I've seen reference to 15 agencies who are currently moving to the cloud or who have made decisions to do so and picked vendors.  The only names I've seen mentioned are Microsoft and Google as the winning vendors.  Scattered around the online articles are links to stories that compare Google Apps with Office 365.  You even have this line at the end of the GSA article:

Google and Microsoft are in a heated battle to win government cloud contracts for agencies that choose a public option.

The press either doesn't know IBM even has a cloud offering, or they don't think it's viable.  Realistically, you mention cloud email to most people, and you'll hear either Microsoft or Google mentioned as the dominant offerings.  If you're not already on Lotus Notes, you probably don't even know IBM *has* a cloud offering based on marketing and advertising, and it seems that far too many companies that *are* on Lotus Notes want to move to the cloud with one of those other two vendors for reasons that may or may not be accurate or valid.  But that really doesn't matter, as their perception is their reality, and that's where the money ends up.

If people who aren't on Notes don't think of IBM for cloud email, and people who are on Notes are leaning to either Microsoft or Google, that doesn't bode well for market share unless you can raise your visibility significantly to businesses of all sizes... from government monoliths to the local medical clinic.  Ed has mentioned that he knows this is an issue and needs to be addressed, but that seems to be at odds with overall IBM marketing wanting to talk about "solutions" and not necessarily products.

With each passing week, more decisions are made, and money gets spent for long-term commitments to new platforms.  I hope the visibility issue gets addressed very soon...

07/20/2011

Packet Storm: Lotus Domino Denial Of Service

Category IBM/Lotus
Packet Storm is reporting a Lotus Domino Denial of Service issue...

# Exploit Title: Lotus Domino SMTP router, EMAIL server and client DoS - all 3 may crash
# Date: July 16, 2011
# Author: None - looks like a malformed Kerio generated calendar invitation was the reason this was discovered -http://forums.kerio.com/index.php?t=msg&th=19863&start=0
# Software Link: none - cut/paste the malformed meeting invitation show below, send into some Domino shop as a mime type text/calendar with a filename.ics
# Version: 8.5.3 and very likely all 7.x and 8.x
# Tested on: W2K3, W2K8, XP running 8.5.3
# CVE : none - but IBM has patches for this and other
items
https://www-304.ibm.com/support/docview.wss?q1=vulnerability%20OR%20vulnerabilities&rs=0&uid=swg21461514&cs=utf-8〈=en&loc=en_US&cc=us
https://www-304.ibm.com/support/docview.wss?uid=swg21504183

Particularly ugly in that the rest of the page has the cut and paste code for making the attachment that will crash the server...

07/18/2011

From Joe Konrath: Be Deliberate

Category Everything Else
I stumbled across this blog entry from indy author Joe Konrath: Be Deliberate

Write deliberately.

Taste is subjective. But very few people are able to separate their feelings about something from the value it might actually have (as evidenced by the thought that went into it), simply because they can't perceive its value, or don't bother trying to perceive it.

Which is lazy. Or ignorant. Or outright stupid. Or some combination of all three

We can offhandedly say "That TV show sucks" simply because we don't like that type of show, or don't care for one of the actors on that show, or it didn't provoke emotion. But chances are high that the show doesn't actually suck, because there was a lot of work that went into it, by a lot of people who did their best. It takes a lot of dedicated folks a lot of hours to create a television show. That doesn't mean the show is automatically excellent, but knee-jerk or cavalier dismissal of something that took so much time shows little understanding of the creation process, and devalues it.

All opinions are valid, because you can't argue with subjectivity. But just because something doesn't work for you doesn't mean it doesn't work.


This sums up so many of the issues I have with people who comment, blog, review, and otherwise express their "opinions" online.  It also helps me understand why I generally don't react well to people who tend to express very strong opinions.  It's far too easy to write off something as useless, wrong, and stupid if it doesn't work for you.  Since it's now a trivial matter to "share" your views and opinions either via an original post or a comment on someone else's work, people think they hold far more sway than they actually do.  And if you don't agree with them?  Then it's "game on" to explain how *you're* stupid for not understanding the wisdom of their thinking.  

As Konrath explains, putting a lot of work into something doesn't mean it's wonderful and perfect.  And if you're expecting *everyone* to love what you've done, you're in for some major disappointment.  If your audience consists of more than one person, you will never be able to please 100% of them.  But understand that a lot of work went into any creative endeavor, and just because you don't like it doesn't mean that others won't either.  You are not everyone, and everyone has different motivations, needs, and likes.

