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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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06/30/2012

"Lotus" conferences, user groups, and sponsors... changes in store?

Category Lotus/IBM
This last week I've been thinking about the substantial number of Lotus conferences and user group meetings I've gone to during my years of working with Notes and Domino.  I purposely say "Lotus", "Notes", and "Domino", because that's what the branding has been for the vast majority of the time I've been involved, and IBM still hasn't dealt with the rebranding of Notes and Domino contrary to statements of intent.  It's still Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino, for better or for worse.  But that's not the purpose of this post. :)

It used to be that Lotusphere was the big hitter, followed by Devcon and the View conferences.  They were always packed and sponsors abounded.  User groups were mostly lunchtime or after-work affairs in metropolitan areas with local developers and administrators meeting for beer, pizza, and a presentation by someone.  If you could get a sponsor to buy the pizza, you were doing great.  Otherwise, everyone was happy to chip in a couple of bucks for the necessities.

Then (in my view and opinion), ILUG rewrote the rules.  The Irish Lotus User Group decided that they'd try the improbable... put on a multi-day user group meeting that resembled a conference, get some significant sponsors, and appeal for attendees and speakers from anywhere in the world... and charge nothing.  With some incredibly hard work and a few great breaks, the event surpassed expectations and quickly became the model for what user groups could be.  So long as a group could get one or two large sponsors and a handful of smaller ones, attendees no longer had to come up with hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars to get high-end content from the top speakers in the Lotus community.  The community was serving themselves and upping the game when it came to learning.

While this model worked well for attendees and the community overall, it created a major inflection point for paid conferences.  How do you present material that others are sharing for free, charge people to attend, *and* make a profit since that's your business model?  In short, you can't.  Devcon is gone, the View conferences have combined and are in a struggle to survive, and Lotusphere is less than half of what it was during its glory days.  The new user group model isn't to blame for all of that, but it's a significant factor.  Add in the economy, companies spending less to train, the cost of travel, more material available online, fewer technical people needed for cloud-based software, and the loss of market share, and you have a recipe that doesn't bode well for turning a profit to run a Lotus conference.

And then there are sponsors...

In all the conference and user group models, sponsors are the key ingredient.  Without sponsors, you either have to charge people (a lot!) and/or the vendor has to pick up the entire cost.  And let's face it, one of the benefits of an in-person conference is the chance to see what vendors are selling, learn what things might be available to help your organization, and to get cool schwag.  Vendors are important to any conference, and they are the reason the user group model works at all.  No vendor sponsors, no quality user groups.

Usually you have one or two "gold level" sponsors who step up and provide a significant amount of the resources needed to make things happen (the key word is "money").  It's possible to round up a larger number of sponsors at lower dollar amounts, but it really helps if one or two sponsors provide the bulk of the money.  Otherwise, the organizers spend all their time chasing sponsors and collecting money, and much less time coordinating the actual event.  It makes a huge difference.

My concern for Lotus conferences is the key phrase "large sponsor".  All you need to do is look at the backpacks from Lotusphere to see the story.  LS2008 - IT Factory, HP, Blackberry, Nokia.  LS2010 - IBM, Blackberry, Group.  LS2012 - IBM, GBS, HTC.  I have far more backpacks around here, but I think this makes the point.  IBM has always depended on a group of major sponsors for Lotusphere.  How many of those groups listed above are still sponsoring, will sponsor, or even exist?

Group (GBS) has been the go-to money sponsor for the last three years.  They've generously provided money and resources to Lotusphere and user groups.  LS2012 was basically the Group vendor showcase with everyone else around the edges.  But let's not ignore the elephant in the room.  They have lost over 90% of their market value in the last year, and their year-end fiscal report (the year ended March 30 but the report hasn't yet been filed) is likely to show continued (and in my opinion, heavy) operational losses yet again.  I'm confident that sponsoring at the mega-level they have in the past is not even an option any longer.  I'm not even sure that the existence of Group in their current structure is even possible, but that's another discussion.

