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Duffbert's Random Musings is a blog where I talk about whatever happens to be running through my head at any given moment... I'm Thomas Duff, and you can find out more about me here...

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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide
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09/27/2012

Packt Publishing reaches 1000 IT titles and celebrates with an open invitation

Category Everything Else
Packt Publishing reaches 1000 IT titles and celebrates with an open invitation

Birmingham-based IT publisher Packt Publishing is about to publish its 1000th title. Packt books are renowned among developers for being uniquely practical and focused, but you’d be forgiven for not yet being in the know – Packt books cover highly specific tools and technologies which you might not expect to see a high quality book on.

Packt is certain that in its 1000 titles there is at least one book that everyone in IT will find useful right away, and are inviting anyone to choose and download any one of its eBooks for free over its celebration weekend of 28-30th Sep 2012. Packt is also opening its online library for a week for free to give customers an easy to way to research their choice of free eBook.

Packt supports many of the Open Source projects covered by its books through a project royalty donation, which has contributed over $400,000 to Open Source projects up to now. As part of the celebration Packt is allocating $30,000 to share between projects and authors as part of the weekend giveaway, allocated based on the number of copies of each title downloaded.

Dave Maclean, founder of Packt Publishing:

“At Packt we set out 8 years ago to bring practical, up to date and easy to use technical books to the specialist tools and technologies that had been largely overlooked by IT publishers. Today, I am really proud that with our authors and partners we have been able to make useful books available on over 1000 topics and make our contribution to the development community.”

http://bit.ly/RXnAMc

09/24/2012

Book Review - Team Geek: A Software Developer's Guide to Working Well with Others by Brian W. Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman

Category Book Review Brian W. Fitzpatrick Ben Collins-Sussman Team Geek: A Software Developer's Guide to Working Well with Others
Team Geek: A Software Developer's Guide to Working Well with Others

You'd think that in IT, the most important component of a team would be its technical prowess.  Wrong... it's the ability to work with each other.  Team Geek: A Software Developer's Guide to Working Well with Others by Brian W. Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman make the case that respect, personality, and team culture is just as important (if not more so) than the ability to come up with the "perfect" code that passes geek inspection.  After 30+ years in the industry, I have to agree...

Contents:
Introduction; The Myth of the Genius Programmer; Building an Awesome Team Culture; Every Boat Needs a Captain; Dealing with Poisonous People; The Art of Organizational Manipulation; Users Are People, Too; Epilogue; Further Reading; Index

I don't think this book would be nearly as good if it were written by an "expert" in organizational team dynamics (or some other vaguely worded title).  IT people are... different.  Fitzpatrick and Collins-Sussman live in that world, so their advice is based on real-world experience.  The style and language of the writing is perfect for the audience, and everything is grounded in practical terms with real-world examples of teams that work on well-known projects.

One of the points that resonated with me was the insistence that culture *must* be considered the primary driver for the direction of and choices during projects.  There are a number of examples where teams, especially open-source teams, were faced with individuals who wanted to inject their own ideas into the mix.  That's a good thing, unless it's done in such a way that goes against the grain of how the team functions and what they value.  It may be tempting to take their code and overlook their personality.  But a single attitude can destroy a team far faster than you'd expect, and it's not worth making the exception.  Team Geek reinforces the reasons why establishing *and* protecting a culture is worth the effort.

While it may not be a "sexy" read in terms of learning a new coding trick or hardware setting, Team Geek may be the one read that keeps you sane and happy over the life of your career.  This is a book that I'd strongly recommended...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

09/16/2012

Book Review - The Accomplice by Charles Robbins

Category Book Review Charles Robbins The Accomplice
The Accomplice: A Novel

I had hoped that The Accomplice by Charles Robbins would be an interesting novel given that we're in the midst of the election season.  The story revolves around Henry Hatten, the newly hired communications director for a senator making a run for President of the United States.  He failed in that role when he was working for a governor who was running for reelection.  This new position promises redemption, and he decides to do whatever it takes to be on the winning team.  But as the race evolves, he finds that corruption is rife within the campaign team, and it might even go so far as having people murdered to cover up the truth.  The problem is that if it *is* murder, then he's being set up as the most likely suspect.

Robbins has a background steeped in political campaigns and press functions.  As such, the settings and dialog seem to ring true.  The stresses of trying to manage messages and images come through clearly.  What I didn't care for as much was the actual story.  The plot felt slow, almost as if it was an afterthought to the characters and the campaign action.  I kept waiting for the meat of the story to kick into high gear, and it never really did for me.