Be deliberate.  State your opinion but explain *why*.  Just because something doesn't work for you doesn't mean it doesn't work.

07/17/2011

Book Review - Bomboozled: How the U.S. Government Misled Itself and Its People into Believing They Could Survive a Nuclear Attack by Susan Roy

Category Book Review Susan Roy Bomboozled: How the U.S. Government Misled Itself and Its People into Believing They Could Survive a Nuclear Attack
A picture named M2

Step back to the height of the nuclear cold war in the United States, when the possibility of a nuclear attack by the Russians meant that we could all die in an instant... vaporized by the heat of a million suns.  That is, unless you had a... BOMB SHELTER!  Susan Roy does an excellent job with her portrayal of that schizophrenic time in her book Bomboozled: How the U.S. Government Misled Itself and Its People into Believing They Could Survive a Nuclear Attack.  It's amazing how easily we were led into both fearing a nuclear attack and believing that surviving one was a relatively simple matter.  As Roy shows, the gap between image and reality was huge.

Contents:
Atomic Anxiety; You Can Survive!; Better Homes and Bunkers; Nuclear Housekeeping; Drop-Dead Gorgeous; Shelter Skelter; Plastic Sheeting & Duct Tape; Bibliography, Credits, and Index; Acknowledgements

Roy uses the oversized dimensions of this book to capture the tone and flavor of the time by using an abundance of images from actual publications of that period.  Government publications tout how to build basement shelters that will protect your family from dreaded fallout, and magazine articles cover the essentials of what you'll need to have in the way of supplies to survive the nuclear holocaust (provided it doesn't last much longer than about a week).  Of course, there are numerous companies who will sell and/or build your shelter for you, creating a cozy little (emphasis on "little") hideaway to ride out those critical first days until everything gets back to "normal."  All the pictures show "typical" American families happily riding out the emergency, with Father in his tweed jacket and Mother in her high heels, looking all proper and put together.  In reality, most of the shelters would have been dark and hot, with stale air and no (and we mean "no") accounting for toilet facilities.  Yes, you may survive the initial blast and fallout, but would the shelter end up killing you instead?  Quite possibly...

While it's easy to look at Bomboozled and think we've gotten so much smarter since then, Roy doesn't let us off the hook that easily.  All she has to do is bring up the mania over plastic sheeting and duct tape that was the government-recommended plan to fend off the effects of a biological, chemical, or nuclear attack after 9/11.  The government is still pushing the twin goals of having a population that fears the danger of an attack, while making them think that it's a simple matter of preparation to ensure your survival.  Roy shows that we really haven't learned much after all.

As I was reading this, I wondered how many of these family bomb shelters lie buried and forgotten in neighborhoods around America.  Even more intriguing is that the New York World's Fair had a complete underground home as an exhibit, and there's a strong possibility that it was just covered over after the Fair was finished.  Does it still exist underground, waiting to be "discovered" like so many of the forgotten subway stations in the city?  It'd be fascinating to find a forgotten bomb shelter and see how it held up after decades of being buried.

If you have any interest in nuclear warfare and how it played out in the general population, Bomboozled is a highly recommended read.  Not only will you find a treasure trove of material that shaped our thinking and actions, but you'll also see how we haven't gotten beyond certain mindsets in all these years.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

07/17/2011

Book Review - Sumo: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Japan's National Sport by David Benjamin

Category Book Review David Benjamin Sumo: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Japan's National Sport
A picture named M2

When I saw Sumo: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Japan's National Sport by David Benjamin at the library, I picked it up thinking it would be a serious guide to sumo wrestling.  I enjoy the spectacle and history of the sport, and I'm always open to learning a bit more about it.  I quickly discovered (by page eight, which is the start of the first chapter), that "serious" is the one thing that I would *not* find in this book.  Instead, it's an irreverent and funny look at the sport through the eyes of a westerner living in Japan.  Mind you, it is informative, but it strips all pretension and pomposity away, leaving the core of the sport, which can be quite funny when you get right down to it.

