About Duffbert...

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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03/20/2014

I may be ready to shut down this blog in its current incarnation...

Category Everything Else
So I'm thinking about calling an end to this version of duffbert.com in its Notes-based design... as in burn it all down and start fresh.

I've been going through a dry spell with my writing, so this hasn't gotten as much attention as it has in the past. Over the last 10 years, it's changed focus and direction a number of times... job-related, technology-related, personal revelations, "random musings", and book/product reviews. "Random" has been the key word in that period of time.

I played with some of the Lotuscript agents that others have used to migrate over to Wordpress (which is where I will end up), but the dates in the comments were screwy, and there was a ton of clean-up I'd end up having to do. I'm just not sure I care enough to bother with it. I've been wanting to cut my last remaining use of Notes (my blog and personal reading list), and my hosting arrangement will be ending soon. I'm leaning towards letting that be the "start over" event, much like getting my content deleted from Google a few years ago got me moving to clean up my domain name issues.

Duffbert.com has been important to me in many ways over the years, and it was a significant part of making me who I am and what I was able to do both personally and professionally. While I stand behind any and everything I've put there over the years, there's a big chunk that's just not relevant any more (like tech notes for versions of Notes no longer supported). My book reviews end up on Amazon (and FB and Twitter and ...) so I'm not sure if the duplication on my blog is as necessary as it once was to me. My "random thoughts" end up on Twitter or FB in most cases.  In short, if I were to kill off the old content, now would be as good a time to do it as any other.

What I may do is start the new version of duffbert.com, and copy over select content with the dates of the original posting. I may consolidate any comments for that entry into a single comment (or add it to the bottom of the post). That way I can keep some of the "duffbert.com classics" and weed out content that just doesn't matter any more.

So... all that to say there will be some changes in April, and I'll come into the 21st century of the blogging world. :)

03/15/2014

Book Review - Storm Front by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Storm Front
Storm Front (A Virgil Flowers Novel)

Usually I'm happy after reading one of the Virgil Flowers novels from John Sandford. His latest, Storm Front, was the first where I came away with a "meh" feeling. It was hard to get vested in any of the characters or the plot, and the comedic angle seemed to be overplayed. I know that the Flowers character is much more irreverent and carefree than his Davenport partner, but this was just... off.

After reading Storm Front, I learned that Sandford is going the route of having some of his books ghosted by other writers so he can crank out more titles per year. While I don't see any specific statement that Storm Front fell into this category, it would explain the "off-ness" of this particular installment. I hope that's not the case, as the Flowers series was a lot of fun to read. I had already burned out on the Davenport series, as they were becoming more uninteresting and convoluted with each new installment. If Flowers starts to go down the same direction, I will probably spend my time reading other stuff (because I'm SO behind on my reading piles). I'll try the next novel when it comes out, and that will likely make my mind up.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

03/09/2014

Book Review - League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru

Category Book Review Mark Fainaru-Wada Steve Fainaru League of Denial: The NFL Concussions and the Battle for Truth
League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth

I finally made it up the hold list at our library to get a copy of League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. I saw the documentary based on the book, and I was interested to get more details on the story about concussions in the NFL and the link to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). While there are still questions to be answered about CTE, the evidence is overwhelming that 1) football is far more dangerous than we've been led to believe, and 2) the management of the National Football League (NFL) is no different than the tobacco industry when it comes to protecting a dangerous product.

For those who haven't followed the story about CTE and football...  Mike Webster was a center for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974 to 1990. The Steelers played smash-mouth football, and Webster played with reckless abandon when it came to physical contact. When he died in 2002 at the age of 50, he was a physical wreck. But more importantly, he had developed symptoms and behaviors of a person with dementia or Alzheimer's. His death was a big story in Pittsburgh, as "Iron Mike" was a hero and was emblematic of the spirit of Pittsburgh Steelers football. Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who knew nothing about Webster or football, decided to preserve the brain for study related to a different case he had been part of. When he put the brain under the microscope, what he found changed the face of football. The repeated head trauma had caused Webster's brain to be riddled with tau protein, one characteristic of Alzheimer's-type disorders. As additional brains were studied and found to have this same disorder, the NFL went on the offensive to "prove" that CTE was not related to concussions, and that football was a safe sport. The battle continues on, with an entire industry worth billions of dollars hanging in the balance.

