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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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09/18/2011

Book Review - Metasploit: The Penetration Tester's Guide by David Kennedy, Jim O'Gorman, Devon Kerns, and Mati Aharoni

Category Book Review David Kennedy Jim O'Gorman Devon Kerns Mati Aharoni Metasploit: The Penetration Tester's Guide
A picture named M2

It's nice when a book not only delivers on its stated objective, but it also opens my eyes to a better understanding of a related subject.  Metasploit: The Penetration Tester's Guide by David Kennedy, Jim O'Gorman, Devon Kerns, and Mati Aharoni falls solidly into that class.  In addition to learning how I can use Metasploit for network penetration testing, I also saw just how easy it is for someone to compromise a system with very little effort or knowledge.  You can never rest when it comes to network and system security.

Contents:
Introduction; The Absolute Basics of Penetration Testing; Metasploit Basics; Intelligence Gathering; Vulnerability Scanning; The Joy of Exploitation; Meterpreter; Avoiding Detection; Exploitation Using Client-Side Attacks; Metasploit Auxiliary Modules; The Social-Engineer Toolkit; Fast-Track; Karmetasploit; Building Your Own Module; Creating Your Own Exploits; Porting Exploits to the Metasploit Framework; Meterpreter Scripting; Simulated Penetration Testing; Configuring Your Target Machines; Cheat Sheet; Index

The authors set an ambitious goal in trying to write a book that is useful for both beginners and experienced users of Metasploit.  Usually that means that neither side ends up being happy.  I can say as a member of the beginner group, I can say they were successful on that end of the scale.  There's a fine balance between step-by-step hand holding and the assumption that the reader already knows everything.  After an introduction to a structured approach to penetration testing, they start to cover the basics of how someone might use Metasploit to probe a network, gather information on potential attack vectors, and then exploit those potential weaknesses.  The major features are covered as opposed to trying to write about every last setting, so the material doesn't bog down in minutia.  It's also nice that they set up a fictional penetration test scenario, and follow it through the different chapters.  It makes for good continuity.  As the book progresses, the emphasis moves towards creating your own modules to run within the Metasploit framework.  Not every tester will need or want to go that route, but it's a reminder of how flexible this tool can be.

The bonus of this book was realizing how easy it is to launch various attacks without much effort.  I guess I really hadn't thought through what would be necessary to set up phishing attacks, either by sending infected documents or setting up a fake site to collect personal information.  With Metasploit, it's nothing more than selecting some options and running the tool.  You can argue whether Metasploit is a good or bad thing depending on who is using it, but it's a certainty that this type of behavior will exist and happen regardless.  By writing this book, the authors have helped even the playing field between the black hats and the white hats.

Metasploit: The Penetration Tester's Guide is a book that should be on the shelf of any serious computer security professional.  And if you're just starting to dabble in the world of network security, this is a great resource to start your journey.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

09/17/2011

Book Review - Lake Charles by Ed Lynskey

Category Book Review Ed Lynskey Lake Charles
A picture named M2

Every time I read an Ed Lynskey novel, I end up using the word "gritty" in my review.  Lake Charles is no exception to that trend.  The back cover describes this as "Tennessee noir", and that seems as apt a description of the setting and mood than anything else.  Dark and violent, with the backstory catching up to the current action as it unfolds.  This novel was hard to put down.

The story revolves around Brendan Fishback, a young guy who is currently out on bail, facing a charge of murder.  He went to a party and picked up an attractive girl named Ashley, who just happened to be the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the county.  She was a major party animal, and they ended up at a local hotel for some private partying.  After dozing off, he wakes up to find Ashley dead, along with a stash of PCP-laced pot taped under the night stand.  He remembers nothing and maintains the pot didn't belong to them, but the father wants justice, and Brendan is the easiest one to blame.