If you're heavily into politics or campaign activities, The Accomplice might be a very interesting read for you.  If you're more interested in an action novel with a page-turning plot, this might not be high on your list.  Unfortunately, I was looking for the second option.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

09/16/2012

Book Review - Broken Piano For President by Patrick Wensink

Category Book Review Patrick Wensink Broken Piano For President
Broken Piano for President

Normally, Broken Piano For President by Patrick Wensink would not come up on my radar screen.  The only reason it did was publicity over the cover (which resembles the Jack Daniels logo), and how the company handled the situation with class and humor.  Anyway, it was enough to get me to pick it up at the library and give it a read.  It turned out to be one of the most "out there" novels I've read of late.  It reminds me of a very dark version of a Tim Dorsey novel.

Deshler Dean, the main character, refers to himself as a "cliff drinker".  When he starts to drink, he completely loses track of what happens.  But apparently, he's very active during those times.  From what he can tell, he apparently works for two warring hamburger mega-corporations, coming up with ideas that top each other.  Furthermore, each side knows he's working with the other side, but thinks he's really spying and trying to lead their competitors astray.  Meanwhile, he works a day job as a parking valet, approached by many important people who mean nothing to him, but who apparently know him very well.  His life is a continual quest to figure out who and what he's supposed to be, and whether he can be that person during the times he's sober and can remember things.

Both the characters and the writing make this an enjoyable (if not strange) read.  In addition to Dean, there are band members who are reluctant assassins, girlfriends who aren't who they appear to be, and Russian cosmonauts who may or may not be real and who might have an axe to grind.  And during all this, the two mega-burger chains are continuing to top each other in bigger and more unhealthy fare (which the public literally eats up).  Wensink uses the characters and corporations to grill a few sacred cows (into hamburgers), and the mirror he uses to reflect back public eating habits is not flattering.  

Broken Piano For President a fast ride on a road filled with blind curves and dips.  They may not all makes sense, but the overall effect is a memorable trip.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

09/09/2012

Book Review - Losing It! Behaviors and Mindsets that Ruin Careers: Lessons on Protecting Yourself from Avoidable Mistakes by Bill Lane

Category Book Review Bill Lane Losing It! Behaviors and Mindsets that Ruin Careers: Lessons on Protecting Yourself from Avoidable Mistakes
Losing It! Behaviors and Mindsets that Ruin Careers: Lessons on Protecting Yourself from Avoidable Mistakes

While there are many things you should be doing to further your career, there are just as many things you should *not* be doing.  You can be doing everything perfectly, but one mistake in the "don't do" list can torpedo years of excellent work.  Bill Lane covers some of these areas in his book Losing It! Behaviors and Mindsets that Ruin Careers: Lessons on Protecting Yourself from Avoidable Mistakes.  Given that he was a speechwriter for former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, he's seen plenty career shipwrecks up close and personal.

Contents:
Introduction; Losing It; The Integrity Trap and Opportunity; Presiding Is Not Managing; The Imperative of Selective Micromanagement; Dithering and Distractions; Arrogance; Reality; Changing Yourself; The Final Word; Index

Losing It is a relatively quick read, and there's a number of points that should give the reader some food for thought.  The first chapter (and by far the largest) deals with integrity, as well as how easy it is to lose it.  Enron makes more than a few appearances there, and as a former employee that resonates with me.  Lane rightfully points out that most people don't go from point A to point Z on the ethical scale in a single step.  Instead, it's the A to B step that don't seem to be bad on its own.  Unfortunately, going from B to C, then C to D can be just as easy, and one day they end up looking at Z, wondering how they ended up there.  

Another chapter that I found very true to life was the one on arrogance.  Unless someone truly has the power they think you do, arrogance will lead to a nasty fall from grace.  And if they *do* have the power to be arrogant, then few people will want to work with them.  It was a good reminder for me (who does *not* have the power) to keep in check any "better than thou" attitude.  

Overall, Losing It is worth reading.  Lane does a good job in the writing of the book (I would expect that as a speechwriter), and the stories ring true.  I would have liked to have seen more balance in the book when it came to the chapters and the length.  The integrity chapter is 45 pages long, while the changing yourself chapter is two pages.  Some selective trimming or fleshing out might have helped.  Still, there was enough information that I have plenty of things to work on.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

09/08/2012

Book Review - Presentations in Action: 80 Memorable Presentation Lessons from the Masters by Jerry Weissman

Category Book Review Jerry Weissman; Presentations in Actions: 80 Memorable Presentation Lessons from the Masters
Presentations in Action: 80 Memorable Presentation Lessons from the Masters

For various reasons, the start of fall means that I start thinking about and gearing up for making presentations on technical topics related to my day job.  As such, I'm always looking for material on how to do a better job up on stage.  Presentations in Action: 80 Memorable Presentation Lessons from the Masters by Jerry Weissman is a great resource for focusing on specific issues with concise information gleaned from various sources and personalities.  I came away with a number of tips that I need to work on and practice.

