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SharePoint 2007 Development Recipes

Book Review-SharePoint 2007 Development Recipes

Some folks like to cook from recipes. You get a predictable result and you know what to expect. My wife will attest that that’s not exactly the kind of guy I am. I’ve created meals that are good and a fair number of them that weren’t fit for the dog to eat – literally the dog wouldn’t eat them. Still, I recognize the value of recipes. That’s why I think SharePoint 2007 Development Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach is a good read if you’re trying to wrap your hands around SharePoint.

One of the problems with typical computer books is that they’ll tell how WHY something works but not HOW to make it work or WHEN to use it. (My own personal rebellion to this is The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users which is all about HOW to do things.) That’s why I like the style which shows you how to do practical things. You can read the details of some interface on MSDN, you don’t need a book for that. What you need a book for is HOW you should use it.

Active Directory Cookbook

Book Review-Active Directory Cookbook

Many people don’t know this (or care) but when I was first awarded my Microsoft MVP award it was for Windows Networking (which was pretty quickly clarified to Windows Server Networking). At the time I was working on Windows Server books and MCSE study guides of various sorts. I had the pleasure of having Emily Freet as my first MVP Lead. She introduced me to another one of her MVPs, Laura Hunter. A while ago I got a copy of Laura’s Active Directory Cookbook, 3e of course being behind I didn’t get much time to look through it – until this weekend.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about Laura’s knowledge of Active Directory, Networking, etc., is that she’s always thought about the problem not just from the perspective of “how do I do this once” but she’s always been thinking “how do I make this repeatable.” And I don’t just mean from the perspective of writing a process or a procedure. She’s been involved in some VERY large and RAPIDLY changing environments so she’s always had an awareness of the need to script things. That’s one of the things that makes the book so powerful. It’s not just going to show you how to create a user – but how to do it in mass … or via a process. Having been engaged more than once to create tools for working with AD, I can say that I honestly appreciate the work that goes into providing information about how to automate activities in AD.

If you’re looking to manage an environment over and over again … or you have clients that you work with that you want to be able to repeat your work … or you just need coverage of how to do common tasks in AD, I think you’ll find the cookbook has the answers you need.

Pro LINQ Object Relational Mapping with C# 2008

Book Review-Pro LINQ Object Relational Mapping with C# 2008

Over a year ago (I think) my buddy Vijay Mehta handed me a copy of his book Pro LINQ Object Relational Mapping with C# 2008 After he explained the title to me (no I’m not really kidding), I said thanks and put the book aside until I could think about it. Well that time was this weekend. (Yea, I’m slow.)

The problem that I was trying to solve this morning was to anchor my thoughts about LINQ and where it fits in. Yea, I know that I should have been spending more time understanding LINQ but I just haven’t had time. I learned enough to be able to read a LINQ query when I saw one in code but as far as really digging in – it just hadn’t happened for me yet. So I sat down to do a read of Vijay’s book.

The book really talks about LINQ as it relates to LINQ to SQL and LINQ to Entities (Entity Framework). Having had the pleasure of sitting across a table from Vijay I could hear his voice in the text. I quickly was able to hear him walk through the core concepts of mapping for LINQ to work both for SQL and for Entity Framework. My need wasn’t to understand how to do the mapping to create providers for SQL or Entities (yet) but I appreciated the coverage of the topics. It allowed me to see “behind the curtain” to understand what’s going on in the background when I’m writing a LINQ query.

If you’re trying to understand how LINQ fits in, how to handle your data mapping, or how to create mappings between your data and your classes – it’s a good book.

Building Content Type Solutions in SharePoint 2007

Book Review-Building Content Type Solutions in SharePoint 2007

When I picked up Building Content Type Solutions in SharePoint 2007 I was hoping that it would be the powerhouse book that helped the SharePoint community realize the power of content types. You see, I’ve decided that they’re one of the most powerful — if not the most powerful — feature in SharePoint. I’m fascinated by the idea that you would create a solution that includes the document template as well as the process (i.e. workflow) around that document when it has been created.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that the book lived up to my expectations. (One could easily say that they weren’t fair.) The book has a ton of great content in it. If you’re an end user, power user, or site administrator — you’ll learn something from the book. My issue is that the book never really develops an audience. It feels like a semi-random collection of stuff about content types. The stuff in the back of the book about development just doesn’t feel like it was intentional. (Not that it’s not valuable.)

