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December 2006 Newsletter


Quotable Quotes


What information consumes is rather obvious:  it consumes the attention of its recipients.  Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.  Herbert Simon


A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.  –Eleanor Roosevelt


The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.  –Daniel J. Boorstin


The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't.  –Henry Ward Beecher


I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones.  –John Cage


Don't spend your precious time asking 'Why isn't the world a better place?' It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is 'How can I make it better?' To that there is an answer.  –Leo F. Buscaglia


Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none.  –Benjamin Franklin


When we are unable to love and appreciate ourselves and our efforts, we run away from our mistakes and failures, rather than learning from them.  –Meredith L. Young-Sowers


Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.  –Thomas Jefferson


The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.  –Albert Einstein


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Software Development Process

Article:  What Makes a Good Programming Language

With so many programming languages to choose from, how do you decide which one is right for the job?  This article explores some relevant criteria.  But beware the author's caveat that these principles don't apply in all circumstances and situations.



Article:  The Ten Commandments of Project Management

Former CIO, James Kerr, offers a list of 10 "must do" actions to help your organization become a true project-based shop.



Article:  Convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge to ensure better application development

One of the most significant challenges of software development is to elicit requirements and figure out what the customer wants, which sometimes is different than what is asked for.  This article explores how to move from knowledge based on experience and observation (tacit) into quantified (explicit) knowledge that a computer system can deal with.



Articles:  Does Writing Code Matter

Popular software development blogger Jeff Atwood challenges the notion that the primary skill for software developers is/should be programming.  He suggests that developers need to spend more time honing "soft skills", such as writing and speaking, and to get involved in communities and interaction with others.  While you may not agree with his ideas, they are some great food for thought.




Article:  Develop an agile approach: The key to successful software development

This book excerpt gives a basic introduction to agile development practices from a programmer's perspective.  The articles and the entire book are written in a nice, conversational style.



Article:  Mastering the Three Worlds of Information Technology

Most line-of-business executives have a hard time understanding and, therefore managing, IT.  This article discusses the three distinct segments of IT (what the author terms Function IT, Network IT, and Enterprise IT) and the appropriate strategies for managing each are.



Article:  Why Software Sucks

This developer offers a simple "recipe" for how to overcome heavy process and just deliver functionality that customers want.



Article:  Just How Effective Are You?

CIOs often think more highly of themselves than those who work for them according to a new survey of over 700 IT professionals.  However, the news isn't all bad.  CIOs got generally high marks in areas such as supporting company-wide business strategy and delivering business value to the company.



Article:  They Write the Right Stuff

This classic article peels back the covers on how NASA writes software for the Space Shuttle and the rigorous processes and testing regime that they use.



Articles:  DavidCo's Robert Peake on "Getting Software Done"

The CTO for the David Allen Company, publisher of the Getting Things Done (GTD) book and tools for improving productivity, talks about his companies approach to software development and how to combine the GTD philosophy with agile development techniques.




Article:  Mega IT: How technology rocks colossal companies

An interesting look at how very large companies use IT as a competitive advantage.  Oklahoma's own ConocoPhillips IT group is profiled.



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Software Testing & Quality

Article:  Five Questions With Alan Page

Interview with Microsoft Test Architect who is responsible for improving the skills of Microsoft's cadre of professional testers.



Article:  Why Software Sucks...and What You Can Do About It

This introduction from a new book about software problems explains that most applications don't work because of one fatal communication flaw:  programmers don't understand their audience.  This results in unnecessary complexity and forcing the user to understand the application paradigm instead of the other way around.



Article:  X Marks the Test Case:  Using Mind Maps for Software Design

This detailed article explores the use of mind maps for developing test cases and scenarios.  It provides an excellent approach for how to break down an application for testing.



Article:  Ensuring Database Quality

Database quality (and data quality itself) often get lost in the shuffle when systems are developed.  In this article, Scott Ambler makes a detailed proposal for a new approach to database testing.