To try and get a break from the stress of his upcoming trial, he heads up to Lake Charles with his twin sister and his best friend.  Those two actually are married, but things aren't going so well, and Brendan's hoping to get them back together.  While out on the lake with their jet boats and her jet ski, she takes off on a run with her jet ski but goes missing.  As night approaches, they still haven't found her, so they decide to camp out by the boat launch and resume the search in the morning.  In the middle of the night, they end up as target practice for a couple of guys with rifles, and suddenly it looks like her disappearance may not be as accidental as they thought.  That becomes even more evident when they stumble over a very large marijuana drug operation, along with evidence that his sister had passed through the camp in the last 24 hours.  Now that he knows about the drugs, the search for his sister takes on additional danger and urgency, as a life or two appears to be a small price to pay for keeping this highly lucrative operation secret.

Lake Charles had an edge to it that worked perfectly for setting the mood and tone of the story.  It took a short while to pick up the rhythm and pacing of the plot, as pieces of the backstory are periodically revealed to explain the current action.  I had to remind myself to just keep reading, as the reason for what was happening would likely show up shortly.  Other than that, Lake Charles immersed me in the story in a way few books do.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

09/17/2011

Book Review - Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

Category Book Review Kathryn Schulz Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
A picture named M2

I recently caught a TEDx talk by Kathryn Schulz on the reasons why we need to get over our fear of being wrong.  That's an interesting mindset, and usually not one that people readily accept.  To investigate her ideas more thoroughly, I picked up her book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.  It's a deep and heavy read, but her humor and irreverent attitude keep it from being a sleeping aid.  Having finished it, I think I can now look at my many errors and mistakes in a much healthier light.

Contents:
Part 1 - The Idea of Error: Wrongology; Two Models of Wrongness
Part 2 - The Origins of Error; Our Senses; Our Mind, Part One - Knowing, not knowing, and Making It Up; Our Minds, Part Two - Belief; Our Minds, Part Three - Evidence; Our Society; The Allure of Certainty
Part 3 - The Experience of Error: Being Wrong; How Wrong?; Denial and Acceptance; Heartbreak; Transformation
Part 4 - Embracing Error: The Paradox of Error; The Optimistic Meta-Induction from the History of Everything
Acknowledgments; Notes; Index

Schulz takes on a heavy topic that most of us don't understand.  The vast majority of people either feel they have to be right at all costs, or that being wrong is a personal failure.  In reality, being wrong is what helps us grow and understand our world better.  One prime example was the insistence that the Sun and all the planets revolved around Earth.  But in the 1600s, Galileo went head-to-head with the Church and many other educated men, and declared his support for the Copernicus model of the universe based on his observations and theories.  The possibility of being incorrect was not well-received, and Galileo died with the stimga of being a heretic.  It took a number of years for people and institutions to come around to the fact that the previously held view was wrong, and that these new observations and facts dictated a change to the way we think about the universe.  If we were less insistent on having to be right or less fearful of being wrong, we as a society could grow so much faster.

I was also struck by how error is often comedy.  If something goes wrong on a trip or you make a mistake, it's common to hear "we'll laugh about this one day."  Rather than wait, just accept that being human means making mistakes, and enjoy the moment.  Laugh and/or learn from it, adjust your views or actions, and move on.

It was impossible not to think about politics while reading this, either.  Each political party has a hard and fast set of beliefs that define them, and anyone not subscribing to those beliefs is wrong and needs to be corrected.  Unfortunately, even when presented with evidence to the contrary relating to one of their closely-held views, it is nearly impossible for the person to adjust their thinking and admit they were wrong.  There's no discussion and consideration of views to come up with a compromise or to learn from others.  It's often a duel to the death to be right while proving the other person wrong.  In the end, nobody gains from that.

