Wednesday, December 28, 2005
One of their decisions speaks volumes about the philosophy that suffuses much of Microsoft software today. Because memory was so tight, they couldn't afford the number of bytes to print the traditional "READY>" on the screen, so they chose "Ok>" instead. If any of you remember using the BASIC built-in to the original PC, you'll remember that "Ok>" prompt.
Why say anything at all? If resources were tight, why not just provide a simple prompt when everything is OK? Like ">"? This is exactly what the Unix guys did when they needed to be frugal with resources -- they invented the idea that "no news is good news".
Take this simple distinction, "Ok" vs. "Silence", and multiply it by millions of lines of code and decades of development. What you end up with is the most annoyingly chatty software you can imagine, Windows and Office. They constantly pester me about things I don't care about ("You have un-used icons on your desktop", "You're network cable is unplugged", "Let me go harvest clip-art from the Internet for you", etc.). An alternative is Mac OS X, which is sublimely quiet most of the time, and of course command-line Unix which is positively mute (until it needs to tell you something that you really need to know).
Obviously, chatty software annoys me (I've blogged about shortcuts to turn off some of the annoying balloons in Windows before). But I had never thought about why it is that way until I remembered that, when given the choice between silence and verbosity, Bill and Paul chose the latter.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Which makes Christopher Judd's Bearable Moments such a remarkable achievement. I've known Chris for years, and he's written a couple of fine technical books (Pro Eclipse JST: Plug-ins for J2EE Development and Enterprise Java Development on a Budget: Leveraging Java Open Source Technologies. Now, he's written his first children's book, Bearable Moments. One of the most daunting tasks facing any writer (no matter what the genre) is understanding and empathizing with the intended audience. To me, that makes writing a children's book one of the toughest jobs a writer can face. Hat's off to Chris -- I hope his venture into non-technical publishing garners him the accolades he deserves.
Friday, December 16, 2005
I bring this up for 2 reasons. First, I think the original Struts succeeded in no small part because it was simple. If you knew how request-response worked, and you knew a few design patterns, you could figure out most of Struts in about a day. Meanwhile, the competition (Tapestry, Turbine, WebWork) were a bit more complex. This is back in the day when people weren't even sure you needed a web framework -- most people were just rolling their own. Along came Struts, which managed to hit the sweet spot of solving some problems without being too big or complex. If you spend some time with them, I think that WebWork and Tapestry are better conceived frameworks (with totally opposite approaches). Note that this was a million years before Ruby on Rails was even a glint in DHH's eyes.
The second reason I bring this up was because I found myself in a Birds of a Feather session on Struts at ApacheCon. And my distinct impression was that of moving deck chairs on the Titanic. The big news of late, of course, is the merging of WebWork into Struts. But, at the same time, the Shale extension of Struts is rolling right along. There was a great deal of discussion about how to manage to reconcile these two fundamentally different paths (action framework vs. component framework). And, unfortunately, all these efforts apparently will appear under the Struts name.
I understand the software geek drive to always reach higher and further. But I think you also need objective perspective about what you've created. Based on my observations, the Struts team has completely lost that perspective. My solution? Keep Struts right where it is, a nice simple web framework with very low barrier to entry. Go ahead and enhance WebWork (and call it WebWork), and go ahead and work on Shale (and call it Shale). Trying to make Struts into an integration platform with lots of complex moving parts kills the one thing that Struts truly has going for it: simplicity in the face of ever growing complexity in the web framework space. For the polar opposite of simplicity, see Faces, JavaServer.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
The appointed time arrived, and I wasn't disappointed. They booked it in the large keynote room, and I had over 100 people for the talk. I had to rush a bit because I had too much material (I'm sure those of you who know me will be shocked by that), but the talk turned out really well. I ran up to and slightly into the afternoon coffee break, so I made the offer for people to stick around and ask questions after the talk. I had about 10 people come up and ask me about various aspects of Ruby, and everyone was interested and engaged.
I've been positioning myself both within ThoughtWorks and externally as a pragmatist on Ruby. I really like Ruby, but I'm not ready to sell the farm on more mainstream languages yet. Ruby has tremendous potential, but there are still hard problems to be solved in Ruby before it can storm the castle walls of Java and .NET. I fully believe that those problems will fall (and I think ThoughtWorks will solve many of them, just as we solved problems in Java and .NET). Of all the candidates for "Next Big Thing", Ruby is the clear, ahead of the pack contender.
Monday, December 12, 2005
I understand the desire to meet and talk to the people I admire. But, going up to a famous person and being able to enter a real conversation with them is absolutely impossible. Because nuts stalk famous people, they must always be on their guard.
Because I feel this way, I have never approached anyone to shake their hand or get an autograph -- it's utterly meaningless. Besides, there are very few people in the world whos stature I would consider worthy of an autograph. I almost walked over one of them a couple of weeks ago.
During my last trip to San Francisco, my friend Terry and I went to Beethoven's opera Fidelio. Terry was calling home, so I was walking around the beautiful opera house. As I rounded a corner, I came upon a really elaborate wheel chair. I thought to myself "Wow, that's a really elaborate Stehen-Hawking-style wheel chair". Then I walked around the front and nearly bumped into...Stephen Hawking! I remembered reading that he was in town lecturing in San Jose while I was in San Francisco. Of course, even if I wanted to get something silly like an autograph, his advanced state of Lou Gerhig's disease would make it cumbersome. As much as I'm not star struck, it was a little amazing to be so close to such a great man. If ever there was someone worthy of adoration, I would vote for him long before the pop star of the week. I hope he enjoyed the opera!
Sunday, December 04, 2005
This has been a great year for me at No Fluff. I ended up doing 14 shows this year, several more than I had planned, but I'm certainly glad I did. I've blogged about the extraordinary level of attendees before, and they help make the weekend fly by. But the other thing that drives me from my home for a dozen+ weekends a year is the chance to get to hang out with the other speakers.
Back in the 1920's, a group of writers, actors, and other artists started gathering a few times a week at the Algonquin hotel restaurant. This group included Dorothy Parker and Harpo Marx, among others (for a great movie that depicts this group and era, check out Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle). According to legend, the Algonquin Round table discussions were the wittiest in history because they had gathered the quickest wit in New York at that time, which was the best in the world. Here are a few samples:
Robert Sherwood, reviewing cowboy hero Tom Mix: "They say he rides as if he’s part of the horse, but they don’t say which part."
Dorothy Parker: "That woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them."
George S. Kaufman: Once when asked by a press agent, "How do I get my leading lady’s name into your newspaper?" Kaufman replied, "Shoot her."
No Fluff has created a geek version of this same phenomenom: the speaker's dinner. On Saturday night, the speakers go somewhere and eat, and every one of those gatherings ends up being the most fascinating coversation you can imagine. All these brilliant guys, gathered to talk about what they've been thinking about all week that they can't discuss with their spouse. I've had more revelations over food during the last year than I probably had my entire life leading up to this year. So, while I'm glad to spend some time at home, I can't wait for the next gathering of the No Fluff Round Table next year -- I'm sure that we will all have several months worth of pent-up discussion just waiting.