Saturday, March 28, 2009

Professional Development

Back when punch cards ruled and dinosaurs roamed the Earth I knew going into programming would mean almost constant development of my skills.

The technology is always changing - MS-DOS to Windows to Web to Web 2.0. Simple compile & run to fancy IDEs (integrated development environment). Objects to dynamic and functional languages. Even just different languages - my old job switched from Visual Basic to C# when we switched to using the .Net framework. The Pragmatic Programmer recommends learning a new language every year (among other things). As they point out - it gets you to think in different ways.

One of the big problems with any kind of education for programmers is good projects. The infamous 'Hello World' program just does not cut it anymore even as a first attempt at getting something to run. Some of the projects in books are OK for learning the basics of a new technology/language. Most, however, lack depth. Programs like Baby Smash give a little more to chew on and has the right size in my opinion.

Still, as I have gotten older sitting around writing code as an academic exercise just to be tossed out has lost a lot of appeal. Especially when I am not getting paid :). Don't get me wrong, digging into a DLL or other system on my own time that would benefit my work time is useful. But when I am just looking to exercise my brain it would be useful if I could work on something that would benefit me at home as well.

Project size has always been an issue. Too often I start down a path, the project grows (hey, just like at work!) then I get bored and move on. That or I get to a point where I cannot move forward and abandon the project. Moving forward may mean new hardware (not my strong suit) or the time investment does not seem worth the eventual payoff.

I have been reading about Casey Chesnut's eva project. Eva is a speech based virtual assistant, to quote the project site. I have to say there is a lot there to like. Casey has an interest in ubiquitous computing, something I find interesting but had not explored. Home automation was something I have always had a little interest in, but just never got around to exploring beyond setting mom up with some X-10 switches when she was on a walker.

Still, how to make something along the lines of Eva useful to me. Being a bad programmer I do not have a server setup at home. Yea, I know, hard to believe. I have no X-10 interface for the computer. Being out of work I am not sure this is the time to rush out and get a server & other hardware. I do have an old PC sitting around. Windows ME no longer works on it and I was going to scrape it out. The hardware was fine, it just needed paved over with a fresh OS. It might be able to take Windows XP if I upped the memory. It might be able to take Vista, except there is no DVD drive. I have thought about putting Ubuntu on it just for fun. Not sure how much time I would get to spend with it though.

I have a couple of little projects to explore in C#, maybe even in Ruby. After I clear them up I hope to start on something along the lines of Eva.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Operating Systems Don't Matter - I agree


Joe Wilcox over at Microsoft Watch today wrote a piece entitled "Operating Systems Don't Matter".


That, in my humble opinion, made all the difference.  Digital Research never went public and by 1991 had been bought by Novell and eventually faded into computing history.  Microsoft went public, kept buidling applications and, to my continuing bemusement, I now work there (not building applications mind you but creating tools for those that do).

Operating Systems Don't Matter - I agree

I have to disagree, to a point. The OS that does the best job supporting developers that make the applications matter. One thing Microsoft has done well is to suck up to cultivate relations with developers. Microsoft has tried to provide a way for not only professionals, but the casual developer as well to program. Even now you can get free versions of Visual Studio. Linux is free as well, but Visual Studio has more, or at least more civilized, support for the novice. Some of the Linux crusties can be brutal when presented with 'stupid questions.'

If another OS was to make programming easier, or offer more to the developer, they would switch OS's in a heartbeat.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Joining the gainfully unemployeed

Last week I was laid off from my job of 15 years. I wanted to hold off posting about it to let and residual anger subside. Not that I am really angry with the company, but like any ending or death, there are the stages that one goes through. Better safe than sorry.

Knowing the people who were let go in my department the whole thing looked rather random. There is a severance package that looks good on second glance. When you just learned that you will no longer have a steady income, no amount of money and/or other services looks like enough.

Officially I am still employed into next week, but there is a lot of things I need to do in the mean time (like get a resume together). Once I am officially separated from the company I will kick the job hunt into full gear.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Text to speech != audio book


wil wheaton vs. text 2 speech (Wil Wheaton)
Fri, 27 Feb 2009 22:20:27 GMT


I am not sure what the big deal is with this. When I first heard about the Kindle 2 and the complaints about text to speech feature I almost fell out of my chair laughing. I doubt even in my life time that a program will be able to as good a job as J. Random  Human. Even longer for someone with even a little acting talent, let alone a skilled voice actor.

The biggest issue I see with audio books vs. text to speech is timing. Seems that most books do not have an audio version at the same time as the print version, if any. For those who have a choice between the two it is no big deal. For those without a choice, like the blind, I cannot imagine the frustration of having to wait for the audio book to come out. If it comes out.