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...: Marsh Chatter

Choices… A Recurring Series

Like many aspects of our lives, there are usually too many selections to choose. For example the menus at a coffee shop or a lunch counter, and then we have our developing tools.

In my years of programming, I’ve created test code to determine the “best” way and/or the “fastest” way to perform an action or to evaluate different code. These tests usually result in “throw-a-way” code. This code is used to quickly prove a condition and then move on.

I will use this article title over time, to cover specific cases that I found beneficial to "show" just how much better or faster one use of code over another actually is. These examples will be considered "throw-a-way" code. They will be developed just enough to show consistent results. The parts you would pull out for a fully developed use, will be identified, however all of the supporting form layout and code to just see the results will be considered "ugly".

The first member of this series will be For Loop vs. Do Loop which will then be morphed or refactored using the .NET String Builder Object. Later I will resurrect code used to confirm that DataReaders are significantly faster than DataSets.

In general, you can just believe what others write or tell you... or you can do it yourself. Sometimes you have to take on the challenge and see for yourself. So follow along and get your hands dirty.

Speaking Engagement - AITP Student Chapter

Expecting later in October or early November. Details pending.

A Definition: 3 Levels of Programming Knowledge

In my work with information technology, I see 3 levels of programming knowledge. Sure there might be some blurry lines amongst the levels and even many sub-levels in each, but these generalizations help me understand who someone is and how to work with them in business.

Triangle used as a methaphorI arrange the levels as an upside-down pyramid for 2 reasons; as you move down each level 1) there are less people in each role and 2) there is more "pressure or responsibility". An upside down pyramid is a good metaphor for this arrangement, in that if the first level people don't do their job the entire pyramid crashes. If the second level people don't do their job, only the third level people are affected.

So let's see what those levels are...

Third level - Get the Job Done

Best represented by the person who just wants to get a solution to their question - these people are everyday people using a computer. There are a lot of them. They don't want to know about the how or why... they just want it to work. These people are your family members, your co-workers in business, and your employers & customers. These people think second levelers are "Wizards".

Second level - Build and They Will Come

Best represented by most developers today. They are interested in and tasked with building the applications used by the third level. The second level people are interested in best case and speed for programs using the tools available to them (e.g. the how). These people may or may not have Computer Science (CS) degrees and in fact... many do not. They are people who have significant high level programming knowledge gained over time from work experience (OJT), reading books, or in programming courses. These people know they are not "Wizards".

First level - Beyond The Curtain

Best represented by the programmers who know the bits & bytes. They work at the deeper levels of programming and their work creates the tools used by the second level. They know the "why" of code. They have Computer Science (CS) degrees and probably more advanced architecture, operating systems, and other degrees - usually at the doctorate level. These people "are Wizards".

Where do I fit?

I am definitely a second level. My one experience of working with Assembler was enough to steer me in a different direction. Working with our higher level developer tools, I can create things and teach those at the second & third levels how to expand their knowledge and abilities. I primarily learn from the work of my peers at the second level and those at the first level.

Learning from Third Levelers?

People at the third level have a way of expanding my teaching abilities... the same way that children surprise adults. No, I am not calling those at the third level… children - in fact, those at higher levels usually "humble" those at lower levels. We may think we know more - but those around us… adjust our thinking!

A Definition: "User" = derogatory

International No sign with Users centered in it.

Yes, that's right! I believe calling someone a " user" is actually an insult and many times is meant to be an insult. If you've spent any time on a helpdesk you know exactly what I mean. The comments "offline" are definitely meant as a negative. Many comics directed at, or about, the technology arena persist this interpretation (e.g. user = dumb). And there is even a line of books which insult people by calling them dumb (although the assumption is, it's not meant negatively - alas, assume is making an… ok not going there).

I formed this opinion "way back" in the 1980's. In fact, I was of the opinion that it was a negative term before that, as a result of its popular use in the 1970's to define "people who use illegal drugs" - hence the negative connotation was built-in even before PC's became popular.

Yes… I am, on the outside of the box, relative to the norms in the Information Technology arena. That's fine… it's OK every now and then, to swing from different trees than the rest of the monkeys!

There are many who argue "for" its usage because it is more general in nature. In fact, I even read content from one person who said "get over it". Alas, not gonna happen here. I refer to groups of people using positive "names" in all cases except for one. See entry on junk mailers/posters.

