Sunday, May 21, 2006
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
On Being An Anti-Technology Technologist
With the amount of crap being vomited up by his Ethernet connection -- all day, every day -- it's tough to walk away from the spigot for fear that he'll return to waist-deep water. Ethan reads his mail in real-time to avoid being greeted by a hundred-message pile-up when he gets back from lunch. Bringing the computer with you is the only way to keep up.
Years ago, someone phoned you and you weren't home, you missed the call and they had to try back -- now, the messages queue up in voice-mail. TV shows used to slip unwatched by unless you were there to suck them up them in real-time -- today, my TiVo has hours of mindless crap that it's faithfully holding for me. The Web originally required me to actually go out and do something as quaint as visit sites to read them -- these days, my feed reader pulls down megabytes of data -- a large portion of it, of course, cat pictures -- and piles it up, forever. Each of these swollen reservoirs of data silently mocks me with my inadequacy.
For my part, my life looks nothing like this, and it took a lot of work to keep it that way. I recognized the pattern early on when I was working for a small consulting company while going to MSOE. They gave me a pager... and my life changed. I started calling it my mood changer, because every time it would vibrate, now matter where I was or what I was doing, I'd get a scowl, and everyone knew I got paged. Did you know that nobody ever pages you with good news? When I interviewed for my next job, and they gave me a chance to ask questions of them about the position, my very first one was, "Will I be required to be on call or carry a pager?"
For a couple years after that experience I even refused to own a cell phone. I didn't want to risk being that available. I liked the fact that people had to send me an email, or leave a... *gasp* ...message on an answering machine. It's frankly quite liberating. Even today, now that I have a cell phone, I'm fairly protective of the number. I don't use SMS, don't own a Crackberry... hell... I don't even carry a PDA around anymore (though I did experiment with one for a while).
At the various companies where I work, they tend to have mass email lists for every project that flood you with useless crap every five minutes. Instead of sending a very directed message, peole love sending it on the list, even though only 1% of the list members really care. I make it a habit to have myself removed from that list as soon as I'm off a project. If I can't swing that, then I always set up a Rule Wizard to file the message off into a folder I never read. I'm religious about it.
Someone I used to work with never was that good about getting off those email lists. If he was out of the office for a week, he'd end up with hundreds of messages in his Inbox. When he got back into the office, he would delete all his Inbox messages, and then send one mass email to everyone saying that he'd "lost all his email" while he was out, and that he'd "appreciate it if everyone would forward any important messages". He'd end up with about five. I vowed to never let my Inbox get to that point, and so far it's worked.
My sister Sarah is a great example of someone who bucks this trend. She has two cell phones, a Crackberry, and who knows how many other little gadgets. When she commented to me about how surprised she was to see I didn't have these things, since I work in the technology field (I even still file my taxes on paper), I laughed and told her "I'm the last anti-technology technologist". I use technology to improve my life, and not let technology determine my life. Sometimes I wonder whether she brings this flood of information onto herself because she has the technology, as opposed to using the technology to manage the flood.
I will concede one point. I love my RSS Reader. But the nice part about RSS is that it uses a pull, as opposed to a push method. I subscribe to things I'm interested in (like a good dessert), as opposed to having emails forced down my throat because others think it's good for me (like broccoli). Even if not every item in the feed is worthwhile, the fact that I chose to get it makes it more palatable to me.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
What Motivates You?
This is probably the one major problem with working for a company you never go to. I'm always on the client site, so I rarely see my actual boss. That means that my boss has to rely on silly questionnaires to get a sense of what is important to me, along with the occasional lunch.
Worse yet, I'm not sure what I sent is accurate. First of all, I didn't put a lot of thought into it, since I forgot about it until the day it was due. Secondly, I'm not sure I can rate those items from 1 to 10. Usually I have an idea of what I want from each category, and then view the sum total in aggregate. Rarely if ever do I say to myself, "Well the pay isn't that great, but the PTO is fantastic. However, since I rate base pay as more important, I can't take the job."
That's just not how I think.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
The Coding Monkey Song!
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Here's a clue. I just had to type my password twice. I know what it is. You don't have to send it to me.