Being Wrong has a great message that, if heeded, would make our lives so much more productive and enjoyable.  It's well worth the time and effort it takes to go through the material.  But I have little hope that the average man on the street who is affected by the need to always be right will ever take the time to read and understand this message.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

09/11/2011

Book Review - Nuclear Power: A Very Short Introduction by Maxwell Irvine

Category Book Review Maxwell Irvine Nuclear Power: A Very Short Introduction
A picture named M2

With the recent spate of nuclear power plant problems, I thought it might help to go beyond the mass media news and learn a bit more about nuclear power in general.  Oxford University Press has a series of books labeled "A Very Short Introduction."  I picked up Nuclear Power: A Very Short Introduction by Maxwell Irvine as my first high-level intro.  In terms of covering a complex topic in 132 pages that are only about 2/3's the size of a normal book, it does a good job.  I had issues with the definite editorial slant on the topic, however.

Contents:
A new science is born; A new technology is developed; Thermal nuclear reactors; Nuclear fuel reprocessing and radioactive waste; Nuclear safety; The cost of nuclear power; Nuclear fusion power; The need for nuclear power; Appendix; Further Reading; Index

To the book and the author's credit, there's an incredible amount of information here.  He goes into the history of how nuclear power was developed, what types of radioactive elements can be used, and how the different reactor designs affect power output and waste generation.  I feel the book starts to veer off-course starting with the chapters on waste and nuclear safety.  The author is very much a proponent of nuclear power, and some issues seem to get glossed over.  Wastes can be reprocessed and certain parts extracted, but we're still left without answers on what to do for long-term storage.  I was more stunned with the safety information, however.  The book is recent, so Japan's nuclear power plant disasters are part of the information.  While he admits that failures occurred, he counters with the fact that they were not human errors and therefore was not the fault of the plant or workers.  Furthermore, he attempts to downplay the incident as being just a fraction of the overall damage and disaster of the tsunami and earthquake on the entire island.  And if that wasn't enough, he points to other disasters that were much more damaging, such as the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal India that released a gas that killed 25000 people.  I know that everyone has opinions and biases on their subjects of interest, but I expected a more balanced approach here.  Instead, I felt it was more of a defense of nuclear power and a feeling that without it, we are doomed to a future without energy.

Side note:  a bit of irony that as I was writing this, it was just reported that a nuclear power site in France had an explosion and a risk of radiation leaks...

Nuclear Power: A Very Short Introduction is admittedly a solid introduction to the topic.  Just be prepared and forewarned that you may not agree with his conclusions on the future and safety of nuclear power, and that his biases are on display there.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

09/11/2011

Guest Post: Challenging the Next Generation of Business Leaders by Al Weatherhead

Category Al Weatherhead
Challenging the Next Generation of Business Leaders
by
Al Weatherhead


As we struggle through economic hard times, I’m convinced that the underlying problem hamstringing our economy is under-employment. Even worse, I believe the root causes of the sluggish job situation are not blips. Rather, we are now faced with a new paradigm.

Why am I predicting continued tough times? The interconnectedness of the house of cards international economy, for one thing. And the fierce competitiveness of the global jobs marketplace is also here to stay, and in fact will only get worse as countries such as China and India continue to flex their growing muscle.

So welcome to the new “New Normal” as more and more Wall Street pundits are describing our gloomy situation. But just because the causes of our economic adversity may be here to stay doesn’t mean that we can’t find effective solutions to mastering those problems. They just have to be the right solutions.

There have been calls that what’s needed to jolt us out of our fiscal doldrums is a reincarnation of the New Deal – a massive government outlay to create jobs. But for the reasons I’ve cited above, today’s economic macrocosm is very different than in 1927, when the American economy powered the world and not the other way around. Add in the fact that the political winds are blowing against bailouts and their attendant costs, even if the government had the deep pockets to finance our recovery, and we can see that government can’t save us this time around. To my mind, it’s a national shame that Washington, D.C. should be expected to ride to our rescue.

This is America, the greatest nation in the world, built on capitalism, and it’s only capitalism that can save us. I believe it is the patriotic duty of our business leaders to put people back to work, because people – not profits – are the lifeblood of any business and ultimately our economy.