Fainaru-Wada and Fainaru (brothers) have done an excellent job in telling their story, both for the personalities involved and the science (or lack thereof) behind concussions. I'm sure the NFL would consider it a very biased telling of a story that is not proven, but it's nearly impossible to reject the brain slides of NFL players who have died far too young and lived their final months and years in a horrible mental state. The authors show the eery similarities between the NFL's position on concussions compared to how Big Tobacco tried to disprove and deny that smoking caused diseases like lung cancer and emphysema.

To be fair to the NFL, there are still questions about CTE that don't yet have answers. If repeated head trauma causes CTE, why don't all NFL players die young and show symptoms? At what level does head trauma become a point-of-no-return when it comes to getting CTE? The pro-CTE researchers show that nearly all their examined brains show tau proteins indicative of the disorder. However, the brains they get for research are almost always ones where the player was showing signs of CTE when they died, so that makes their numbers somewhat self-selecting. You can't test for tau until after the person dies, so there's no way to take a true representative sample. Still, the NFL has actively blocked any real admission of cause and effect, as to do so would open them up to huge liability and possibly write the end of the NFL as it currently exists.

This is a great book that should be read by anyone who loves football but wonders if things have gotten too dangerous for the players. There's a quote in the book that sums up the behavior of the league (and many of the players) when it comes to the effect of concussions and long-term brain health... "A man will not believe something that his livelihood depends on his not believing."

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

02/09/2014

Product Review - Shacke™ 24 Magnetic Push Pins

Category Product Review Shacke™ 24 Magnetic Push Pins
A picture named M2

Like many families, our refrigerator is the "bulletin board" of the house. Notes, mail, cards, whatever... it gets stuck to the fridge with magnets. But the magnets we often use are thin, usually promotional in nature, and take two or more just to hold a single piece of paper. Enter Shacke.com's Magnetic Push Pins... problem solved! These neodymium-based magnets have some serious sticking power, and all our promotional magnets are now in the trash.

I was shocked at the size of the magnets compared to the gripping power. They are small enough to not easily be knocked off by accident if you get too close. Even if you tap on the magnet while it's on the fridge, it really doesn't move. If you get the pack of 24 (which is what was sent to me), you end up with four pins per color (six colors in the pack). That opens up some possibilities in terms of assigning colors to family members or tasks.

I admit that simple magnet push pins shouldn't make me this happy, but they're just useful, clever, and cool. I'm pretty sure if we lose more than three or four (and it won't be by falling off the fridge), I'll quickly buy another pack of 24. It's products like this that make reviewing things an enjoyable activity.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Manufacturer
Payment: Free

02/05/2014

Product Review - Maxboost Electron Plus 15000mAh Dual-port 3A Premium USB Portable External Battery Pack

Category Product Review Maxboost Electron Plus 15000mAh Dual-port 3A Premium USB Portable External Battery Pack
A picture named M2

I've been testing the Maxboost Electron Plus 15000mAh Dual-port 3A Premium USB Portable External Battery Pack for the last couple of week after receiving a review unit from the manufacturer. In my way of thinking, you can never have too many external battery packs. As a friend is fond of quoting: "ABC - Always Be Charging". While there are a few things that I could put down as "disadvantages" to the Maxboost, it keeps coming back to one thing for me... this battery has some serious power reserves. I could go out into the desert for a week with my iPhone and this battery, and I wouldn't care if I never found an outlet until I returned.

At 15000mAh, this is the largest battery pack I own. It's got a bit of heft to it, such that you wouldn't forget you had it in your pocket or purse. But if you had it in a go-pack or backpack when you're going through your day, it'd be fine. It comes with two output ports at 1.0A and 2.1A. Technically, you could charge two phones or a phone and a tablet at the same time. The input to the unit for recharging comes from a normal micro USB cord. The storage bag (black velvet) comes with the USB cord and adapter plugs for micro USB, mini USB, and the 30-pin Apple connector. If you needed a lightning connector for an Apple device, you'd have to bring your own. Finally, there's a built-in flashlight that turns on when you click the power button twice. You may never need it, but it's there.