Talk About a Blown Weekend
Michèle Leroux Bustamante: She spoke first thing in the morning about WCF (formerly Indigo, not the World Curling Federation, Matt). It was a pretty good talk, and she was definitely knowledgeable and well prepared. The problem is... well... she didn't explain what problems this would solve for us. WCF is supposed to finally bring together web services and .NET remoting under one unified architecture, but to be honest, I don't have many problems with the current architecture. I think talking about what problems exist that will be solved is crucial, since WCF is still in early development stages. Really, the code samples I saw looked an awful lot like current Web Services and .NET Remoting. So what's really changed? The hosting environment? Big whoop.
Scott Hanselman: Scott was next, and had I left after his talk, I would have been a very happy camper. His talk was supposed to be about a "Successful ASP.NET architecture using dasBlog as an example", but he really didn't talk to much about dasBlog. What he did talk about were internals in ASP.NET, serialization, debugging tips and tricks, and all sorts of other really random cool goodies. I came out of there with about 2 pages worth of notes. He went off on so many tangents, that he might as well have thrown away his slides, but that was OK. His tangents were incredibly good. He was also incredibly funny.
Julie Lerman: This was the only talk that I considered bad. It wasn't that she wasn't enthusiastic, but she just presented her material (ADO.NET and SQL Server 2005) very poorly. She's a self confessed "data geek", which few people are. Most of us (me included) view databases as a means to an end, while she views them as an end unto themselves. Most of her examples didn't actually serve any purpose other than to say "look, this works", without showing why you'd want to use this new feature. Everyone in the audience was staring at their watches waiting for her talk to be over.
Bill Hatfield: Bill gave an interesting talk on AJAX, and the new .NET components for developing AJAX applications called Atlas. It was a decent talk, with good real world examples. I think he mislead people several times when he claimed that there would be "no round trip to the server", which is completely false. The point of AJAX isn't to eliminate round trips to the server. Rather, you only go the server to replace a small portion of the current DOM, instead of making a round trip to the server to replace the entire page. He didn't explain this well at all. He also leaned on the "I don't know because this is beta" crutch too much when answering questions. If your talk is on a beta product, then you should know the ins and outs more than he did. A few times during his talk, people from the audience were telling him how it worked.
Jason Beres: This was the last talk, and was interesting if nothing else. Though I have to say... turn down the volume! His talk was on WPF (formerly known as Avalon). Being a thick client programmer, and having worked on SVG previously, this was an intriguing topic. What I found most disturbing was the fact that he confessed to having no real knowledge on the topic except what he picked up from someone else's slides and examples, which he learned in two days. With that said, he did a very good job presenting everything had learned, but it still seemed strange.
So if the majority of the talks were good, then why was it a waste of my time? Because most of these technologies are still quite a ways off, and will be changing quite a lot between now, and when they are officially released. Frankly, very few companies are willing to take the risk into bleeding edge technologies. Had they had more talks like Scott's, and had Julie's been better (both were on current technologies), I would have felt better.
As it was, I would have rather been out enjoying the sun.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Friday, April 07, 2006
What prompted this post--and it's whimsical title--is a post by Jamis Buck titled Beautiful code, test first, which includes the following:
"He was telling me how he feels like he has to sit and tweak his code over and over until it not only acts right, but looks right. It cannot be merely functional, it must be beautiful, as well."
But the best part was a comment by "Morten" that included the line:
"As for spending too much time on making the code look right down to the last indentation - my code has been called "girl code" for the same reason..."
Frankly, I don't know if gender really has anything to do with it, but I do firmly believe that there are people in general who code in this fashion, and that certain programming languages cater to this desire. A number of years ago, I saw this post on who a typical C# programmer is:
When we talk about “code focused” this meant a couple of things to us. First, the users we watched were very persnickety about their code. For example, they would spend a lot of time formatting their code the way they wanted. They would write a block of code, and then go back and indent it the way they wanted. They would copy code from somewhere, and then format it in their editor before they even read it. There just seems to be a sense that the code itself can be beautiful, and code that was ugly, and here I mean was formatted in the wrong way, was fixed up.
