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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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Co-author of the book IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide
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03/31/2013

Product Review - Acase Leather Case Folio for Apple iPad

Category Product Review Acase Leather Case Folio for Apple iPad
Acase Pure Genuine Hand Made Leather Case Folio (Award Winner Halo) for Apple Ipad Tablet/wifi 3G Model 16gb, 32gb, 64gb (Black)

I was recently contacted by Acase asking if I'd like to review the Acase Leather Case Folio for the iPad. Looking at the information, I decided that'd be a fun thing to review, as all the cases I've tried to date have pros and cons that kept me looking for that "perfect case". I also was at a bit of a disadvantage, as I was still using an original iPad, and many of the nicer offerings these days are for iPad 2 and beyond. Since this one would fit my original iPad, it was a no-brainer to at least try it out.

In short, I like it a lot. The black leather case feels great to the touch, and is cushioned to provide a level of protection should something drop on the iPad. The strap snap to hold the case shut is the correct length to allow the case to be secure without having to struggle to make the snap ends meet. The strap on the back allows you to loop it over something like a headrest in a car so that the iPad could be used as a video screen by someone in the back seat. I'm not sure it's tight enough to hold it securely in that position, but that's not a big thing for me... I'm the driver, not the passenger. :) You could also slip your hand between the strap and the case to provide a bit more security when you're carrying it, but that's up to you.

When opened, the case flap has four raised tabs that allow you to prop up the iPad in various viewing angles. The side that holds the iPad is hinged, so you can flip the bottom half out to rest against the tabs, while the top half stays rigid. The inside material is a soft suede leather, so there's no chance of it scratching the iPad. The tabs allow enough angle options to get one that should work given the lighting, so that shouldn't be an issue.

The iPad is secured inside using two corner straps on the open side of the case, and a top-to-bottom side strap for the closed end. The straps are positioned perfectly to be able to get to all the switches and ports, so there's no real reason to have to remove the iPad from the case for any type of use.

In my personal situation, there were a couple more things that I appreciated about this case. For one, I just upgraded to an iPad 4, but I was wondering if my brief infatuation with this case would come to an end. I know it fit my original iPad well, but how would it do with the new one? Turns out, just fine... The iPad 4 fits perfectly, and is now nestled away in the case. I also recently got a thin rigid Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, and I wondered if there was any way I could slip that in the case so that I could carry them both around. The answer to that is also yes. I can slip it behind the fold-out base side of the case, and the strap is long enough to still close the case without crushing the keyboard. Again, for my use, it's perfect.

I know there are many case options out there, and you may want one that has a built-in keyboard or other features. But if you're looking for something that offers good protection, a built-in viewing stand, and a classy look (all at a pretty inexpensive price), you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Acase Leather Case Folio.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Manufacturer
Payment: Free

03/24/2013

Book Review - How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman)

Category Book Review The Oatmeal Matthew Inman How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You
How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You

One of the more amusing/interesting web comics these days is The Oatmeal, written by Matthew Inman. Although raw and crude at times, he has a unique sense of humor that doesn't pull punches when it comes to skewering those who deserve it. How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You is a compilation of some of his cat-related cartoons, along with (I think) some original material. If you like The Oatmeal, this is a fun read... especially if you haven't been a long-time follower of the online site. If you've followed The Oatmeal for any length of time, you'll probably have seen some of this material in the past. Either way, expect about 30 minutes or so of entertainment, as it's not an overly long book. If you keep your expectations in check, it's enjoyable.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/24/2013

Book Review - Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Category Book Review Lawrence Wright Going Clear: Scientology Hollywood and the Prison of Belief
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

I've always found Scientology a fascinating topic. Not for the philosophy behind it, but for how it came about and how it's shrouded in secrecy by those who lead the organization (I refuse to call it a religion). I picked up Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright at the library, and it was one of those books I had a hard time putting down. Wright did a thorough job in documenting the history and lives of those involved in Scientology's leadership. It amazes me that a group of people can be so hypocritical and lie so completely, while apparently feeling little remorse or regret while doing so.