IBM, for a company that continues to surpass Wall Street expectations and set records with quarterly and annual profits, treats user group event sponsorship like they are on the verge of bankruptcy.  After significant and prolonged discussions and battles, some money usually does end up flowing in for large user group events, but it's sad that they have to be begged and convinced to provide money for an event that is promoting *their own technology*!  What does this say for the support and strategic positioning in the market of their products?  

Looking forward to 2013, what will the IBM/Lotus conference landscape look like?  It'll be interesting.  IBM will continue to run conferences that promote their strategic direction, and they should.  But from the outside looking in, these conferences appear to be more strategy and marketing, as opposed to the "here's how you install software X to accomplish Y" that Lotusphere provided.  There's even been chatter that "Lotusphere" will be a track in a different conference branded with the IBM name.  We'll see how that plays out.  I think that the "Lotus" (and I use that brand broadly to mean what long-time community members often think of) user groups will also have to work a lot harder to get the resources that they need to make things work at the level we've come to expect.  Smaller (relatively speaking) vendors will need to step up and fill the gap that seems to be opening up with the loss of the mega-sponsors, and the topics covered in the meetings might end up being more diverse in order to satisfy a different sponsorship group that might be willing to step up.

As with all predictions (and you can make the case that I'm doing just that), reality will be different than what was put forth as a foregone conclusion.  It's why Italy is playing Spain for the Euro2012 championship instead of the "certainty" of Germany playing Spain.  But if this causes someone to stop and think about what they might need to do if things are not "business as usual" going forward, then it's been of some value.

06/17/2012

Book Review - The Third Gate by Lincoln Child

Category Book Review Lincoln Child The Third Gate
The Third Gate: A Novel

So what do you get when you take a rich archeologist and plenty of technology, and mix it with a search for an Egyptian tomb complete with an ancient curse?  You get Lincoln Child with his novel The Third Gate.  You also get a novel that has plenty of tense moments, paranormal activity, and a sense of wonder when it comes to imagining things not yet discovered or still buried after thousands of years.  This was not a novel that I found easy to put down...

The main twist that makes this something more than a typical "Indiana Jones" story is the setting and location of the tomb.  As you find out early on, the tomb is not in a readily-accessible location, and Child uses money and technology to get the storyline to work properly.  You need to let your imagination loose a bit to believe that all the issues can be overcome in a very short period of time, but that's what an adventure story is all about.  Once the tomb is opened and the exploration starts, Child's descriptions and dialogue kept pushing me to read "just a couple more pages" in order to find out what treasures would be found and what they all meant in terms of Egyptian history as well as how the curse might play out.  And play out it does...

The only part of the story I had issues with was the final scene.  I'll avoid saying much as it would end up being a spoiler. In short, I felt that given the description and composition of the swamp, the final sequence pushed the bounds of believability a bit *too* far.  Still, it's a fun read.  

The Third Gate is one of those books that you'll grab when you want an adventure and an escape from reality for a few hours.  You could pick it apart if you want to be a critic, but if you simply want a fun read, this works.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

06/17/2012

For something different in an ebook experience, check out War of the Worlds from E-Mersiv (iTunes)

Category E-Mersive
I recently had the pleasure of checking out a new iPad application that is quite different from anything I've seen in the past.  E-Mersiv.com has come out with an ebook platform that does more than just format the words on the page.  Yes, it *does* have the traditional words on the screen, but it also adds an element of sight and sound to the reading experience.  While you're reading a chapter, you hear ambient sounds that blend with the setting and scene.  In addition, there are various visual effects that add to the story, helping to set a mood or accentuate the action taking place.  It's an interesting intersection of visual and audio laid on top a regular ebook.  

Carl Prehn, a former IBMer based here in Portland, asked me to "kick the tires" on their application given my extensive reading habits.  I'll admit I'm usually a bit hesitant to review something created or written by friends, as it can make for awkward situations if I'm not as enthused about it as they hoped.  In this particular case, I had nothing to worry about...

