Friday, October 11, 2013

Where angels fear to tread.

A notable part of my week is spent perusing many different technical blogs and screencasts in hopes of continuing to saturate my brain with the latest and greatest (?) in software development practices and playthings. In my recent efforts I stumble across a blog post with a picture of a group of Pluralsight 'luminaries' at a restaurant table in sunny Oslo. I pretty much recognized all of them--save one. At first I thought this was a spouse but the name looked eerily familiar. I check back on the Pluralsight home page and lo and behold, she is one of the newer instructors. In my usual curious manner I fire off a couple of additional search queries and discover that not only is she inexplicably beautiful but apparently she's a newly minted C# MVP and- wait for it -her meteoric ascension into the realm of software engineering has lasted less than 30 months.

My first inclination was to snicker and chalk it up to a loosely and hastily implemented initiative on MSFT's part to enhance PR and re-ignite their evangelism efforts. After reading through more blogs, posts and even viewing one of her screencasts I started to let this stark reality sink in and begin to fester a bit. Typically I can shake my head and acknowledge a little embellishment and sensationalism in the era of YouTube stardom and relentless self-promotion. However, the implications soon began to surface and I had to cry foul. Why? Read on.

First, it must be said that I'm about as anti-chauvinist as one can be. I'm all for the glass ceiling to be shattered and for both genders to play fair. I'd be remiss if I said that there's not a part of me that questions rapid success as a byproduct of extrinsic attributes but that happens irrespective of one's gender. Second, I'm aware that you can be a very attractive woman and leverage your sheer brilliance in the software space; there are the Marissa Mayers, Kathy Sierras, and Gayle Laakmanns of the world who can stand toe-to-toe with the stuffy MIT Nobel recipient on any given day. But let's face it, the 0-100 in 13 months (as per her claim) is not just grandiose, it's downright, well, sensational. I recall a few years back when Jenn Sterger (remember her?) sprung on the Sports Illustrated scene with 'thoughtful' commentary--primarily as a response to her explosive blog following. The main catalyst? A brief cutover by a cameraman during a FSU football game to her section and a gushing Brent Musberger. Her persona also elicited a very vocal group of detractors ('haters'), many of which cited her fake 'attributes' as her claim to fame more so than her wit and insight in the world of sport. Fast forward a few years and now you have someone who is much more buxom and mature than our dear Jenn and instead of providing sports analysis, fitness tips or lingerie recommendations she's become the 'Tooltime Girl' of Tech. Forget Kathy Komando we have a Scandinavian sweetheart who has in less than two years ascended to the status of celebrity programmer (aka conference speaker) and inspired would-be hackers of all stripes to follow their passion like she did. Yes, passion, hard work, a love of all things code and a little bit of luck were the recipe. For some reason I wanted to keep searching (this time adding in terms like 'fraud' and 'critique') in hopes of exposing this as a marketing ploy or even a contrived bit of theatre for the sake of a dying brand.

Let's press rewind again. In one of my earlier posts I make mention of how the Joel Spolskys of this world drone on about the sheer criminal aspect of colleges turning out clueless CS grads who don't have the mental faculty to grasp essential concepts like indirection and recursion. That there is even a biological basis for one's inability to 'get it' when it comes to thinking in computation. That these should not even consider littering the sacred practice of development, as it 'dumbs down' the profession and the barriers of entry that save us all from horrible software. Consider that this sentiment was originally the clarion call of the Microsoft elite. Now, the "Celebrity Programmers" infiltrate conferences everywhere, bringing their wit and wisdom to the masses yearning for their day in the sun. I've become resigned to the fact that most of them (the "Evangelist" types to be specific) are more marketing than makefile. Nonetheless, I do expect that someone who's demonstrating a new technology have a background that speaks of grounded expertise and aptitude.

When I have the privilege of taking in a screencast from the likes of Avdi Grimm or Jon Skeet I sit in awe at how they generate beautiful code on the fly. I marvel at the insight of Scott Hanselman and Dave Thomas as they ruminate on the aspects of our rapidly changing landscape. So when I see a neophyte in the profession fein such gravitas I am sickened to the core. Maybe I should shrug it off and accept the fact that this is an outlier, manifested by the brilliant minds of the folks in Redmond and that those of us who have put in years of sweat equity in earnest should take pride in our own experiences, whether they be lessons learned or projects completed as professional currency that won't be devalued by such a circumstance.

Some people ask me why I have such a bias against the .NET stack and MSFT. Perhaps in the agnostic OSS world we see a bit more of a meritocracy. Don't  believe me? Check out a few threads on Stackoverflow sometime. Ironically, one of the more recent blog posts from our Development Diva waxes regretfully, a wounded soul that reverberates a hesitancy to engage Stackoverflow because of some concerns of negative sentiment, malicious intent and inability to articulate in the 'acceptable manner' of the forum. Well, one thing's for sure. A virtual venue like SO- being as forthright, intolerant and discerning as it is known for-will certainly in time provide some exposure...regardless of how many rock star coders would love a microsecond of acknowledgement from the bodacious beauty of binary. There are always those whose oblate objectivity permeates the welcoming facade. It's a hard business of brilliance, ingenuity and self-aggrandizing largesse that is truly a place where angels may fear to tread. Even those who appear heaven sent.