Contents:
The Pit; Big Al, Mad Dog, Tokyo Rose and the Silver Spoons; The "Grouping Urge" - Blubberbutts and Thoroughbreds; Backstage - Choking Up in the Church; The Sumotori Rag - Pose-striking, Time-killing and the Eight Forms of Screwing Around; Tachiai - Hookers, Bulldozers, Boxers, Stranglers, Matadors and Low-down Yankee Liars; The Fistfight at the Malamute Saloon and Other Japanese Cultural Treasures; The Ripsnorter in Nagoya; Afterward - "Keep Up Appearances Whatever You Do"; The Basho Beat - "Give That Rhythm Everything You've Got"; Tank This One for the Gipper; The Statistical Imperative; Wither Sumo... Especially With All These Gaijin?; Acknowledgments; Glossary; Index

Actually, I should have guessed by reading the table of contents that this was going to be a radically different look at sumo than I was used to.  Benjamin *is* a fan of sumo, but to understand it he had to examine it using his own context and reference points.  For instance, blubberbutts and thoroughbreds was his way of classifying the body types of the wrestlers.  He saw that there were generally large obese wrestlers who overwhelmed opponents due to their size, and other wrestlers who actually had a level of athletics skill and muscle tone.  Each type has advantages, and there are ranges and blends in the spectrum of body types.  But still, it's a useful way to sort wrestlers... you just won't hear any "proper" fans refer to them that way.

I found the most useful information was on the different strategies, such as bulldozing or boxing.  The general impression is that a sumo match consists of five seconds of two fat guys belly-bouncing each other out of the ring.  In reality, there are actual methods and strategies involving holds, strikes, and movement.  Once you understand the preferred method of each wrestler, it becomes more interesting to see how certain matches play out.  Besides, a western mind understands a boxer strategy, where tsuppari and hataki mean nothing.

A drawback that bugged me is that this is the second edition of the book, and the updating is somewhat uneven.  The first edition was in 1991, with the second edition coming out in 2010.  Some of the more prominent rikishi in the book seem to be mired in the past, while other parts of the book are more current.  I would have liked to have not even noticed that an update had occurred but it didn't flow as well as it could have.  Even so, it's not a major distraction to the core of the material... just one of those things I noticed.

So long as you're not offended by an irreverent look at what some people take *very* seriously, Sumo is an enjoyable read that mixes in good information while having fun.  

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

07/16/2011

Book Review - Savage Fire by Ben Langhinrichs

Category Book Review Ben Langhinrichs Savage Fire
A picture named M2

I'm not normally attracted to short story compilations, mainly because just about the time I'm getting into the story, it ends.  Enjoyment interruptus...  But Ben Langhinrichs is a long-time friend and someone whose writing has entertained me on a number of past occasions.  When he asked me if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing Savage Fire, his first "book" (e-book, but still...), the answer was an enthusiastic "yes!".  As I expected, Savage Fire is a excellent work, and it shows off Ben's incredible ability to write convincingly in a number of genres.  In fact, if you didn't know better, you'd think this had to be the work of more than one writer.

There are 16 short stories in Savage Fire that quickly draw you in and take you in unusual directions.  What you notice right off is that the themes and genres are varied and range from Victorian zombies to crime noire, from modern-day mythology to the supernatural.  But this isn't a case of a writer throwing a number of stories in a book, hoping that a few of them will carry the rest.  Ben's sense of setting, mood, and dialogue are dead-on (yeah, there's a bit of an intended pun there), and each story had me appreciating Ben's skill when it comes to putting words to paper.

It's hard to pick a favorite, as each story has a twist or angle that made me think or laugh at the setting or situation.  If Not Mistaken definitely ranked high, as the cases of mistaken identities, graphic deaths, and uninhibited actions left me wondering if it could get any more bizarre... and then it did... repeatedly.  In fact, I had to laugh a bit at some of the stories due to a conversation I had with Ben at a conference.  He mentioned a few of the writing exercises he had done as part of a writing group, involving writing a short story with unusual genre combinations.  One specific one he mentioned was very unusual (to say the least), but he was able to pull it off here without a problem.  It does leave me wondering, however... should I be impressed or very, very worried about him?  :)

Not that I would have expected anything different, but I'll be one of the first in line to buy and read any future works that Ben publishes.  Savage Fire is an excellent debut by a talented writer, and I look forward to see where his writing will take him.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Amazon
Payment: Purchased

07/10/2011

Book Review - Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

Category Book Review Mitchell Zuckoff Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
A picture named M2

Imagine flying over a jungle, having your plane crash and kill all but three of the passengers and crew, struggling to find your way to a clearing to be spotted and rescued, only to come face-to-face with a jungle tribe of suspected cannibals.  That's the real-life situation that three military personnel found themselves in during World War II, and the story is chronicled in the book Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff.  Zuckoff was unable to let this story die when he first ran across it while researching a different topic, and as a result we are able to get a closer look at an event that captured the attention of the country when it happened.