Wright's book title is indicative of the three-part approach to his investigation. The first part covers the history of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. I had always wondered if Scientology was sort of a fantasy joke that got out of control for Hubbard. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Hubbard mixed science-fiction and fantasy into a pseudo-belief system that promised god-like abilities if someone could become a "Clear", or someone who had eliminated all the traumas of their past and suppressive people in their lives. He lied about many aspects of his life to show how he was an example of Scientology's power and truth. In reality, he was a physically frail individual who was psychotically abusive to those around him.

The second portion of the book deals with how Scientology targets the Hollywood elite for both money and prestige. The usual insecurity of actors and actresses make them especially vulnerable to Scientology "training courses" which promises improvements in personality and speaking skills. That is usually the hook to get them to spend even more money for "auditing" courses which ties them even closer to the belief system. Personalities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley have bought into the system completely, and Scientology exploits their status in society to make their organization seem more acceptable in mainstream society.

The final part of the book covers how difficult it is to leave Scientology. The brainwashing that occurs is incredibly strong, and even those who are horribly abused and taken advantage of have little recourse due to the way they've been indoctrinated. Those that try to "blow" or escape are often found and forcibly, for lack of a better term, incarcerated by the organization. Their current leader, David Miscavige, is as psychotic and hypocritical as Hubbard was, and ruthlessly controls Scientology and the leadership to preserve his affluent lifestyle.

Wright is to be commended for putting together such a comprehensive and damning expose of Scientology. Given the criminal activity of Scientology members when it comes to espionage and death threats against those who speak out against the organization, Wright put himself at risk to write Going Clear. I know it's probably wrong to read a book like this and accept it as the absolute truth about the topic. However, it's hard to ignore the vast amount of documented material that Wright uses in the book. Add to that the track record of those who defend the organization, and it's pretty clear (no pun intended) that Going Clear is required reading for anyone who is interested in Scientology from any angle or perspective.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/17/2013

Book Review - Poseidon's Adventure by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler

Category Book Review Clive Cussler Dirk Cussler Poseidon's Adventure
Poseidon's Arrow (Dirk Pitt Adventure)

I got a bit burned out on Clive Cussler novels a while back, and I didn't try to keep up with all the "Clive Cussler with..." variations. It seemed like the same story repeated in different ways, and I needed a change. I recently saw Poseidon's Arrow by Clive Cussler and his son Dirk Cussler at the library, and I decided to dip my toe back in. It was a good decision. Poseidon's Arrow is the typical "action never stops" type of Cussler novel that I've come to expect, and I was in the right frame of mind for it.

The general plot line involves the testing of a new stealth submarine for the US Navy that would be light-years ahead of any other vessel afloat. As per normal, keeping those plans out of the hands of foreign governments is critical, and everyone wants to score the huge payday that stealing the plans would bring. On top of that, the propulsion system runs on rare earth minerals that are in short supply. Cornering the market on those elements not only brings a huge financial payout, but the ability to control the economies of the entire world. Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino are called up to investigate deaths and disappearances while trying to keep the same from happening to them.

For a few hours of mind candy, this was a decent read. Think of it as one of those cliff-hanger Saturday movies, where the heroes are always at risk of dying, and they always find a unique way to pull off a miracle to survive and thwart the bad guys. If that's what you're in the mood for, Poseidon's Adventure works well. It's not the classic Dirk Pitt adventure, but it's worth reading.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/11/2013

Book Review - BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand by Karen Kang

Category Book Review Karen Kang; BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand
BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand

For many, getting a dream job consists of trying to submit enough resumes and go to enough interviews to finally hit the perfect combination. But some jobs aren't resume-based, and some jobs aren't necessarily determined by a sit-down interview. They're found and established as a result of who you are and the story you tell... your personal brand, so to speak. BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand by Karen Kang is a well-written book that explains the concept behind personal branding, why it's so important, and what to do in order to establish the personal brand you want to project. It's not easy work, but I can see where this would be a great guide in going through that exercise.