So while the book is useful if you’re trying to see some of the power of content types, I’m concerned that it’s not the content type book that the market needs to really realize the power of this particular feature of SharePoint.

SharePoint for Project Management

Book Review-SharePoint for Project Management

I’ve fallen more than a bit behind on my reading. I’ve got a stack of books here that I keep meaning to read, skim, review, etc. I did get a chance to take a look at one in the last few weeks and I’m glad I did. The book, SharePoint for Project Management, is a book I can respect. Why? Well, it’s a very practical how-to guide for using SharePoint for Project Management (one of its strengths). In some ways I think of it as The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users with a slant towards project management.

Of course, there’s more introductory text/conceptual stuff that’s needed in the project management space and that’s well covered, but the book also has the step-by-step processes that the uninitiated find helpful for finding the right switches, dials, and do-dads to make the product do what you want.

If you’ve got a project management office team or a group of project managers, this book can help.

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies

Book Review-Groundswell

I realize I’ve not posted a book review on my blog since October of 2007. Ouch. I guess I’ve been busy. One of the two reviews that I did back then was for a book called The Wisdom of Crowds, Back in August of 2007 I reviewed The Long Tail. In July of 2007, I reviewed Wikinomics: How mass Collaboration Changes Everything. In April of 2007 I reviewed Linked. You may be sensing a bit of a theme. I’ve been watching the topic of the influence of the Internet and more specifically its ability to empower people — all people — to participate.

Groundswell is a book about this influence and how it’s changing things. It’s about how you can leverage this transformation to your benefit. It’s written by some Forrester analysts. They’ve worked with large organizations, they’ve run surveys, and they’ve provided their thoughts on how to support your organization with social media.

If you’re in a large organization and you’re struggling to understand the social media sites you’ve seen. If you’re trying to figure out how blogs are helping — and hurting your organization — then you’ll want to pick it up and read it. Unlike any of the other books that I’ve mentioned above, Groundswell is a manual for how to implement social media in your organization. I’m not saying that it’s a literal prescription for you. However, it does layout for you the kinds of things that you want to think about to get a successful project.

There are two key things — from my perspective — that you can take from the book. First, the idea of psychic currency — a non-monetary compensation that drives people to participate in the groundswell. Here’s the incomplete list presented (without the details the book provides):

  • Keeping Friendships
  • Making new friends
  • Succumbing to Social Pressure for Existing Friends
  • Paying it Forward
  • The altruistic impulse
  • The prurient impulse
  • The creative impulse
  • The validation impulse
  • The affinity impulse

The second thing is their four step planning process abbreviated as POST:

  • People
  • Objectives
  • Strategy
  • Technology

If you’re trying to figure out how these social events can impact your organization, Groundswell may help.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Book Review-Brain Rules

I can still remember the most astonishing and frightening moments in my son’s development. My brother had gotten married the day before in St. Louis and rather than head of directly to a honeymoon with his bride, they stuck around and showed us the town. If you’re in St. Louis it’s some sort of rule that you have to go to the Gateway Arch. Upon exiting the arch itself we returned to the underground museum with showed what an old shipyard might have looked like. What I heard was frightening. My newly minted sister-in-law asked my son if he could swing on the ropes like Tarzan. My brain clicked into emergency mode as it evaluated the situation. The ropes were too high for my son to reach so I settled back into normal mode and then it came. My son, four at the time, responded “Tarzan doesn’t swing on ropes, he swings on vines.” As my neurons fired up again I was pleased and then very scared. I realized quickly that my son had taken in information in the form of a question, converted it into factual data, compared it against what he already knew, identified the data didn’t match his understanding, validated that it was the wrong data and then communicated back this information to the person from whom the data came. I realized at that moment that I wasn’t going to be able to keep the upper hand intellectually on my child. I’ve got a few years of experience to lean on but at some point I’m going to have to accept that my son will be smarter than I am.