Zuckoff tells the story of a sightseeing flight that left a military base in Dutch New Guinea with 24 passengers.  The personnel at the base knew that a jungle tribe existed on the island, and it was considered a special privilege to get a flyover to see them up close.  On this particular flight, things went wrong and the plane went down in the jungle, killing all but three of the passengers.  Margaret Hastings, John McCollom, and Kenneth Decker barely survived the crash (with varying degrees of injury), and began their trek to make it to some sort of clearing where they could hopefully flag down a search plane and get rescued.  But that was just the start of their ordeal.

Once they made it to a clearing (death-defying in its own right), the dangers continued.  It was there that they came face-to-face with the tribe they had viewed from above, a clan of jungle warriors thought to be cannibals.  Fortunately for the three, the cannibal rumor was incorrect, and through various gestures and actions they were able to become friends with the tribe.  They also were spotted by a rescue plane, but their location made any rescue attempt a risky event in itself.  A paratrooper squad made up of mostly Filipino soldiers was called upon to jump into the camp to start medical care on the three survivors while the rest of the group hiked in from a base camp miles away.  Amazingly, everyone survived the landing and the medical care was started.  it's a minor miracle that gangrene and infection didn't kill off the survivors or lead to amputated limbs, but with painful and delicate care, the three were able to heal up enough to hike out to the base camp to be picked up.  At that point, getting into a glider to be snatched up via a trailing hook of a passing plane (none of which had been able to be completely tested beforehand) almost seemed normal. :)

Zuckoff does a good job in fleshing out this story by tracking down a number of the people involved, both on the military side and with the natives that witnessed the original event.  Since he goes into the background of a number of the people in the story, there are a few times when the action starts to slow down a bit.  But overall, the pacing is such that the pages keep turning in order to find out what the next triumph or tragedy will be.  I was also struck by how much of a difference it seems to make when a woman is part of the rescue situation.  Had this been three men instead of two men and a WAC (Women's Army Corp), I'm not sure it would have been very newsworthy either now or back then.  But it certainly made this story unique, and it definitely made for some interesting interactions with the natives. :)

Lost in Shangri-La is well worth reading, both as a story of human survival and endurance, as well as a look into what happens when cultures collide in unexpected ways.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

07/10/2011

Book Review - Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

Category Book Review Janet Evanovich Smokin' Seventeen
A picture named M2

I used to love the Stephanie Plum series written by Janet Evanovich.  Laughs, action, craziness... it was all there.  But over the last three or four installments, things have stagnated.  The plot lines have repeated themselves, Stephanie's love interest between Morelli and Ranger still hasn't been resolved, and nothing new is going on.  I'd like to say that Smokin' Seventeen gets back to the original flair and spiciness of the earlier novels, but no such luck.  Seventeen follows the recent formula, leaving me wondering if I really care anymore about who she ends up choosing as her love interest.

In Seventeen, the crime element of the plot line involves a number of dead bodies turning up in the lot where Vinnie's Bail Bonds office used to be.  One or two bodies are a mystery to be solved, but when additional bodies show up with messages to Stephanie, it ups the ante considerably.  Stephanie's love life is as complicated as ever, as she still has the hots for both Morelli and Ranger.  But there's a new suitor in the picture, placed there by her mother (and not at all appreciated by Stephanie).  Regardless of how much she tells him she's not interested, he just keeps showing up, armed with food and cooking paraphernalia.  As usual, Stephanie love life is hosed, cars keep getting blown up around her, and someone wants her dead.

As I mentioned in a review for a previous Stephanie Plum novel, this episode has all the right parts but none of the magic or spark that made this series click in the past.  The characters do the same things they normally do (with a bit more "action" for Stephanie due to a hex put on her by Morelli's grandmother), but all the same questions remain at the end.  No character growth, no overall resolutions on relationships, nothing...

Unless something dramatic happens in the next Stephanie Plum novel, this series will end up being relegated to the "when I get around to catching up" list.  I don't hate the series (yet?), but I'm only a step away from not caring much any more...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

07/05/2011

University of Nebraska drops Lotus Notes for Microsoft - the bigger issue I see here...

Category IBM/Lotus Microsoft Google
So the big story in cloud e-mail that broke yesterday is that the University of Nebraska decided to leave their on-site Notes e-mail system and move to Microsoft's online offering after Microsoft sweetened the pot by adding $250,000 to the deal:

Microsoft Pays Customer $250,000 To Adopt Office 365 (InformationWeek)
Exclusive: Redmond gives University of Nebraska six-figure incentive package to ditch IBM system and reject Google Apps.