Until my next rant...

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Wrath of Bad Robot...

As many in the realm of sci-fi geekdom have encountered, the new extended (over two minutes long) international trailer for "Star Trek: Into Darkness" has surfaced courtesy of the benevolent Bad Robot. Like a masterful marketing mind, the Robot has now interwoven even more 'details' into the seemingly nonstop barrage of teasers building up the fervor and anticipation of probably one of the most popular sequels (if you consider the reboot of 2009 the original---I certainly do) or movies of this genre since, well, 'Star Wars: Episode III'. Yeah, I know-- hindsight. At any rate what we have is more of what I consider 'head fakes', besprinkled with little 'easter eggs' to generate a buzz that's going to pack out theaters days in advance. 
In this go-round we're once again greeted by the gruff British Barry White baritone of Benedict. Then an exploding building in futuristic London. Then more buildings with the same flyover and a funerary draping of a Star Fleet flag. Cut to a very familiar star-chamber (or is it Strangelove) -esque conference room with top Star Fleet brass who give us our first real juicy tidbit of who 'John Harrison' is. A 'former Star Fleet agent' is what we hear Peter 'Robocop' Weller refer to him as---along with the familiar 'you'll pay for the decisions your commanders have made' blathering that most soldiers-gone-bad have echoed throughout film yore. A rotorless Huey crashes the meeting (literally) and signals that the game is on.
Kirk, being the impetuous and perpetually insubordinate (how in the sam hell did this guy get a field promotion from junior officer to Starship Captain?) tries to convince the one-dimensional Pike of the need to retaliate. Cut to a rather familiar but out-of-place looking spacecraft trying to traverse through a narrow passage. You almost wonder if they'd be trailed by a few TIE fighters. Hmm. More fight scenes. Ah, then there's the voluptuous Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus in a black bikini. Never a contemporary action-adventure flick without a sexy edge. Wonder if she'll have as much substance as Bibi Besch's 1982 version. Well, Zoe Saldana's Uhura reboot certainly does--and she lowers the 'we're outgunned, outmanned' boom to provide more fodder for curiosity. We know from previous trailers that the Klingons are most likely involved at some point. One John Harrison-no matter how powerful-doesn't constitute an army of multiples. Cut to some rehashed trailer footage of the cliff dive and finally the Enterprise (yeah, folks, that's what it is) doing a dive of it's own (buh-bye Alcatraz!). 
In perusing the net for hype and speculation I've seen more to say that the common theory is that John Harrison is a genetically-enhanced super agent of the Fleet that had a raw deal at the hands of his employer. The connection with Khan is that the engineering of his DNA was derived from the same methodology used for the 'augments' (hadn't heard that term before) of the Botany Bay. I still think that the marketing genius of Paramount/Bad Robot has thrown yet another brittle bone to the masses to make us think we know more about Cumberbatch's character. With JJ Abram's imminent (or eminent?) departure the need to have a sequel for the ages with a 'rival' franchise is almost obligatory one would think. One thing's for certain---Paramount's in this game for the long haul (hey, going on 50 years folks) and no one there wants this installment to be anticlimax. Not at all. There will be shockers. And there will be spoilers. Whether or not the villain has any connection to Khan Noonien Singh is irrelevant. He's a baddie. He's brilliant (terrorism in the 23rd century?). And he's British. A perfect answer for the blase Nero in our last episode. Like V'ger, Nero could destroy entire fleets of starships and even planets. But Harrison can kick your arse into next week and do it with class. 

Live long and prosper. At least until May 9th.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Argo, $%&* yourself. Love, Canada/UK/New Zealand/Iran.

OK, crude pun intended. It will of course resonate with those who have seen this well-received flick. As with most highly-touted pictures I waited patiently until this was available for rental to take in its greatness. During and after this viewing I engaged in something that I typically do that I'm sure is de rigueur nowadays -that being toggling between IMDB and Wikipedia.  More was written about the international outrage and historical inaccuracies than was about the plot. Pretty perplexing indeed. However, given that dis-proportionality, I find it appropriate to discuss this in a similar manner. First, let's get right to the point. The Academy Award for best picture, the near-perfect Rotten Tomatoes rating, all the hype and hyperbole were well warranted. And then some. Never did I expect a production from the likes of Ben Affleck and George Clooney to have such a measure of outright theatrical excellence. Everything--from the razor-witted dialogue, the environs, the dress, the soundtrack right down to the 'retro-grainy picture resolution' exclaimed 1979/1980--so much so that it made me wax nostalgic more than once.  I remember this era and the events surrounding it quite vividly. You could almost smell leaded gasoline, filter-less Camel cigarette smoke, cheap cologne reeking from leisure suits and Miller beer.  You embark on a tense non-stop ride from Embassy siege to takeoff from Tehran. Any film of this genre that can keep you on edge when you pretty much know the outcome and without excessive blood and gore is special indeed. Bravo.