What does this have to do with a book titled Brain Rules by John Medina, as it turns out, quite a bit. I got a little glimpse into how little brains work. In his book John points out 12 simple rules about how the brain works, how it was put together, and the factors that influence it. He encourages a set of alternative ideas at the end of each rule so that we can ponder what things might be like if we actually paid attention to what we know about how we think and how our brain works.

I’m intently interested in how our brains work — mainly to figure out what’s happening to mine when it misfires. Some folks are interested in every aspect of how a car works. (He’s a spoiler, lots and lots of micro explosions). I’m interested in how PEOPLE work. Not just me but others as well. How is it that when I tell my wife something she hears something completely different? How can two people argue while saying the same thing?

John doesn’t have the answer to every question — however, I like the answers he does have to some fairly basic questions including how men and women’s brains function differently.

It’s worth reading Brain Rules — that is if you feel like you want to know more about how your brain — and the brains of those around you — really work.

Web 2.0 Heroes

Book Review-Web 2.0 Heroes

If you’ve read this blog for a while you know I’ve been on a journey to try to figure out social networking and through extension Web 2.0. I’ve read Wikinomics, Blink, The Wisdom of Crowds, Linked, and The Long Tail. It would be pretty easy to see how I might get exhausted by the topic of social networking. However, my buddy Brad Jones started talking about the project, I was intrigued. We have regularly scheduled lunches and we were talking about how some terms in the computer industry don’t really have a firm definition. One of those was Web 2.0. He decided to embark on a project to interview 20 of the leaders of the Internet and ask them what they thought Web 2.0 meant.

Before I started reading his book, Web 2.0 Heroes: Interviews with 20 Web 2.0 Influencers I had about as much chance of defining Web 2.0 as launching myself to the moon with Mentos and Diet Coke. At the end, I don’t know that I can truly crystallize it into one answer – however, I can share common themes:

  • Enabling People to do things easily.
  • Interactive two-way and multi-way conversations
  • The intersection of people, process, and technology

I know as formal definitions go it’s not the best, but I can say that I feel like I can defensibly talk about Web 2.0 and have some valid opinions to back mine up. (It’s been said that best practices in the computer industry are just having someone that you trust saying that’s the way they do it too – so why can’t I use a similar definition for terms?)

The book isn’t going to make the New York Times Best Seller list – but it may help you build – and defend – your own definition of what Web 2.0 is.

Now if we can just get a similar thing on SOA, RIA, etc. we might be able to understand each other. In the mean time get started with Web 2.0 Heroes.

Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness

Book Review-Organising Knowledge

When I write a book review most of the time, I write the review within a week or two after completing the book.  I do that because it allows me to keep the topics the book presents fresh in my mind.  However, it has the disadvantage of not having been fully integrated into my thinking and certainly hasn’t had the opportunity to be “road tested.”  When it comes to Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organizational Effectiveness (and yes, it pains me not to spell it with a ‘z’ like my US English says I should), I waited before posting this review.

The reason I waited was because I felt like in this case having a more complete set of feelings about the book and it’s thoughts was more important than being able to distinguish specific thrusts of the text.  Instead, I opted to try it out for a while – to see if any of the material I gained from the book was valuable.  Good news it is.

I had my assistant type up a few excerpts from the book – things that I felt were highly relevant to the topics of taxonomy and organization.  I’ve referred back to this document on several occasions to pick out relevant snippets and to clarify my thinking.  I’ve passed the excerpts on to a few friends and colleagues who have been interested in the topics of taxonomy and organization.  In short, I know that there is value in the book because I’ve seen its value.

The book itself tries (mostly successfully) to crystallize your thoughts on organization.  It helps you see the organization that you already do and learn to apply these techniques to the kinds of problems that confront you when you’re trying to create a taxonomy.

It also covers how you can implement different structures with different levels of technology support.  At the lowest level there are organizational patterns that work with paper.  Higher levels of technology offer up additional options.  For instance, it is completely impractical to do a full text search over paper stored in a file cabinet – however, it is possible to leverage technology to do this kind of a full text search.  In a paper system it’s difficult to attach a single item to multiple places – multiple dimensions.  However, technology can make this practical and very useful to helping users find the information they’re looking for.