Let’s start with the first and fundamental rule of successful management through good times and bad. It’s one, tragically, that many executives have forgot as they obsess with delivering short-term shareholder value at the expense of long-term overall prosperity: management and employee success are intertwined.

I can gauge the health of any business in the faces of the employees, for beyond all the mechanics of the place there is one truth: a viable business is a collective human endeavor. Indeed, much of what is wrong in a good deal of current business theory – and which has come to the surface now that times are hard – is the failure to recognize that the heart of any business beats to the rhythms of its employees.

The bottom line must not be profit, because profit can only come as a fruit of the health and dreams of the human endeavor the business represents. Management’s training and development responsibility, then, is to cultivate within the work place an environment which lends itself to creativity, dreams, and collective spirit larger than the sum of its paychecks and mechanical parts.

Tragically, business leaders have had it drilled into them that the only thing that matters is shareholder value. It hasn’t always been that way. For much of our nation’s history, business by and large was America’s heart and soul, focused on the long-term good.

To be fair, today’s business leaders have some justification to be timid in taking the lead in confronting unemployment. Ongoing uncertainty concerning taxation and government regulations are paralyzing business from acting. When a company doesn’t have a handle on its future expenditures it’s only natural that it wants to sit on its money instead of using it to put people to work.

How can we encourage American business to ride to our nation’s rescue by putting out the “Help Wanted” sign?  We need to create a climate in which our multi-faceted, robust and resilient American business establishment can thrive through the virtues of the free-market system, starting with deregulation.

It’s no secret that businesses across the country are drowning in a Sargasso Sea of onerous state and federal regulations.  These, combined with the threat of higher taxes are encouraging business to sit on the sidelines. As a successful industrialist, I know from personal experience that business succeeds when government (no matter how well meaning) gets out of the way and lets American ingenuity go to work.  

I was on a radio program the other day when a call came in from a woman who had immigrated to the United States to become a citizen. Her voice was bursting with pride to be here and to be contemplating her bright future.

Her call serves to remind us that despite the increasing dominance and competitiveness of the global economy, for almost every rational human being on the planet, America remains the envy of the world and the land of opportunity. This has been true in the past, is true today, and will be true in the future – if we remain cognizant of the responsibilities and obligations that accrue to us who have been fortunate enough to succeed in our pursuit of the American Dream.

Is it too late for today’s business leaders to heed my patriotic call to put people before profits and country before corporations? Is the current crop of CEOs too set in its ways to put aside their fears and become true American heroes? I sincerely hope not, but only time will tell.

However, there is no question the next generation of business leaders has before it a golden opportunity to start fresh and valiantly serve their country. I challenge them to make a break with current business practices and for the good of our nation, use the shining light of capitalism to lead us out of our economic shadows.


Al Weatherhead is the author of The Power Of Adversity and chairman and CEO of Weatherchem, a private manufacturer of plastic closures for food, spice, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products.  Please visit www.powerofadversity.net for more information.

09/10/2011

Book Review - The Technology Salesperson's Handbook: 114 World Proven Lessons and Tactics by Ken Wax

Category Book Review Ken Wax The Technology Salesperson's Handbook: 114 World Proven Lessons and Tactics
A picture named M2

I first met Ken Wax a number of years ago when he spoke at Lotusphere, a conference for IBM/Lotus technology professionals.  I didn't have anything I needed to see during a particular time slot, so I decided to drop in on Ken's session which was on "selling" your technology and skills to customers.  I walked out with a completely different mindset than I went in with.  Ken shared a number of insights on communication and presentation that I still use to this day.  When he contacted me and asked if I would like to read and review his new book, it was a decision that required no thought on my part... of course I would!  The Technology Salesperson's Handbook: 114 World Proven Lessons and Tactics distills down his tactics and knowledge into quick and effective techniques that you will use every day on the job.  It doesn't matter if you're not responsible for cold-calling clients to try and sell them something, either.  You *are* selling yourself to your end-users, and these same principles apply.