Article:  Vista's Last Mile

This article gives an inside look at the "squeeze down" process that Microsoft used to review and determine which of the remaining defects needed to be fixed before the release of the product. 



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Tutorials:  Seven Steps to XML Mastery

This multi-part series gives a comprehensive treatment of the background of and the various techniques for using XML as a data transport and serialization mechanism for applications.



Reference:  The A to Z of security

This site provides an alphabetic listing of 26 important topics in information security planning and implementation.



Tutorial:  Getting Started with AJAX and the XMLHttpRequest Object

This book excerpt gives an excellent and detailed introduction to how AJAX applications work and how to use the Javascript XMLHttpRequest object. 



Tutorial:  A Brief History of Web 2.0

An interactive timeline which shows the history of Web 2.0 from 1996 to present.



Tutorial:  SELECT Statement: The GROUP BY Clause in SQL

Summarizing results in SQL queries is a key to mastering the power of databases.  This tutorial provides a detailed look at the GROUP BY clause with some practical examples.



Reference:  Mastering Enterprise JavaBeans

This is the complete 3rd (most recent) edition of the classic, comprehensive book on EJB design and implementation.  The site also includes all of the source code from the book for download.



Tutorial:  Shell Scripting Primer

This is an excellent beginning tutorial on Unix/Linux shell scripting basics.  While it is written specifically for Mac OS X, it is generally application to all of the common Unix/Linux shells.



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Career Development/Miscellaneous

Article:  10 fatal flaws of a doomed employee

This brief list of 10 self-destructive workplace habits sure to endanger your longevity on the job is quite interesting.  It includes failing to deliver results, confusing efficiency with effectiveness, and believing that you're irreplaceable.



Article:  Top 10 ways IT managers can support knowledge transfer

This article gives some advice on how management can implement and support a peer mentoring program to help disseminate and diffuse knowledge within the organization.



Article:  Why does engineering/math/science education in the US suck?

This author suggests that technical education (in colleges/universities) in the US is outdated and that there is very little overlap between what is taught and what is actually needed for productive mathematicians, sciences, and engineers.  The basic premise is that higher education needs to focus on teaching "how" rather than "what".  Make sure to read the comments for additional insights.



Article:  Do You Deserve A Raise?

This article gives some tips on how to prepare for your performance review to position yourself for the best possible result and to request a raise.



Article:  The Vanishing Veg-Out Vacation

With all of the high-tech gadgets and demands on technology workers, most find it hard to really get away from the office for holidays or vacation.  One survey found that almost 3/4 of IT workers check in via e-mail or telephone while out.



Site:  SalaryScout.com

How do you find out what you are really worth in the marketplace?  SalaryScout.com can help.  You can browse actually salary and benefits information by location and job title/description.  The site is just getting started, but appears to be growing rapidly.



Site:  Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?

This site examines the interesting notion that we either are or at some point will experience life where simulation and reality are indistinguishable.  This concept is even getting some attention in the popular media.



Article:  How to be genius

"Geniuses are made, not born" is the thesis of this article from New Scientist.  Those who have risen to the top of their profession, whether in the sciences, arts, technology, or even sports have generally required 10 - 15 years of concentrated effort toward a single goal to have their breakout moment.



Article:  Thinking like a Genius

So you've decided that you want to be genius (see above)?  Here's some simple, practical advice on problem solving that allows you to use the strategies and tactics of the masters, like Da Vinci and Einstein.



Article:  5 steps to poor listening: The ordinary professional's guide

Listening is a key "soft" skill for success in technical jobs.  This article takes the "reverse psychology" approach to how you can improve your listening.



Article:  Selecting new IT leaders

Commonly used factors in choosing leaders and managers in IT are education, technical ability, and bossiness.  This author suggests that better predictors of IT management success are emotional flexibility, comfort with ambiguity, and communication ability.



Article:  Techies Lack Their Bosses' Support, Study Shows

A new survey shows that technology workers main concern is being able to keep their skills up to date and many say that employers are not supportive of skill development/improvement.