E-Mersiv (in my opinion) struck a nice balance between the primary focus of the words and the "spice" of the audio and visual effects.  It'd be easy to overload the book with so much sight and sound that it would end up looking like an audio book with words or a series of choppy videos divided into chapters.  Not so... the sound effects are truly ambient, and add the color that I so often overlook in my mental images when I read.  For instance, when action takes place in a newspaper office, you hear typing in the background.  Action outside is enhanced with street sounds specific to the time period of the story.  Again, it's not overwhelming, but it frames the story.  Same with the images and visual effects... There's a timing element to some of them, and depending on your reading speed, you may not hit the timing quite right.  But after you see them happen a few times, you start to anticipate what may happen and look forward to the surprise.  If you happen to miss it (or you're not done with the page), you can always flip back one page and then go back to the current page to reload the action.

As you can tell, I liked E-Mersiv a lot.  I tend to plow through books, and I don't slow down enough to add color to the scene in my mind.  E-Mersiv solves that problem for me, and it made War of the Worlds a much more enjoyable experience.  I'd love to see the E-Mersiv technology applied to books on a regular basis.  It would take my reading enjoyment to a whole new level.

(Announcement email below...)


A picture named M2



Hey everyone! We’re happy to announce that we have just launched our first product: The War of the Worlds E-Mersiv Book!
An E-Mersiv book is a revolutionary eBook engine for the iPad that allows the reader to dive deeper into the author’s world!
 
For anyone who loves to read. An E-Mersiv book is an eBook that allows the reader, through visual and audio enhancements, to connect with fiction in a whole new way. Unlike interactive books, E-Mersiv books focus on the reading experience and work with the author’s narrative to enhance, extend and immerse.
 
We’re proud to announce our first E-Mersiv book: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.
This thrilling Sci-Fi classic is brought to life with E-Mersiv content.
 
The War of the Worlds E-Mersiv Book includes:
  • E-Mersiv Content: Supplemental Information about the story’s world, characters and locations, delivered just in time as you read.
  • E-Mersiv Events: Story-driven visual events that surprise the reader and draw them deeper into the narrative.
  • E-Mersiv Sound: Lush soundscapes and ambient music envelops the user as they read, setting the mood of the story.
 
The War of the Worlds E-Mersiv Book ($2.99) is available now in the iTunes Store and you can read more about it at our website e-mersiv.com.
 
Check out our video of the book in action
 
Be sure to include a rave review if you enjoyed our product. They really help us get noticed in the crowded marketplace!
 
Please forward this on to anyone you think would be interested in this experience!
 
Thanks and enjoy the book!
 
Carl Prehn & Matthew Ward
e-mersiv.com



06/16/2012

Security Bulletin: IBM Lotus Notes URL Command Injection Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (CVE-2012-2174)

Category IBM/Lotus
Security Bulletin: IBM Lotus Notes URL Command Injection Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (CVE-2012-2174)

Flash (Alert)

Abstract

A security vulnerability exists in the IBM Lotus Notes URL handler which permits remote code execution. Malicious URLs could allow remote attackers to execute arbitrary code on installations of Lotus Notes.

Content

VULNERABILITY DETAILS:

CVE ID: CVE-2012-2174

DESCRIPTION: A security vulnerability exists in the IBM Lotus Notes URL handler which permits remote code execution. Malicious URLs could allow remote attackers to execute arbitrary code on installations of Lotus Notes. To exploit this vulnerability, the remote attacker must convince a Notes user running on Windows to click on a malicious URL.

As of 15-Jun-2012, IBM has not received any reports of customer issues related to this security vulnerability.

CVSS:
Using the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) v2, the security ratings for these issues are:

CVSS Base Score: 9.3
CVSS Temporal Score: See http://xforce.iss.net/xforce/xfdb/75320 for the current score.
CVSS Environmental Score: Undefined
CVSS String: (AV:N/AC:M/Au:N/C:C/I:C/A:C)

AFFECTED PLATFORMS:

Lotus Notes 8.0.2, 8.5, 8.5.1, 8.5.2, 8.5.3

REMEDIATION:

Fix(es):

This issue is being tracked by Quality Engineering as SPR# SRAO8U3FUU. A fix for the issue will be introduced in the following release:

    Lotus Notes 8.5.3 Fix Pack 2 (click here to monitor release status).


Note: An interim fix (hotfix) is available upon request by opening a service request with IBM Support.