Contents:
Inside the Mind of the Customer; The New Reality of Selling; It's Called the Sales Process; The Technology Salesperson's Toolkit; Mastering the Meeting; It's All in the Presentation; Advancing to a Higher Version Number

Although I'd recommend reading the whole book first and then referring back to certain areas often, each chapter is set up with a number of short tips and techniques that you can focus on to help you resolve vexing problems or improve in certain areas.  For instance, the first chapter titled "Mind of the Customer" includes subheadings such as "What's the View From Across the Table?", "How Do People Absorb - or Not?", and "The Rational Model and Other Lies."  If I look at the subheading for Rational Model, he explains what's really going on in the decision-making process.  The "Investigate, Analyze, Map To Needs, Weigh Choices, and Decide!" model is what most techies think is going on.  In reality, that's just the tip of the iceberg.  What you can't see are the distractions, miscommunication, politics, desires, biases, and so on.  It's those factors that are really driving the process.  If you don't understand that, you're toast in terms of making the sale.  I see this constantly when people complain that one technology was chosen over another in their company, even though the incumbent technology is a far superior value.  It's the stuff under the waterline that drives the decision, and you have to understand that before you can understand why the decision came down the way it did.

I was personally changed during my first session seeing Ken present when he talked about how people absorb information.  Using the Listen > Grasp > Fit In > Check > Next technique, I learned I couldn't just spew out facts as fast as my mouth could move.  I had to give the person time to hear what I said, make sense of it, place it in context with the other information they already know, see if it still makes sense, and only then are they ready for the next important point.  If I don't give them time to work through that process on important items, then I lose them early and any hope to influence them is lost.

I also highly recommend his section on advancing to a higher "version number."  As technology geeks, we're used to asking what version number of the software is being run.  What we don't know and don't think about is that we can apply that same concept to ourselves.  If I was Thomas Duff 3.0 last year, have I done anything to upgrade myself and my abilities to be able to tout the new and improved Thomas Duff version 4.5?  Or have years gone by, and I've only had a point upgrade during that time to version 3.2?  That twisted my view of personal improvement, to think that I should be upgrading and improving my capabilities rather than just keeping the same version year after year.  It's as the old adage goes... do you have ten years of experience, or one year of experience repeated ten times?

While the title of the book may be The Technology Salesperson's Handbook, the reality is that every technology professional needs to be selling what they do and the skills they bring to the table when working with *any* customer (even if they're a captive audience).  This is one of those books I'd recommend without hesitation to anyone who is serious about being successful over the life of their career.  Not only will you feel more comfortable when it comes to dealing with your customers, but you'll end up building those close relationships that make you a partner to the customer instead of just another option.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

09/10/2011

Book Review - Airlines of the Jet Age: A History by R. E. G. Davies

Category Book Review R. E. G. Davies Airlines of the Jet Age: A History
A picture named M2

If you're interested in aviation history, specifically from the advent of the jetliner going forward, this is a book that needs to be on your reading list... Airlines of the Jet Age: A History by R. E. G. Davies.  This has *far* more information than you'd ever want to know about the topic, be it specific plane types, manufactures, or all (and I mean *all*) the various airlines over the years in every country and continent.  I'd almost consider this an encyclopedia of jet aviation in a single volume.