If you’re trying to put your arms around Taxonomy and Organization this book won’t give you all the answers – but it will certainly add a few more tools to your toolbox.  Pickup Organizing Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness if you’re seeking a better way to organize or the tools you need to create a taxonomy for your organization.

The Wisdom of Crowds

Book Review-The Wisdom of Crowds

I was recently reading a blog post titled Mild Super Power on the Dilbert Blog.  It made me think about how there are sometimes more factors at play than may be immediately obvious.  While I don’t subscribe to Scott Adam’s claim that he can avoid speeding tickets because he understands the economics of placing police cars at various points – mainly because economists assume that people are rational and we all know that people aren’t.  I’d also suggest that there are other factors – such as the desire to get some sleep on the job – which may play a factor in where cars are positioned to catch speeders.

One of Scott’s statements which rings very true is “My reason for majoring in economics in college was to understand how the world works, so I would be more equipped to navigate in it.”  I think this is a singular point of clarity – choosing to use your educational opportunities to help you better understand (and therefore navigate) the world around you.  I didn’t choose to major in economics – in fact, it was a topic that until quite recently that I cared very little about.  Recently however, the emergent behaviors of groups – that is complex (or different) patterns that emerge when many individual actors follow simple behavior rules – has become quite interesting.

The Wisdom of Crowds holds a similar mystery to me.  It illuminates how crowds can be very (hyper) intelligent and why sometimes they’re not.  Traditional thinking (in the US at least, I can’t speak for other areas of the world) is that you get together a group of exceptionally smart people and you put them in a room and eventually you’ll get something good out of them.  However, this necessarily is restrictive.  There are only so many people that are included.  There’s always some bar of “exceptionally smart” vs. “really smart”.

The fundamental premise for the book is that there can be a lot of value to allowing larger groups of people work on the same problem.  That the individual errors that are contained in their solutions tend to cancel each other out.  If you read Stumbling on Happiness you’ll know that we all have a very poor ability to predict the future because we tend to leave things out of our mental images.  I suspect that we have similar foibles when it comes to our ability to solve problems.

Fundamentally the author (James Surowiecki) suggests that there are three types of problems cognition (a problem of knowledge), coordination (getting everything to fit together), and cooperation (getting everyone to get along.)  He illustrates how groups solve the different types of problems differently.

One of the interesting tangents in the book is a discussion – in a few places – about Tacit knowledge.  That is knowledge gained by doing. I help the church I attend by supporting the technology around the delivery of Sunday services.  I’ve learned tons about the subtleties of music and of sound than I could have ever learned via reading a book.  (And I learn really well by reading.)  I’ve learned by having to run the sound board.  This knowledge isn’t easily capture and shared with others.

One of the considerations for problem solving large coordination and cooperation problems is the influence of tacit knowledge – you have to have “been there and done that.”  When you get the people together to solve problems those who’ve actually done it have the greatest chance of coming up with solutions that will work.

I’m reminded of a story about the infamous Skunk Works at Lockheed Martin.  That’s where Kelly Johnson and his team came up with some of the most sophisticated and radical aircraft designs of the time including the U-2, F-117, and my personal favorite plane the SR-71 (Blackbird).  The story is that when they were building one of the prototype aircrafts one of the machinists came up with a problem because one of the parts wouldn’t fit quite right.  An engineer walked out on the manufacturing floor, bent a piece of cardboard and told the machinist to “make it like that” – and asked the machinist to return the cardboard to the engineer because he’d have to draw the part later.  What’s striking to me about this is that the two different disciplines (engineering and machining) met at the point where the problem surfaced and they both exercised their tacit knowledge about the situation to solve the problem – without a hierarchy of structure, without bureaucracy, just taking the best of what (arguably the smallest) crowd knew.

If you find the ability of a crowd to create a solution that no one person could come up with – or don’t believe that a pool of different people with different perspectives and experiences could be smarter than 99% of everyone out there – you need to read The Wisdom of Crowds