Each chapter (or lesson as they're used here) is one to three pages long, and focuses on a specific issue or facet of public presentation.  A lesson titled "Blame the Penmanship, Not the Pen" shows how PowerPoint isn't necessarily evil, but the way it's used all too often leads to its reputation.  Think of a newscaster with graphics that help tell a story.  The graphics support the speaker, not the other way around.  One of my favorite lessons (and one that should be required reading before using PowerPoint) is "I Can Read It Myself!"  DO NOT READ YOUR SLIDES VERBATIM!  Weissman explains why we fall prey to that sin, and offers a couple of tips to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Presentations In Actions is perfect for what it sets out to do.  It isn't meant to be an A through Z guide that teaches you how to be a public speaker.  However, if you've been on stage before (one or one hundred times) and want to start addressing specific issues, you'll benefit from this book.

Contents:
Section 1 - Content - The Art of Telling Your Story: A Lesson From Professor Marvel, a.k.a The Wizard of Oz; Obama and You; The "So What?" Syndrome; Beware of Jokes; Presentation Advice from Abraham Lincoln; It Ain't What You Say, It's How You Say It; Presentation Advice from Mark Twain; Presentation Advice from Mike Nichols; Slogan Power; How Long Is Too Long?; The Elevator Pitch in One Sentence; Do You Know the Way to Spanish Bay? Getting to "Aha!"; This Is Your Pilot Speaking; Presentation Advice from the iPhone; Presentation Advice from Steve Jobs; Presentation Advice from Novelists I; Presentation Advice from Novelists II; Microsoft Slogans Score a Trifecta; Presentation Advice from a Physician; Presentation Advice from a Politician; Ronald Reagan Meets Lenny Skutnik; Human Interest Stories - A Double Advantage

Section 2 - Graphics - The Correct Way to Design PowerPoint Slides: The Presentation-as-Document Syndrome; Blame the Penmanship, Not the Pen; You Can't Use a Sentence As a Prompt!; Baiting the Salesperson; PowerPoint and Human Perception; PowerPoint Template - Combined Picture and Text; Shady Characters; "I Can Read It Myself!"; A Case for Case I - Initial Caps or All Caps; A Case for Case II - Serif or Sans; What Color Is Your PowerPoint?; Presentation Advice from Corona Beer; The Cable Crawlers; Computer Animation; PowerPoint and the Military

Section 3 - Delivery Skills - Actions Speak Louder Than Words: The Art of Conversation; Presentation Advice from Edward R. Murrow; Nonverbal Communication; Presentation Advice from Pianist Murray Perahia; Presentation Advice from Actress Tova Feldshuh; Presentation Advice from Michael Phelps and Dara Torres; Presentation Advice from Frank Sinatra; Presentation Advice from Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa; The One-Eyed Man; Bill Clinton's Talking to Me!; Liddy Dole and Person-to-Person; Fast Talking; Presentation Advice from Titian; Presentation Advice from Musicians and Athletes; Presentation Advice from Vin Scully; "Ya' Either Got It, or Ya' Ain't"; How to Eliminate the Fig Leaf; Unwords; To Slip or Not to Slip; The Free Throw; 10 Tips for 30 Seconds; You Are What You Eat

Section 4 - Q&A - Handling Tough Questions: Speed Kills in Q&A; A Lesson in Listening from Barack Obama; If I Could Tell Jon Stewart; What Keeps You Up at Night?; Spin versus Topspin; When Did You Stop Beating Your Wife?; Madoff and Cramer Plead Guilty; Tell Me The Time, Not How to Build a Clock; Presentation Advice from Jerry Rice; Politicians and Spin; Murder Boards; Ms. Kagan Regrets

Section 5 - Putting It All Together: The Elephant; Presentation Graphics Meet Linguistics; One Presentation, Multiple Audiences; The Art and Science of Oprah Winfrey; Right or Left; Graphics Synchronization; The House That Jack Built
Footnotes; Acknowledgments; About the Author; Index

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

09/08/2012

Book Review - What Do You Want to Do Before You Die? by Jonnie Penn, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn, and Ben Nemtin

Category Book Review Jonnie Penn Dave Lingwood Duncan Penn Ben Nemtin What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?
What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

What Do You Want to Do Before You Die? by Jonnie Penn, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn, and Ben Nemtin (collectively known as The Buried Life) was one of those spur-of-the-moment pick-ups at the library.  As I get older, the whole "before you die" thing starts to make a little more sense.  This particular book is much better than most when it comes to posing the question, as there's an actual story behind this list.  It's that framework that makes this book work as well as it does...