The other part of being code focused has to do with the way they see the designers and other parts of the Visual Studio tools that were not code editors. For instance, the Windows Form designer. Many developers look at programming as designing a form, and then writing “code behind” that makes the form work. The form itself is the program, and the code is annotations that make the program do what they want. The Visual C# developers, however, tend to think of the Windows Form designer as a code generator. For example, we saw one developer use the form design and the sever explorer to bind to data. Then he went in and cut out all the generated data code and put it into it’s own class. He didn’t mind using the generated code, but the code was his, not the form’s. Furthermore, he couldn’t live with having the data code embedded in the UI code, he just had to factor it out or he wouldn’t have slept well that night.
So what some interpret as a "girly coder"... just might mean you're code focused.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
When TLA's Strike
TLA's abound in the software industry. My resume is chalk full of them. Almost every worthwhile technology I've ever learned could be described with a TLA. Of course, my current client does a lot of mainframe work. And every day, if I'm not interacting with the mainframe somehow, I have to at least interact with mainframe programmers, or ex mainframe programmers who are now trying to be .NET programmers. The problem is that their TLA's, and my TLA's are completely different.
Several months back I ended up going into a meeting with a bunch of people, some of which were mainframers to talk about a new project coming down the line. They were discussing how it was like "COM", and brought up "COM" a lot. My current client is mostly a .NET house, though we do a little C++, and some VB6. So I was a little surprised when they kept talking about "COM", until it dawned on me that they didn't mean "Component Object Model", and instead meant something else which is unique to my client (which I won't mention because I don't want to divulge anything I shouldn't).
It goes without saying that when this finally struck me, I audibly went "Ohhhhhh... ok. I'm with you now". The mainframers all looked at me like I was nuts, and then I had to explain how I thought they were talking about a different "COM". Of course, because they don't know Windows programming, after I was done explaining, they still I thought I was nuts.
I used to do a lot of C++. I was schooled in C++. It was the first language that I really loved, and I still compare everything I work with now to C++. I also used to write a lot of COM components, especially using ATL. I also did a lot with MFC and STL, but that has nothing to do with COM really. I just thought I'd throw those out to show how many TLA's can pop up really quickly.
Even now, when an email appears in my inbox at my client talking about a problem with "COM", my mind still automatically clicks to "Component Object Model" even though the never mean that COM.
Monday, April 03, 2006
Apparently, when the team business manager saw this, she asked the development team lead (also a woman) to have it changed. She refused, and 69 is what went to production. I wonder if people who use our software (which is only for internal use) could file a sexual harassment suit because of it? When I saw the final build number this morning, I couldn't help but laugh.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The Hidden Perils of Drag and Drop
Now imagine coming in to work one morning, logging in, opening Visual Studio, and finding out that your Visual Source Safe repository for your project is missing. After placing the appropriate calls to the "Help Desk", they tell you that its accidentally been deleted, but they're not sure by who are why. Then they tell you that they're not sure they have a backup.
Fast forward a day to find out that they have a backup, but it's off site in another state and will take a while to get here.
Fast forward one more day to find out that they didn't actually delete the repository, but someone accidentally moved it (most likely via Drag and Drop given where it was moved to), and didn't realize what they did. Moreover, they're still not sure who did it.
How could they not be sure you ask? Well, as it turns out, this particular server has a global share on it that pretty much everyone has access to. And as it turns out, pretty much everyone here has access to the C$ drive on everyone else's machine too... by design. So if I want to, I can easily delete all the files off of a coworkers computer if I'm upset at him.
Finally today we got our repository back, after two days of down time. I won't say what client I work for... but I will tell you that this is no mom and pop shop. They should know better.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
As a result, each new version of Windows carries the baggage of its past. As Windows has grown, the technical challenge has become increasingly daunting. Several thousand engineers have labored to build and test Windows Vista, a sprawling, complex software construction project with 50 million lines of code, or more than 40 percent larger than Windows XP.
"Windows is now so big and onerous because of the size of its code base, the size of its ecosystem and its insistence on compatibility with the legacy hardware and software, that it just slows everything down," observed David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. "That's why a company like Apple has such an easier time of innovation."
Microsoft certainly understands the problem, the need to change and the potential long-term threat to its business from rivals like Apple, the free Linux operating system, and from companies like Google that distribute software as a service over the Internet.