Contents:
Part 1 - Piston-Engine Prelude: Air Transport Infancy; Airline Adolescence; Wartime Hiatus - And Opportunity; Post-War Recovery; Worldwide Expansion
Part 2 - The First Jet Age: The First Jets and Turboprops; Turboprop Ascendancy; The First Big Jets; The Short-Haul Jets; Proliferation; Emergence of the Middle East; Development of a Second Line; The Commuter Airlines; Restoring the Balance
Part 3 - The Second Jet Age: Wide-Bodied Jets; Supersonic Digression; Development of the Breeds; Refining the U.S. Second Line; Regional Airlines Worldwide
Part 4 - Airline Deregulation: The United States Sets the Pace; The Airline World Deregulates; Russian Metamorphosis; Decline of the American Giants; Birth of the Low-Fare Generation
Part 5 - Transformation in Europe: Low-Fare Revolution; British Airways Ascendancy; France Consolidates; Germany Regains a Leading Role; European Airline Attrition; Jet Wings over the Mediterranean; Farthest North with the Scandinavians; Europe Unites
Part 6 - Rise of Asia and the Pacific Rim: The Growth of China; India Awakes; The Subcontinent Fragments; Eastern Asia Emergent; Budget Fares for Southeast Asia
Part 7 - The Commonwealth Adjusts: Airlines of Australia; New Zealand and the Pacific; Canada Reorganizes
Part 8 - A Continent Made for Air Transport: The Sleeping Giant Awakes; Down Mexico Way; Around the Caribbean; Central America; Airlines of the Andes; Farthest South
Part 9 - Africa: Across the Mediterranean; Sub-Saharan Contradictions; End of the Empire Airlines; To the Cape and Beyond
Part 10 - Transitions: The Third Jet Age Begins; A New Competitor - High Speed Rail; A New Age Beckons
Appendix 1 - Selected Aircraft Specifications; Appendix 2 - Notable Events and Facts; Appendix 3 - Monetary Conversion from 1940 to 2010; Appendix 4 - The Five Freedoms of the Air; Appendix 5 - The World's Largest Airlines
Bibliography; Index; About the Author

The author is recently retired from the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum where he served as the Curator of Air Transport.  Given that, you can imagine that he knew his topic well and had access to material that the average layperson never knew existed.  At 460 pages of smallish font in two columns (and in an oversized book format to boot), the amount of information he covers is mind-boggling.  It's very dense, in that there are few large pictures that take space away from the text.  Every picture is relevant to the topic discussed on that page.  He also uses simplified maps to good effect to show routes in various countries and to illustrate points where necessary.  As you can tell from the table of contents listed above, he discusses anything and everything that is relevant to how we got to where we are today.

I put this on hold at the library without any pre-knowledge of what to expect.  I'll admit I was thinking more along the lines of a coffee table book with full-color pictures and a fly-by (sorry, had to do that!) on the actual material.  This definitely is not that kind of book.  Yet in many ways, I got more enjoyment out of this format than the one I expected.  I obviously learned *much* more, and I had to laugh at some of the unusual stories, especially those related to airlines in Africa.  When you see pictures of 747s emblazoned with names like Cameroon Airlines or Kenya Airways, you have to wonder what the quality of the country's infrastructure might be in terms of supporting airworthy planes.  In a number of cases, the image and reality were miles apart.  Financial mismanagement, politics, nepotism, and horrific crashes often caused many of these airlines to have a short life.  The funniest situation had to be Eritrean Airlines, which started business with two ground-handling agents in Asmara and Massawa... no planes, mind you... just ground agents. :)

While this isn't a "curl up in a chair by the fire and relax" book, I have to give Airlines of the Jet Age a top rating for the incredible amount of history, detail, and information that went into this.  It's rare that you can consider a single book to be *the* reference resource you need to have on your shelves, but if this is your area of interest, you need this book.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

09/05/2011

For Notes job postings, I'm thinking about purging entries after a certain period of time... thoughts?

Category Notes Jobs
Realistically, posts more than a couple weeks old are of limited value in terms of finding and applying for jobs.  I know it would be nice to be able to track trends over time (number of jobs, locations, etc.), but I'm not interested in that, nor am I interested in being the source for that information for others.

I'm thinking right now that I'd purge entries after 30 days or so.  Nothing automated, and it'd be when I got around to it.  For example, now that it's September, I would go through and purge anything prior to August.