In terms of recharging speed... When charging my iPhone 4, I was getting more than 1% of recharge per minute, which is my general measuring standard. When done charging, I found that I had only gone through 9 - 10% of the battery reserve. I could easily get seven or eight iPhone recharges on this battery! Charging my iPad was more of a strain on the unit, and it was taking about an hour for each 10% of charge. If my iPad was completely drained, I'd look at the battery to give me one recharge. I'd probably do better to plug in the battery while I use the iPad, and let it slow down the rate of iPad battery drain so I get more usage time instead of waiting half a day to get a fully repowered iPad.

On the battery charging times... It took most of the day to take the battery unit back up to 100% capacity. It didn't seem to matter whether I had it plugged into a USB port or into a power plug adapter. It's definitely not fast, and it seems to slow down the closer you get to 100%. I would plan on recharging it overnight when you don't think you'll be needing it. Slow? Yes... but the amount of power it gives me when it *is* completely charged makes that an OK tradeoff for me.

You could get REAL picky and say that the black glossy cover on the unit attracts fingerprints way too easily. I say that's what shirts are for... to wipe off fingerprints. I can't get overly excited or bothered over smudges when compared to what the battery can actually do (which is lots!)

If I wasn't so enamoured over the amount of backup power and number of recharges I get with the Maxboost, I *might* consider making this a four-star rating. But power trumps all, and this is a five+ in my book. Great job, Maxboost...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Manufacturer
Payment: Free


01/19/2014

Book Review - Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser

Category Book Review Eric Schlosser Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety
A picture named M2

Want to be completely amazed over the fact that we are not living in the aftermath of a nuclear war? Read Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser. The story of nuclear weapons is much more terrifying than World War II and the Cold War. It's an on-going story about how "safety" is only an illusion created by silence and lies.

Schlosser uses the story of an incident that occurred in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980 to tell the history of nuclear weaponry. During that incident, a Titan II missile housed in one of the many missile silos in the US was damaged in a routine maintenance accident. What happened next was a chain reaction of events that led to an explosion of the missile which had a live nuclear warhead. Few of the safety measures and procedures worked as they were designed, and the risk of a full nuclear explosion mounted by the minute. It was only by luck that the explosion didn't trigger the warhead, the result of which would have been many times larger than the Hiroshima or Nakasaki atomic bombs.

As that story unfolds, Schlosser steps back in history to document atomic weapon development, as well as how little was known about the risks involved. As more weapons were built by the US and Russia, more and more gaps developed in both the safeguarding of the technology and the systems to detect potential attacks. Given the immense destructive power of a nuclear attack, it was necessary to make quick decisions on whether to retaliate or hold fire until a reported attack was confirmed. On a number of occasions, both the US and Russia were minutes if not seconds away from ordering a nuclear launch based on alarms that turned out to be faulty. The fact that buttons were not pushed is amazing. On top of the threat of attack, there have been a very large number of accidents (such as aircraft crashes) where nuclear weapons could have easily been detonated, killing millions. As you can imagine, most of these have never been widely reported (if at all).

Command and Control is highly detailed and documented, and it can at times be a little tough to slog through the material. But it's well worth the time and effort, as it's very clear that we haven't a clue as to how we can safely keep from killing ourselves with complex weapons.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

01/19/2014

iBook Review - Some Heroes: A Photographic Journal of Inspired Paths by Gary Garbett

Category Book Review Gary Garbett Some Heroes: A Photographic Journal of Inspired Paths
A picture named M2

Gary Garbett's Some Heroes: A Photographic Journal of Inspired Paths is a poignant look at the "liner notes" of his life. I enjoy his art and creativity, as well as his attitude towards rescuing and recycling things that still have life, especially cameras. When everything in life is going digital, Gary is able to hold on to the analog portion of life... in fact, he prefers it. One of the underlying threads in Some Heroes is Gary's relationship with his dad... his own hero. Given that I was reading this right after a death in our extended family, it was easy to feel the emotion and love that Gary put into this book to honor those who were his heroes.

Beautiful artwork, unique layout, and a message that has impact... Some Heroes is a memorable experience.

01/01/2014

Product Review - ExoMount Touch CD Slot Car Mount

Category Product Review ExoMount Touch CD Slot Car Mount
ExoMount Touch CD Slot Car Mount for iPhone 5S/5C/5/4S/4, Galaxy S4/S3/S2, Galaxy Note 3/Note 2, HTC One Smartphones (Black)

Intriguing idea... excellent execution. I got the ExoMount Touch CD Slot Car Mount for my iPhone to see if it would make for a convenient way to have my iPhone viewable (like for GPS) without having it on the dash and obstructing my vision. In short, it worked flawlessly. The only issue is my wife now wants to "borrow" it for her car.