Microsoft has understood this from the very beginning... dating back to its first dealings with IBM. Microsoft recognized that software was just as crucial as hardware, if not more so. It also recognized that software was an investment. Not only does software cost money, but so does deploying it across a large corporation. From the deployment itself, to testing and training, and backwards compatibility concerns with legacy documents. Companies make an investment in software.
Apple over the years has ignored that fundamental business reality to its own detriment. They unveil new hardware that won't run old code. They create new operating systems that require new versions of other software to use. As a result, companies are unwilling to buy Apple computers and operating systems because they realize that an upgrade to the OS would not only require paying for the new operating system, but also investing in new versions of other software to work on that operating system.
While Windows may be slower, you can still run old versions of Office on Windows XP for instance. That allows companies to delay, or even completely avoid upgrading peripheral software that may currently fit its needs. This decision is key when companies scale up in size. Because new hardware won't run old operating systems, it is not uncommon for large corporations to run mixed hardware and operating systems across the enterprise. However, because Microsoft handles legacy applications so well, they can still run the same version of Office, or any other application. Companies can then invest in new hardware for new employees, and not worry that it will create inconsistencies elsewhere.
So while handling legacy code may have disadvantages to pure performance in the operating system, it has far more advantages in the enterprise. Apple's sales numbers, and market penetration over the years more than prove that. Hopefully Microsoft won't forget it.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Friday, March 24, 2006
You Have to Understand The History
Programming is like sex, one mistake and you have to support it for the rest of your life.
If you've programed in Visual Basic.NET for any length of time, you soon realize that this is a language that has to make a lot of child support payments. Yesterday I had to answer a question from a colleague about yet another bastard child feature in VB.NET... Array Declarations. She kept having issues because there was one extra item in the array than she was expecting. Previously she'd really only dealt with collection classes like ArrayList. So she was very confused when this statement created an array of 7 elements:
Dim pkTableCol(6) As DataColumn
After all, this statement initializes an ArrayList with a Capacity of 6 elements:
Dim pkTableCol As New ArrayList(6)
In the majority of languages like C, C++, C#, Java, and who knows how many others, you declare an array with the size of the array. The array is then indexed from 0 to Size - 1. In Visual Basic, you declare an array with the largest index. Therefore you get an array that is indexed from 0 to Index. But why on Earth would you make that decision? It's all due to the long and storied history of Visual Basic.
Visual Basic isn't like most programming languages, in that it was designed to be used by people without general computer science backgrounds. One of the "User Friendly Features" they created was arrays that were indexed starting at 1, instead of 0, and ended at Size, instead of Size - 1. While programmers are used to counting starting at 0, most non-programmers start counting at 1. While most C++ programmers would walk through an array list this:
const int ARRAY_SIZE = 6;
for ( int i = 0; i < ARRAY_SIZE; i++ )
array[i] = i * 1000;
A VB 6 programmer would have walked through an array this way:
Const ARRAY_SIZE As Integer = 6
Dim array(ARRAY_SIZE) As Integer
Dim i As Integer
For i = 1 To ARRAY_SIZE
array(i) = i*1000
In this context, the To keyword is inclusive, so it's equivalent to <= in the C++ for loop. Unfortunately, this lead to a lot of issues. While arrays in Visual Basic worked this way, and so did some of the internal collections, may other types of lists and collections had to be 0 based because they interacted with the Windows API which is C based. So Visual Basic code was filled with mixed base arrays that confused the hell out of a lot people. You could, if you knew about it, actually change the base of an array either by using the Option Base directive, or by changing your array declarations:
Dim array(0 To ARRAY_SIZE-1) As Integer
But many people either didn't know of this feature, or just didn't bother with it. That meant that when Visual Basic.NET came along, there was a lot of old code that had to be supported for conversion from VB6 to .NET.
In .NET, no matter what language you use, arrays are indexed from 0 to Size - 1. This allows for interoperability between all the .NET languages, the Windows API, and COM controls as well. Even Visual Basic array are indexed this way. However, by changing the array declaration syntax to continue to support the old way, they supported all the old code. This way, old VB6 code would still work, there would just be one extra element in the array at index 0, which would never be used. But, the advantage is you don't get all sorts of index out of range exceptions when you convert and run your old code.