Contents:
Take Charge of Your Personal Brand; Step 1 - Positioning; Step 2 - Messaging; Step 3 - Brand Strategy; Step 4 - Ecosystem; Step 5 - Action Plan; 360-Degree Branding - Vision, Symbols, Words, and Deeds; Portable Branding and Social Media - Getting Started; Conclusion; Further Reading; Index; Acknowledgments; About the Author; Resources

The days are gone when you can just do your job and expect to get promoted. Competition for jobs (even *your* job) is furious, and employers really can, in most cases, pick between some very strong candidates. Kang lays waste to the myths that hard work will get rewarded, that your bosses know your value, and that it's wrong to promote yourself and your work. She explains how you need to be able to articulate the unique value you bring to the table, both for the cake (rational value, functional benefits, expertise) and the icing (emotional value, personality, image). Having both of those parts of the package in sync with each other telling the same story makes for a powerful platform from which to launch into a new job or career.

BrandingPays takes you through the process of establishing what you want and where you want to go, and then guides you in forming the type of branding package you'll need to get there. While the book and methodology are well-written, the underlying questions and thought you need to put into the branding effort take some time to think through. I found myself asking questions about who I am and what I want to be in terms of my technology career. Those are very applicable questions as I switch from one technology base (where I was known in the community) to another (where I'm back to just one of many). Working through BrandingPays will help me focus on the what and where instead of just waiting and hoping things happen.

Regardless of who you are and what you do, you still have to "sell yourself" to others to get ahead. BrandingPays is a very good option for starting that process.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

03/02/2013

Book Review - The Book Publishers Toolkit: 10 Practical Pointers for Independent and Self Publishers Vol. 1

Category Book Review The Book Publishers Toolkit: 10 Practical Pointers for Independent and Self Publishers Vol. 1
A picture named M2

While it's easier to get your ideas into a book and available for others these days, there are a different set of problems to deal with in the brave new world of self-publishing. The Book Publishers Toolkit: 10 Practical Pointers for Independent and Self Publishers Vol. 1 by various IBPA contributors is a compilation of articles that address various facets of today's publishing landscape. If you're looking at trying to publish your own book, this is a good read to get an idea of what you should expect and be prepared to do.

Contents: Getting and Using Awards; Tapping Into Twitter Expertise; Let's Hear It for the Long Tail; Acquiring the Right Rights - Will Your Contract Keep Up with the Markets for Your Books?; A Librarian Talks About Choosing Books to Buy; Build a Powerful Platform with a Simple Brand Audit; Marketing Plans for First Books; Why Authors Hate Social Networking, and How to Get Them to Promote Books Online Anyway; Growing Connections That Count; E-book Conversions - Ten Pointers to Ensure Reader Enjoyment (and Minimize E-book Returns; Author Bios

Since this is a compilation, you shouldn't expect that every question you have will be answered or covered in exactly the same way (if at all). That being said, there's a lot of good information here. For instance, I didn't know that the various book awards are potentially as expensive as they are. The information on e-book conversions is a good summary of issues to be aware of, because "one size fits all" isn't true when it comes to conversions to e-book formats. I think my favorite was how librarians go about choosing books. The core information is good, and it's delivered in an understated snarkiness that's perfect to get the points across... don't expect your librarian to view your book as the answer to their budget woes. :)

It's good to remember that pointers are not rules, and your mileage may vary. Going back to the librarian example... Abigail Goben is very clear that just because you give your self-published book to the library does not mean it will get shelf space. On the other hand, Kathleen Welton mentions in Growing Connections That Count says that "librarians are always appreciative of and in need of good books for their collections." True, there are nuances involved due to the roles of each of the writers, but you need to be careful to not assume the second statement is always true. :)

If you're looking at getting your first book out on Amazon or some other venue, it's vital to understand that it is *not* true that "if you write it, they will come." The Book Publishers Toolkit is a good and quick read that will help you set proper expectations and prevent wasting time and opportunities on things that don't matter (or are actually damaging).

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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