The ExoMount is designed to fit partially into your CD slot of your car sound system. While it wouldn't work well if you actually used your CD for something like, say... listening to a CD, it's perfect if you don't (like many people these days). The wing nut under the part that goes into the CD slot causes the tabs to flare up and down the tighter you screw it. The result is that it fits snugly into any CD enclosure and won't fall out and damage your phone.

The phone holder is spring-loaded and slides together to hold the phone via pressure. But, given that the whole unit can swivel 360 degrees, you can rotate your phone to either display in a portrait or landscape mode... whatever makes it easiest to work with while you're driving.

When I first saw this, I thought it was an interesting idea, but didn't think it would be without shortcomings of some sort. I was wrong. I absolutely love this phone mount for the car, and it solves a lot of my complaints when it comes to trying to use my iPhone as a GPS unit. Definitely recommended...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Amazon Vine Review Program
Payment: Free

12/24/2013

Book Review - Not in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination by Anthony Summers

Category Book Review Anthony Summers Not in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination
Not in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination

Fifty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, there are still questions over "who dun it." Not in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination by Anthony Summers is about as comprehensive a read as you can get when it comes to the pros and cons of many of the conspiracy theories. While he doesn't come out necessarily in favor of any specific conspiracy, he makes an excellent and exhaustive case for *some* level of involvement by someone(s) in addition to Oswald.

Summers documents facts and incidents at a level that would make any investigative journalist proud. Rather than write off (or ignore) information that doesn't fit a particular theory, Summers includes it all. The result is that all the conspiracy theories have holes that have no answers. Likewise, established events often have multiple potential interpretations. Even the official answer (Oswald acted alone) has to rely on a number of "simple clerical mistakes" when it comes to documentation that should exist but doesn't.

What became clear to me when reading this book is that if even half of what Oswald did or said is true, then he had some severe mental and emotional issues (which probably goes without saying). How someone can go from speaking fluent Russian to struggling with the language and back again is hard to explain. Same with being a marksman with a firearm to hardly being able to hit a target. I had to wonder if he was borderline schizophrenic, which might explain why he appeared to have so many personality discrepancies.

If you're at all interested in the Kennedy assassination, Not In Your Lifetime should be on the "must read" list. You probably won't come away with any definitive answers (as I don't think there are any), but you'll have a much more complete understanding as to why people have so many opinions and theories about what happened that day.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Netgalley
Payment: Free

12/24/2013

Product Review - Zeetron Light Up Lightning USB Cable

Category Product Review Zeetron Light Up Lightning USB Cable
Zeetron Light Up Lightning USB Cable for iPhone 5 5S 5C iPad 4 iPad mini iPad air ipod Touch 5th Gen- Retail Packaging (Lighting To USB)

It's normally hard to review a USB cable and say something unique or interesting. Either it works or it doesn't. The Zeetron Light Up Lightning USB Cable is different, however. I received one for testing and review, and now I wish all my USB cables worked like this one. Amazing how much difference a little light can make...

The Zeetron that I worked with is a cable for charging and syncing to my iPad with the Lightning connector. The difference is in the Lightning connector plug. It has a visual indicator that changes color during the charging process. While my iPad is charging, there's a red glow coming from a lighting band on the connector. Once the charge is complete, it changes to a light blue. Instead of going over to the iPad and waking it up to see if it's finished, I can just glance over and check the color. Granted, it's not *that* much harder to look on the iPad screen, but if you're charging the device from across the room, the visual indication is a nice feature that makes this cable stand out from the rest.

The only thing you should be aware of when buying is that the plug is a bit bulkier than a standard Lightning connector. If your device cover obstructs the port in any way, you may need to take the cover off before charging. Granted, that would make the cord a whole lot less useful. But all the cases I have for my iPad work fine, so I think this is a minor problem overall. Just be aware of it...

The official Apple Lightning cable costs more than the Zeetron, and you don't have the color feature. My recommendation would be to give this a try and see if it works for you. There's a very good chance that when I have to stock up on cables, this will be my go-to option.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Manufacturer
Payment: Free

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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