Had they changed the array declarations to come in line with the C family of languages, then you'd have to go in and modify a lot of old code if you were converting a VB6 project, because the last element wouldn't exist if you started counting at 1. Was this a good idea? Should they have forced people to modify their old code? That's up for debate. But that's all water under the bridge at this point. The decision has already been made, and now you have to support it.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It
That's when I usually say out loud, "How did that get in there?"
The very first thing I do in this case is search through the file history in Source Safe. Sure enough, something was just checked in prior to today's build. So I look at the check-in details. "Fixed Defect #xxxxx and changed a couple other things".
"Great. I wonder what 'other things' got changed."
I've run into this problem at the end of more releases than I care to remember. There is usually at least one developer in any group who loves to tinker. They usually say to themselves, "Well as long as I'm working in this file anyway, I might as well clean a few others things up too." And that's when the new defects come in.
While it can be all well and good to change around some ugly code during development, you should always let ugly code lie at the end of a release. There simply isn't enough time to test your changes. And your changes should be tested. What's worse, is that these "minor changes" are rarely ever called to anyone's attention when checked in. They're simply snuck in, so people don't know that they need to test them. As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Friday, March 17, 2006
You Know You're a Geek When...
Just wanted to make sure I didn't get lost in the void... or
the void* for that matter.
If that person didn't know I was a geek before... he does now.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Robert Oppenheimer agonized over building the A-bomb. Alfred Nobel got queasy about creating dynamite. Robert Propst invented nothing so destructive. Yet before he died in 2000, he lamented his unwitting contribution to what he called 'monolithic insanity.'
Propst is the father of the cubicle. More than 30 years after he unleashed it on the world, we are still trying to get out of the box. The cubicle has been called many things in its long and terrible reign. But what it has lacked in beauty and amenity, it has made up for in crabgrass-like persistence.
Of course we all have some decisions that we've regretted... but how many can you say have made the lives of millions of people miserable? Now that's an accomplishment.
Friday, March 03, 2006
For only $14.95, you can turn your own drab office space into 'dazzling digs.' That's the promise of a soon-to-be-released kit, Pimp My Cubicle. With a title spun off the popular MTV show 'Pimp My Ride,' the kit will be released March 14, providing office workers with gold pushpins, a mini disco ball, a dollar-sign paperweight, leopard-print fringe and an adhesive gold keyboard key—'to give you a little start on your bling.'
Adding some flair to your cube is always fun... but I think most people who dwell in cubes aren't looking for gold studded bling. This is the sort of stuff we put in our cubes. Know your market!
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Error Message of the Day
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Compiler Error of the Day
Public Overrides Sub RemoveAt(index As Integer)' cannot override 'Public Overridable NotOverridable Sub RemoveAt(index As Integer)' because it is declared 'NotOverridable'
Overridable NotOverridable?! Huh?! Yet another reason why Visual Basic really chaps my hide.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Friday, February 03, 2006
Another Del.icio.us Wish
First, I'd like them to improve their Tagroll feature so that I can limit the tags list only to show those that are included in a specific bundle. They already do something similar with Linkrolls, which allows me to only show links that have specific tags associated with them, now I want similar functionality with Tagrolls please.
Finally, I'd like some mechanism so that I can mark a link as private, and only visible if I'm logged into del.icio.us. Yes... sometimes I want to hide my porn. So sue me. ;) At least I'm brave enough to admit it.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Anyway, I forwarded his resume on to my resource manager, and my friend was interviewed. He went through the gauntlet pretty well, and eventually was made an offer. My manager sent me an email thanking me, and forwarded a comment from one of the people who interviewed him. One of the things that impressed him the most (and very well could have lead to his offer) was the fact that he sent a thank you note after the interview. He said it was the only thank you note he can remember receiving in dozens of interviews.
I remember that little bit of advice from our career counselors in college, when they were prepping us for interviewing when we graduated. They were right. It doesn't have to be much. Hell, it doesn't even have to be a hand written note. Send an email. Be sincere. It works.