Thoughts?  Do you care?  I still get feedback on people using this source for job searching, so I'm thinking it's still useful in terms of doing it.  I'm just not seeing the value of keeping data for data's sake...

09/05/2011

The Great Dashboard Cookie Experiment...

Category Everything Else
I've read blogs and posts before about people using the interior heat of a car during the summer to bake things... like cookies.  For some reason, I kept thinking "I gotta try this!", but I live in Portland Oregon, where hot days don't always coincide with when you want to bake something.  Arizona we ain't...

We finally hit our hot spell of the year, with highs around 90 today.  So off to the store I went to buy some Nestle Toll House cookie dough in the refrigerated tube.  Yeah, I could make my own, but why go to all that trouble for something that may not be edible when I get done?  But on the other hand, cookie dough is *always* edible!  Guess I'm in a no-lose situation here...

Most internet stories recommended about 2.5 hours of "baking," but since I could only get the car up to about 96 degrees F, I went for 3.5 hours during the afternoon.  In at 1:45 pm, out at 5:15 pm.  I also put the sunscreen silver-side-up on the dashboard to try and get some reflected heat going on.

Verdict?  Not too bad!  You don't get the browning effect, so visually they look a bit strange.  But they came off the pan pretty well, and after sitting for a few minutes on the rack, they should have enough structure to pick up and eat without falling apart.  If you're looking for a crunchy cookie, this isn't it.  But if you like your cookies with a soft, somewhat gooey center, dashboard cooking actually works.

A picture named M2

To see the process from start to finish, check out the Dashboard Cookie Experiment 2011-09-05 collection on Flickr.

09/05/2011

Book Review - Is Your House Haunted?: Poltergeists, Ghosts or Bad Wiring by Debi Chestnut

Category Book Review Debi Chestnut Is Your House Haunted?: Poltergeists Ghosts or Bad Wiring
A picture named M2

I saw this book at the library and just had to pick it up... Is Your House Haunted?: Poltergeists, Ghosts or Bad Wiring by Debi Chestnut.  Actually, it was the "Bad Wiring" part of the title that grabbed me... perhaps an author who was willing to admit that not all strange occurrences have to be paranormal activity.  After finishing the book, I was pleasantly surprised.  She approaches an often "irrational" subject with a great deal of rational thought.  While she does believe without a doubt there are ghosts, she's also realistic over the fact that the noise in the chimney might just be a family of raccoons that have taken up residence there.  

Contents:
Introduction; Your House Could Be Haunted If...; A Brief History of Ghosts; What Kind of Haunting Is It?; Types of Ghosts; How to Talk to Your Children About Ghosts; Gathering Proof; Research the Past; Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About the Paranormal; What's a Person to Do, or Not Do, as the Case May Be?; When and Where to Get Help; The Bottom Line; Recommended Reading

Whether you like or dislike this book will probably depend on whether you "believe in ghosts" or are at least willing to have an open mind towards the topic.  I approached the material from more of an "open mind" perspective.  I have never experienced anything that would resemble an encounter with something "other-worldly", but I also can't write off every story I read/see/hear as either explainable or from someone who is missing a couple tools from the tool shed.  I'm willing to admit that there could well be things that fall outside of my frame of reference, and that I can't adequately explain.  Saying "ghosts don't exist" means that I know everything there is to know about all things, and I know that's not the case.  Given that, much of her material made sense, especially knowing that she'd be the first person to look for a rational explanation.

I think the book excels at providing some sort of framework for thinking about the subject matter.  Since there is no textbook on ghost identification, it helps a bit to define what might be meant when someone says they've "seen a ghost."  While you may not agree with her definitions, they *are* decent descriptions that point out why they might differ.  I also thought What Kind of Haunting Is It? was also well-done, as it added a level of context as to why you might be experiencing certain things.  Not all paranormal occurrences have to be a misty image of Aunt Gertrude at the top of the stairs...