The four authors, all friends (two of them are brothers), were at that stage in life where they were expected to be adults and start with the whole "responsibility" thing.  But like most people on the threshold of legal adult-dom, they had no clue as to what to do and how to do it.  This frustration led to a list of 100 things they wanted to do before they died, and it really didn't matter how outrageous it was.  Some were easy, such as get a tattoo and grow a mustache.  Others were out there, such as attend a party at the Playboy Mansion and play ball with the President.  Side note... those have all been crossed off the list.  They christened their effort The Buried Life, and set out on their quest as only those with youth on their side can (or will) do.  They bought a dilapidated purple bus, set aside a couple of weeks, and went on the road.  The only rule is that they would repay those who helped by helping others achieve their dreams.  Little did they know what would transpire from that first two week trip.

I laughed and teared up when reading, as people pursuing hopes and dreams will do that to me.  The format of the book reminds me of Post Secret, in that they took a number of the dreams of others and had them illustrated as pages.  The stories that show up at various spots are often funny, such as when they attempted to cross off streaking on a stadium field (and getting away with it).  They did the first part, but the second part remains to be accomplished.  On the other hand, it also fulfilled the wish of spending a night in jail.  Other stories were incredible examples of how selfless people can be, and how little it takes to make all the difference in the world for someone.

What Do You Want to Do Before You Die? is not a long read... perhaps a couple of hours at most.  But the message and emotional impact will tweak something inside you in a way that should having you looking at things around you in a different way for a very long time.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

09/01/2012

Book Review - Advertisers at Work by Dr. Tracy Tuten

Category Book Review Dr. Tracy Tuten Advertisers at Work
Advertisers at Work

Through a friend of a friend, I was asked if I'd be interested in reading Advertisers at Work by Dr. Tracy Tuten.  That wouldn't be my normal reading area of interest, but I've been called an "eclectic reader" more than once.  :)  What I got was far more than I expected, even if I'm not in the advertising field.  This was a valuable read for me on a number of levels.

Contents:
Introduction; Chris Raih, Co-founder and Managing Director, Zambezi; Kristen Cavallo, Chief Strategy Officer, Mullen; Luke Sullivan, Former Creative Director, GSD&M Idea City; Mike Hughes, President, The Martin Agency; Susan Credle, Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett North America; Marshall Ross, Chief Creative Officer, Cramer-Krasselt; Edward Boches, Chief Innovation Officer, Mullen; Doug Fidoten, President, Dentsu America; David Oakley, Creative Director, BooneOakley; Anne Bologna, Managing Director, MDC Partners; Jayanta Jenkins, Global Creative Director; TBWA/Chiat/Day; Eric Kallman, Creative Director, Barton F. Graf 9000; Craig Allen, Creative Director, Wieden+Kennedy; Ryan O'Hara Theisen and Jonathan Rosen, Founders, Lucky Branded Entertainment; John Zhao, Independent Filmmaker; Ellen Steinberg and Jim Russell, Group Creative Director/EVP and Chief Innovation Officer, McKinney

Dr. Tuten teaches advertising and social media marketing, and she takes her background and insights into a series of interviews with a number of influential people in the industry.  She explores a range of topics based on the areas of focus of whoever she is interviewing.  While everyone gets the normal "how did you get into advertising" question, other questions hone in on specifics, such as why they decided to open their own agency as opposed to continuing with one of the giants, or how is branded entertainment changing the advertising landscape.  As a result, every chapter and interview is distinctly different, which leads to a much more readable book.

As I mentioned at the top, I'm not in advertising. Regardless, I got a lot of value from Advertisers at Work. For one, it's interesting to see how people got into an industry that is driven by creativity and passion.  I can take that and compare it to how other successful people ended up doing what they love.  More important to me as a writer was studying how Dr. Tuten did her interviewing.  These types of books can easily become "answer these ten questions and give me some good material please".  Not so with Dr. Tuten.  She has some basic questions which are important, but she allows the interviews to go off in interesting directions.  It's also evident that she was having pleasant conversations with her interviewees, and she was involved in what they were talking about.  The back-and-forth isn't whitewashed or filtered out, so it made it feel like I was sitting with them, shooting the breeze over a drink.

If you're at all involved or interested in advertising, Advertisers at Work is a recommended read.  However, if you're a writer and want to see how an interview should work and appear in print, this is a great example.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

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