Workaround:

None known

Mitigation(s):

None known

06/10/2012

Book Review - Capitol Murder by Phillip Margolin

Category Book Review Phillip Margolin Capitol Murder
Capitol Murder: A Novel of Suspense

Normally I'm a fan of Phillip Margolin's novels.  Suspenseful legal thrillers, tight writing, and action that takes place in the city where I live... I recently finished his latest book, Capitol Murder.  Sad to say, this one just didn't do much for me.

There are three plot lines going on that bring together characters and actions of prior novels, as well as introducing a terrorist plot focused on coordinated explosions at a major sporting event in the US.  At the end, they all converge (like all good multiple-plot stories do), but the logic and actions used to get them there seemed stretched a little too far.  On top of that, the various characters never developed much depth or feeling.  Some of that may have been due to the length of time since I read the previous installments of this series, as they provided more of the backstory.  But if I had started with Capitol Murder as my first dip in Margolin's work, I'm not sure I'd be overly concerned about catching up.

Even with my earlier comments, the pages turned at a fast pace, as there was just enough "and what's next" to keep me reading.  But having finished the book, my overall feeling was more "meh" than "wow".  I'll still grab whatever book Margolin writes next, as I'm hoping things return to the level of excitement I used to experience when the library notice came in.  Fingers are crossed...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

06/10/2012

Book Review - The Killing Floor (a novel of The Infection) by Craig DiLouie

Category Book Review Craig DiLouie The Killing Floor
The Killing Floor (a novel of The Infection)

I'm quickly becoming a fan of zombie novels after reading Craig DiLouie. I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of The Killing Floor, DiLouie's follow-up to The Infection.  If you haven't had the pleasure of reading The Infection yet (and I'd highly recommend it), go ahead and order both that and The Killing Floor at the same time.  The Killing Floor picks up immediately after The Infection ends, and you'll need to make sure you have a week with nothing else planned.  Putting either novel down will be difficult at best...

The Killing Floor moves between various groups that are trying to survive the mass infection that has destroyed American society.  DiLouie spends more time digging into the minds and motivations of the individuals that make up the primary story.  Hope, anger, despair... DiLouie nails it.  Unlike most zombie novels, DiLouie goes beyond the "walking dead" plot line and introduces mutations that give the survivors much more to deal with than shuffling dead people who don't give up.  Throw in his rich detail when it comes to the battle carnage, and you don't have to work very hard to paint a vivid picture in your mind.

For me, the best part of the novel is what DiLouie did with Ray Jones.  Unlike all the other infected victims, Ray survives his encounter with the mutated creatures.  DiLouie gives the reader two ways to go with Ray's situation... is Ray a solution to the infection, or has he become something more dangerous?  The twists and turns are unexpected but executed perfectly to drive the story.  

In my mind, The Killing Floor (combined with The Infection) is a must-read if you're interested in the zombie genre.  Craig DiLouie has cemented his place as a top author in my "read immediately" list.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

06/05/2012

Book Review - The Complete Guide to Stamps and Stamp Collecting by Dr. James Mackay

Category Book Review Dr. James Mackay The Complete Guide to Stamps and Stamp Collecting
The Complete Guide to Stamps & Stamp Collecting: The ultimate illustrated reference to over 3000 of the world's best stamps, and a professional guide ... and perfecting a spectacular collection

This was a fun trip down memory lane for me... The Complete Guide to Stamps & Stamp Collecting: The ultimate illustrated reference to over 3000 of the world's best stamps, and a professional guide ... and perfecting a spectacular collection by Dr. James Mackay.  It may also be the longest title of any book I've ever read.  I used to collect stamps as I was growing up, and I remember spending plenty of hours working on my collection, checking the latest offerings "on approval", counting the number of stamps I had... That was over 40 years ago... I'm old.  Anyway, I saw this book and thought it might be nice to see how collecting has changed since then.  While technology has made some things easier or different, it's still all about owning that little square of paper.  Mackay does a nice job in bringing the history and the images to these pages.