Now to address the critical 'response' that ensued from covering such a touchy topic on celluloid. First, there was the Canadian knee-jerk. Granted, in retrospect the Canadian involvement was much greater in fact than the story line detailed. But to say that Argo relegated the Ambassador as the 'complicit concierge', a passive party that wished everyone 'good luck' at best was reaching. Even somewhat thoughtful viewers could discern that harboring escapees for months was anything but passive. The implications of which were not just risky but of a grand foreign-relational scale. Then there was the vitriol from British and New Zealand critics. Again, there wasn't a scene showing a 'no room at the inn' response from either Embassy. Just a simple, almost flippant generalization from a harried government official that was meant to foreshadow the plight and near-futility of the situation. Finally, as most would expect, was the Iranian reaction. To say that Argo aggregated an entire ethnic group into a maniacal, savage and radical populace is grasping indeed. In fact, the entire introductory narrative (not to mention a few statements regarding the Shah's wealth, abuse and US support by several on both sides) imply a sentiment that could almost justify the uprising and hatred of the US.  As to the assertion of the film having poor timing---tensions with Iran have been ongoing for years. Come on.

In sum, and most importantly is the glaring fact that this is one of those movies that was 'based on a true story'. No semantics here. 'Based' really does mean based. That is the essence of creative and dramatic license within the realm of the entertainment business. Yes, the moments of peril (and they are replete throughout the movie) are fictitious but suffice it to say that this is not just a movie about Hollywood but one that has its thumbprint of the grandiose therein. It's not a documentary. It's not a personal statement of conviction (to the extent of say a Spielberg).

It's a fiction. Based on a true story. A movie. And an incredibly good one at that.

You don't know Jack, Part II.

OK, apparently I don't know Jack. Seriously.

That is all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You don't know Jack, part I.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

That's been my credo since, well I won't say how long ago.

To be succinct (and trust me, that's a stretch for yours truly) I've gone through about twenty iterations of trying to formulate and implement an "after hours" schedule of digestion and practice of various technologies. The latest rendition involves a revisitation of Ruby and C#--both of which I've been familiar with for some time, with the latter more intimately as the lingua franca of the framework that I'm employed to develop with. As I start perusing (for the fifth time) Jon Skeet's C# in Depth (Second Edition for 4.0) I realize that no matter how much I remediate with other reference there's still a virtual ceiling that I hit. Case in point: a recent presentation at our local .NET user group meeting was on the topic of implementing DSL's using C# lambda's, extension methods and expression trees. Although the basic precepts of metaprogramming are fascinating and the use of extension methods in .NET are pretty straightforward, I still couldn't wrap my head around the expression trees formed by this "cursory" validation library. These trees weren't shrubbery (as the speaker tried to make them out to be), but Redwoods straight out of NorCal. Or should I say Alderwoods from Redmond? I dunno. After the code walkthrough I felt like I might as well have watched someone implement a parser in BrainF*ck. Seriously. There were properties several levels deep. Interfaces without the "I" prefix implemented, of course, covariantly and contravariantly. Tip O' the Hat to Mr. Skeet. Or Eric Lippert. Or Anders Hejlsberg for crying out loud.

Truth be told, if there were any takeaways I had a bit of an epiphany after all was said and done. I realized that some things that are best implemented in the same manner as they are grokked, and that is with utter simplicity and elegance. Ergo my revisitation with Ruby. I've only witnessed Metaprogramming in a few languages admittedly, but the linguistic constructs and object model that allow for this in Ruby seem to be the most simple and definitely the most elegant. 

I recall a flippancy on Stackoverflow once where an ambitious poster wanted a magic metaprogrammatic bullet that had features of several languages and the most upvoted answer was "grow a pair and learn lisp". It's almost reminiscent of the snub that a VB.NET developer would get from the C# camp--those former C++ or Java hacks who believe that syntactic sugar equates to bad practices. It's essentially the same reason that JavaScript, like Ruby is still perceived by this camp as not ready for prime time. Funny that my current regime consists of developing expertise in Java, er, I mean ECMAScript as well as Ruby. Maybe I should just be resigned to the fact that the former, although experiencing a renaissance of sorts, is the ugliness under the hood of the nice new ride that is jQuery that is best left to the front end "architects" of the world and that the latter is nothing more than the dialectical DNA of the Rails framework that will never be adopted by big enterprise and remain within the purview of the avant garde (read: startup) development community.

Alas, I keep C# on the docket--mainly because it's the currency of the .NET development marketplace and it's begun to embrace the dynamism and multiparadigm prowess that the other two languages touted for so many years. Maybe I should just be like G. Gordon Liddy and stick my hand in the proverbial fire. Maybe I already have and just haven't felt the burn quite yet.

What doesn't totally destroy my gray matter, certainly makes me stronger.

What does, will have vindicated Joel Spolsky.

Until then, it's C#, JavaScript and Ruby, and .....

Jack of all trades signing off...