Overall, I thought Is Your House Haunted? was a well-done book that delivered more than I thought it would.  I don't expect to start seeing ghosts and shadows everywhere I go now, but I think I could explain things a bit better should something like that ever happen to me.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

09/03/2011

Book Review - Blood Feud: The Man Who Blew the Whistle on One of the Deadliest Prescription Drugs Ever by Kathleen Sharp

Category Book Review Kathleen Sharp Blood Feud: The Man Who Blew the Whistle on One of the Deadliest Prescription Drugs Ever
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As I grow ever older, I find myself getting more and more upset over political lies and corporate greed.  I was offered a chance to read and review an advance reader copy of Blood Feud: The Man Who Blew the Whistle on One of the Deadliest Prescription Drugs Ever by Kathleen Sharp, and now I'm just flat-out furious.  Sharp does an excellent job documenting the story of Mark Duxbury, the one-time employee of Johnson & Johnson and the whistleblower on a massive fraud committed by J&J and Amgen over their anti-anemia drug.  This story has it all... greed, fraud, government waste, arrogance, conspiracy...  What's worse, I'm sure this story could be and is repeated every day, unbeknown to the public, on a scale that would stagger us if we ever learned the full truth.

Mark Duxbury was a star drug salesman for J&J's biotech division, Ortho.  He was tasked with selling Procrit, which was Amgen's new anti-anemia drug. They licensed part of the business to Ortho, while they kept the other part and sold the drug under the brand names Epogen and Aranesp (yes, the same "epo" that is used as a performance-enhancing drug).  The relationship between Amgen and Ortho was not a happy one, as each side attempted to encroach on the others' legally defined sales and usage areas.  Duxbury was legally prevented from selling to dialysis doctors and clinics, but the verbal order from Ortho was to convert as many doctors and facilities as possible, as the company couldn't be responsible for what the doctors used the drugs for once they were purchased.  On top of that, Ortho had incredibly lucrative financial incentives for doctors to buy or switch, many of which skirted or demolished ethical and legal guidelines.  During one of many court cases between the two companies, Duxbury was subpoenaed to testify.  Although his testimony was not damaging in the areas he expected, Ortho decided he was too much of a risk and knew too much.  Thus started his descent into corporate hell...

Ms. Sharp weaves a narrative that is as spellbinding as a conspiracy novel.  The sad part is that it's actually true.  Duxbury had to deal with unrealistic sales quotas, falsified complaints, psychotic managers, and personal slander.  He's fired, his health is destroyed, and he's denied disability payments from the company.  His first wife had her own problems and prevented him from seeing his daughter.  His second wife also felt the strain of the pressure he was under, and soon home isn't even a sanctuary.  The author brings out all the players in vivid detail, and I couldn't put the book down (nor forget what Duxbury went through).

What impacted me most was the anger I felt after reading Blood Feud.  The pharmaceutical companies flat-out lied about their drugs in order to get them on the market, they lied to regulators about what dosages were safe so they could sell more, and they lied to the public about the safety of the product.  They were basically giving doctors low-cost or free drugs to get them to make large purchases, and then they'd instruct the doctors on how to bill Medicare and insurance companies to get high-end reimbursement for those same drugs.  The government, when notified of this via the whistleblower suit, showed little motivation to go after Amgen or Ortho.  And when faced with the reality of the number of deaths epo was causing, the FDA refused to pull the drug and instead simply required a watered-down warning and recommendation on usage.  Oh, and the sales meetings and "seminars"?  The extravagance and costs are beyond belief, and you know those costs are being fed back into what we are charged for medications via insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid.  I won't be shedding any tears over drug companies complaining about lost profits based on generics coming onto the market.  There is plenty of fat in those budgets...

Is it no wonder why health care in America is so broken?

I strongly recommend Blood Feud to anyone who really cares about what's happening in our society.  While it focuses on a single case of corporate greed and fraud (and does so very well), it also shows what has become "business and government as usual" in today's healthcare market (and in corporate markets overall).

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

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