On Being An Anti-Technology Technologist

by Nick Wednesday, May 17, 2006 1:35 PM
Scott Hanselman (recently added to my Blogroll by the way) points to this absolutely fantastic post:

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.

What Motivates You?

by Nick Tuesday, May 16, 2006 4:58 PM
My boss at the consulting company sent me a questionnaire asking me to place 10 things in order of importance as far as what motivates me. There was a list of 10 things like base salary, time off, interesting work, etc. with fancy little combo boxes next to each one so I could put a number next to them. Someone in HR I'm sure put in a good amount of time figuring out how forms in Word works.

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.

The Coding Monkey Song!

by Nick Sunday, May 14, 2006 11:33 AM
OH. MY. GOD! It's the Code Monkey Song! This is a must download!

Via The Sells Brothers.

How Big of a Nutshell Is It?

by Nick Wednesday, April 26, 2006 8:49 AM

Pet Peeve

by Nick Tuesday, April 25, 2006 12:55 PM
I absolutely hate, with a vengeance, any website that emails your password to you after you sign up for services with them. Email is not secure you jerk wads! And if I happen to be using Gmail, then that email you sent me, even if I delete it, will probably sit in their cache forever to be subpoenaed by who knows what agency somewhere.

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

by Nick Tuesday, April 25, 2006 10:51 AM
I felt like last weekend was cut short. Saturday was definitely the most gorgeous day out of the two, and I spent the entire thing indoors at the WI-INETA Deeper in .NET conference. I suppose I shouldn't complain, since it was free, and 4 out of the 5 speakers were pretty good. I even got a free book out of the deal (even though I'm getting a ton through BlogCritics these days). So why am I complaining? Well, why don't' I just give you a review of the speakers that were there.

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.

Any Fool Can Criticize...

by Nick Thursday, April 13, 2006 11:21 PM
"... condemn and complain... and most fools do."
- Dale Carnegie

I have another review up at BlogCritics.org, on The Visual Basic 2005 Jumpstart from O'Reilly.

I Have Another Review Up

by Nick Saturday, April 08, 2006 1:18 PM
As Mel Brooks once said, "Critics can't even make music by rubbing their back legs together." But we can certainly write. Check out my latest review on BlogCritics.org of the "C# Cookbook, 2nd Edition".

You Code Like a Girl!

by Nick Friday, April 07, 2006 9:15 AM
Thanks to Virginia Postrel for pointing out this rather interesting post about the aesthetics of code:

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.

How Many Companies Use Apple?

by Nick Tuesday, March 28, 2006 12:16 PM
There is a reason why companies prefer Microsoft over Apple. The NY Times tries to bill legacy support as bad:

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.

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Nick Schweitzer Nick Schweitzer
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I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit. ... Full Bio

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