Microsoft Gave Customer $250,000 To Choose Office 365 Over Google Apps (Business Insider)

This is another casualty in the education market where an institution has decided to drop Notes and move to the cloud, and the choices came down to Microsoft or Google.  Depending on which side you're on, there are various reactions that seem to bubble forth from this particular move.

The obvious one that made this reportable is that Microsoft paid a Notes client to migrate.  While this may sound like bribery or buying a client, it's not as if someone pushed a briefcase across the table and said "switch now, and this is yours."

And one other big reason--the university will receive $250,000 in givebacks from Microsoft to underwrite the switch under a little-known program Redmond calls Business Incentive Funds.

"That funding will pay for some consulting and licenses to convert a large percentage of our users from Lotus Notes to Office 365," UNL officials said in a Q&A about the email migration that was posted on the university's website. "We will also use that funding to pay for a Microsoft Premier Support agreement covering email and Microsoft Office applications for the entire university."  (InformationWeek)

The way I read this, it appears to be a case where a number of services and licenses were included at no cost to the university, and the value of those services reflect $250K that would normally be paid by the buyer.  Think of it as "and if you call now, we'll throw in an additional widget at no extra cost!"  It's just that this one had a few extra zeroes at the end, and it was used to move a company away from something in which we have a vested interest.

The larger issue in my view is this:

With Office 365 now formally launched, it's likely Microsoft will continue to be aggressive when it comes to negotiating contracts for new government, educational, and commercial accounts. Last year, New York City officials said the vendor offered significantly lower prices than Google on a bid for the city's cloud computing contract. The upshot for customers: As Google and Microsoft battle each other for the cloud, there may be no better time to buy. (InformationWeek)

Microsoft has long been rumored to offer huge discounts and paybacks like this to get early adopters for new products, and to beat back Google in enterprise and government contracts, but this is a rare instance in which a customer actually admitted it.

It also highlights what a hard uphill battle Google faces if it seriously wants to take Microsoft on in the enterprise. (Business Insider)

In both these articles, there is no mention of LotusLive being a viable alternative.

Before you rush off and blame technology media for bias, consider the Gartner research article published on June 10 titled Cloud E-Mail Decision-Making Criteria for Educational Organizations by Matt Cain.  The lead of that article:

Educational organizations sometimes struggle to choose between Google and Microsoft for e-mail and collaboration services. We present six evaluation criteria that can be used by personnel making the decision, or by executives charged with reviewing vendor decisions.

The word "Lotus" is not found anywhere in that piece.  It's as if LotusLive is not even an option.

I'm aware that the educational market has its challenges for a vendor, one issue being that "free" has become the baseline cost for how much they want to spend to get students on e-mail.  Still, IBM has gone from a dominant position in the educational market to one of being considered the "legacy" or "aging" infrastructure that needs to be replaced with a Microsoft or Google offering.  

I'm aware that IBM knows they have to do more in terms of making LotusLive more visible in the market, and that's good.  From my perspective, that problem looms large in determining whether LotusLive becomes a market player or an also-ran...

07/03/2011

Book Review - The Unsanctioned by Michael Lamke

Category Book Review Michael Lamke The Unsanctioned
A picture named M2

Is it possible that the government has programs and resources committed to tracking down anonymous bloggers and personalities on the 'net that espouse anti-American sentiments?  That scenario forms the premise of a novel I finished this week... The Unsanctioned by Michael Lamke.  This is Lamke's first novel, and it's a good effort.  He presents some tough questions on where the line should be drawn when it comes to free speech, anonymity, and safeguarding the public.  In his novel, as in real life, there are no easy answers.

Lane Evans is attached to the embassy in Thailand as an aide to the Ambassador.  He's asked to track down an anonymous Thai blogger who is instigating public unrest against the US military, currently in the country to offer humanitarian relief after a natural disaster.  He quickly tracks down the blogger's identity, and feels that he did what was necessary to prevent deaths of American citizens.  But this success takes him deeper down the rabbit hole when he's hooked into a darker tracking program that crosses the line from tracking to elimination.  This unsanctioned black-ops program goes against everything he believes to be right, but exposing the operation puts both him and his girlfriend back in Thailand at risk of being another victim.  Deciding where to turn and where to draw the line will determine who lives and who dies...

Overall, The Unsanctioned was a page-turner.  The concept of a black-ops tracking program isn't a stretch, and the method used to track people is a nice technology feature that makes the plot work.  I personally didn't think the ending held up when measured against the character motivations leading up to the finish.  But considering it's a first novel, my net opinion is positive.  If and when Lamke writes another installment, I wouldn't hesitate to read it.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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