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Useful Utilities

SideSlide (Free – Windows 2000/XP – 1.9MB)

SideSlide is a dockable (to any edge of your screen) desktop extension which provides quick launch, Post-It-style notes, reminders, and many features and functions.  Basically, it removes lots of desktop clutter and consolidates your frequently used tools into one place that remains hidden until you want it.



AlphaXP Lite (Free – Windows 2000/XP – 708kB)

AlphaXP Lite is a free utility for controlling transparency of windows.  It includes some unique features including hot-key support and ability to set the transparency of the Task Bar as well as application windows.  In addition, it has some advanced features to prevent flicker and "ghost" windows when applying and removing transparency.



Open Workbench (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003 and Java runtimes – 9.0MB)

Open Workbench is a free, open-source project management application similar to MS Project.  It is comprehensive and full featured, including advanced scheduling techniques, project scope change management, linking between projects, Gantt and PERT charting, and much more.



UMLet (Free – Cross-platform Java – 4.92MB)

UMLet is small, Java-based tool for quickly drawing UML diagrams.  It is available as a standalone Java application or an Eclipse plugin.  You can export your UML diagrams to a variety of formats, including JPG, PDF, and others.



TapTap Hotkey Extender (Free – Windows 9x/2000/XP – 100kB)

TapTap is an unobtrusive extender that allows you to create hotkey combinations out of almost any keystroke sequence.  Basically, it uses your existing hotkey sequences, such as for launching applications, and allows you enter "shortcuts" for those, such as double tapping the left <Shift> key.



PhraseExpress (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003 – 1.3MB)

PhraseExpress is a free autotext utility.  It allows you to define shortcut phrases that can be inserted into any application running in Windows.  You can select from a menu of phrases or define short keywords that get automatically expanded when you type them.  It even includes macro capabilities, such as for entering the current date.



Thinkature (Free – Online tool – N/A)

Thinkature is a unique online collaboration tool that includes some interesting features, including instant messaging capability and uploading images from your machine to the shared canvas.  You can do freehand drawing as well as develop structured diagrams that include connectors showing flow and relationships.



Folder View (Free – Windows 9x/NT/2000/XP/2003 – 1156kB)

Folder View simplifies the process of the various methods of working with folders/directories in Windows.  Folder View adds a toolbar to Windows Explorer and a menu to the standard Open/Save dialogs that allows you to access your most frequently used folders quickly.  In addition, it includes your folders in the "Copy To" and "Move To" context menus.



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Productivity Tips

Speed up loading of Acrobat Reader

Loading Acrobat Reader can take a significant amount of time and the time increases with each new release, especially with releases 6.0 and 7.0.  To speed up the loading, you can remove the plug-ins that you don't need.  For a minimal configuration (fastest load time):

(1)  Navigate to the Acrobat Reader main folder (e.g., C:\Program Files\Adobe\Acrobat ver\Reader, where ver is the version number).

(2)  Create a new folder called optional.

(3)  Move all of the files from the plug_ins directory, except EWH32.api, search*.api, and print*.api, and weblnk32.api, to the optional directory.

If any features that you use, such as the form filler, no longer work, just move the appropriate plug-in file back to the plugs_ins folder.


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Just For Fun

Mathematical formula derived for Murphy's Law

An industrial psychologist, mathematician, and economist have empirically derived a formula for estimating the likelihood of something going wrong at the least opportune time.



Interview with an honest boss

This is a humorous take on what you boss really wants to say when you talk about things like promotions or overtime.



Interesting and beautiful natural rainbows

This site has some actual (not Photoshopped!) pictures of some fantastic and beautiful rainbows.



177 Versions of PacMan

PacMan was the arcade video game that launched the genre!  This site lists 177 (maybe more by now!) free implementations of PacMan across the Internet, including online Flash- and Java-based versions.  (Note:  The site is in German, but you'll be able to navigate just fine!  Or you can try the translated version.)



Mountain Photography

This site features some incredibly beautiful pictures from mountains and nature from the US and around the world.



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