There's not much to dislike in this guide.  The high-quality paper allows the colors of the various stamps and postal items to pop off the page.  The page size is slightly smaller than what you'd see in a "normal"-sized book, yet the three column format of the images and text allows for much more information on each topic than I would have expected.  After covering the history of postal organizations and the various areas and niches of collecting, Mackay then starts traveling the globe, devoting two facing pages to each country or time frame he covers.  Reading through the guide is like reading history... how German stamps changed during WWII, how overrun countries would have their stamps overwritten with the ruling power's name, and how countries come and go (and sometimes come back)... all told in little square pieces of gummed paper.

I doubt The Complete Guide to Stamps and Stamp Collecting is going to make me open up the box that has my two volume world-wide album (yes, I still have it).  But this was a fun trip down memory lane for me, and the book would be a nice introduction to someone looking to take up philately.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

06/05/2012

Book Review - Fitness for Geeks: Real Science, Great Nutrition, and Good Health by Bruce W. Perry

Category Book Review Bruce W. Perry; Fitness for Geeks: Real Science Great Nutrition and Good Health
Fitness for Geeks: Real Science, Great Nutrition, and Good Health

I'm a geek, and I'm in need of better health and fitness. O'Reilly's book, Fitness for Geeks: Real Science, Great Nutrition, and Good Health by Bruce W. Perry, was a title that caught my attention.  Overall, it was an interesting read that will add a few tricks and tools into my health quest.  It's amazing what's being done to marry mobile technology and fitness in order to give you a much richer information experience.

Contents:
Fitness and the Human Codebase - Reboot Your Operating System; Fitness Tools and Apps; Food Chemistry Basics - Proteins, Fats, and Carbs; Micronutrients - Vitamins, Minerals, and Phytochemicals; Food Hacks - Finding and Choosing Food; Food Timing - When to Eat, When to Fast; The Other World - A.K.A. Outside; Hello, Gym! Finding Your Way Around the Fitness Facility; Randomizing Fitness and the Importance of R & R; Code Maintenance - Human Fueling and Supplements; Lifestyle Hacks for Fitness; Notes; Index

Perry writes and structures his material in such a way that you can grab value out of most any chapter regardless of where you're starting from.  If you know the basics about vitamins, protiens, carbs, and the like, the chapters provide enough deep information to expand your expertise in the area.  If you're just starting out, you get a good foundational layer of what does what when it comes to keeping your body running.  If you think exercise is taking a bathroom break during code marathons, you'll find ways to ease your body into doing more than simply supporting your head and fingers on the keyboard.  If you're already doing things like walking or running, you'll learn how incorporating variety such as weight training will benefit your overall health.  The more you know and do, the better you end up being.

But let's face it... it was the "Geek" part of the title that caught my attention.  Perry shows how the internet and mobile devices give us all sorts of ways to mix and match the information about what we do.  Devices like the Fitbit track movement so we can see just how (in)active we are during the day.  Endomondo tracks your workouts and adds a community component so you can talk about and compare your efforts with others.  The list goes on and on.  No "one size fits all" application will ever exist, as everyone will want something different based on their particular needs or goals.  Fitness for Geeks will at least expose you to the possibilities, and you can either find your favorite solution or start your own research based on what you've seen here.

The downside of a book like this is two-fold.  First, no one agrees on the ideal way to eat.  For every food plan that exists, there will be people who claim it's based on how the body evolved, while others will claim that you'll die if you eat that way.  If you're looking for the ultimate answer here, you won't find it.  You need to take the information you find and filter it against your own needs.  It may take a couple of tries to find what works for you.  Second, the book was likely out-of-date on the fitness applications as soon as Perry took the screen shots.  Applications come and go, they are enhanced weekly (if not daily), and what was a niche application last month may become all the rage next month.  Perry has his favorites, and that's where he focuses his information. Just keep in mind that there are more options than can ever be covered in a single book, so continue to look around to find what works for you.  Also focus more on what you can do with the information.  Knowing that you ran three miles is data. Mapping your route, viewing the elevations, checking your pace, comparing past results for improvement... that is interesting information you can act on.

Fitness for Geeks is a good read both for hard-core geeks who want to track every last piece of data in their lives, and for "normal" people who just want to understand more about how to get healthy (and who aren't afraid of a little technology).  I'm looking forward to trying a few different techniques that I learned here, and I'm pretty sure that most readers would come away with at least that same feeling...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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