SO… you say, how do I describe, call, or write about "people who use computers". Well, really now, it's not so hard. I call them my family, my co-workers, my customers, and my friends. If you fall back to using the word "user" - you're taking the easy way out and in the process insulting those around you.

How soon we forget our first day picking up a book about computers and our first tap, tap, tap at the keyboard - yes, even you didn't "get it" at some point. Help the person learn - don't make like you're a gate keeper of all things computing. No matter how you feel about "those people" - without them, our work has no reason to exist! If you find yourself making negative comments and saying "users!" - then you might not be in the right "job" and maybe it's time to seek other employment avenues, not people related.

Change your language to weed out this word and you will find that your marketing content, blog entries, and help content "sounds" much more positive. A side benefit: your attitude changes relative to your interactions with those around you. Go ahead… kick and scream. Say it's too in-grained in the lexicon. Well, it might be… but does that mean you have to jump off the bridge, too?

September 11, 2001

I know people who were directly affected at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

My wife contacted me at work and let me know that a plane crashed into the WTC. I of course figured it was a joke, or was just someone in a small prop-job not thinking straight. So I immediately hit the Internet to see what the news channel sites had posted. Alas, my suspicions were raised because the sites did not respond. I hung up the phone and I went up to the conference room where people were already gathering around a TV that did not even have an antenna. Yet, because we were 7 floors up in downtown Kalamazoo with windows pointing toward the ABC station in Battle Creek we could actually get a signal that was watchable.

Like others around the nation - watch we did. We watched the 2nd plane fly into/through the second tower. We watched as each tower tumbled to the ground. And then we watched more. Although we were detached, being in "middle America" - we discussed what was happening to those in the towers - having shortly before that watched Kalamazoo's finest firefighters respond to our little 8-story building for a drill. How tired they were, climbing to the 7th floor in full gear going up the 90+ year old narrow stairs as we were going down. We could only imagine and comment on how those fire fighters in New York were going up 60, 70, or 80 floors - in full gear!

Not long after of course, the Pentagon was struck and the TV coverage switched or split-screen to that location. News organizations could not keep up with the flow of news. Was a report valid, should we go to air with it. I continued to monitor the Internet, slow as it was.

Someone I worked with when I was in the Navy was a member of the Pentagon Naval contingent. I later found out, this area was hit hard by the crash. By chance, he was attending an early morning meeting far enough away from the crash zone; alas he lost many friends & co-workers.

Like others around the nation - our employers not long after issued a voice mail to let us know we were free to go home to our families. We did. And then we all continued to watch.

Many gave up watching and remembering, over the years.

I continue to remember AND watch - but mostly because I still cannot believe people of the world - in the 21st Century - would be this stupid. Not out of naivety, but out of "can we all just grow up, get along, and move the human experience forward". Alas, I guess it really is the former…

Eagle carrying U.S. Flag w/shadow portraits of soldiersYou are wrong if you want to forget. That just enables the "fringe" to try harder to put it in front of you again. Maybe the next time, you will be directly affected and you won't be able to forget! I feel sorry for you if that's what it takes.

Until then, the U.S. will just carry you like always.

To my fellow Sisters & Brothers in the military - strength begets peace. Thank you!

Never forget!

Different Worlds…

Although your home or work may be all you know, the world is not just what you see around you. There are many hidden worlds; some you may actually visit. Most are hostile to human's. Adaptation isn't tough, you just have to do it.

Case in point… The world below the surface of the ocean, lake, or river. Yes, it exists and it is alive!

For about 15 years, I ventured below every chance I could and as a SCUBA Instructor Trainer, I helped many others to realize the same adventure. As tour leader and later store manager at Rec Diving, I met great people, had many great dives, and saw many wonderful countries.

Picture of me underwater; credit: Thomas Williams
Here I am during a trip in 1986. My good friend and SCUBA Instructor,
Tom Williams (R.I.P.) took this picture of me over a reef in the Bahamas.

Tom introduced me to this great sport during my first semester in college. You see, I was already 3 credits over full time, so I figured I should take a fun class, too! I always wanted to do SCUBA and it was available, so there you go… Right place, Right Time!

Although Tom started out as my instructor, Tom became a great friend in life and a mentor in the world of SCUBA. Every time I teach I think of the guidance Tom passed along. Sadly, Tom left this world too early as a result of lung cancer (American Cancer Society), believed to have been caused by Radon gas emissions in his basement gym.

The waters of Michigan are actually my favorite diving location. The bottom of some lakes are very surreal and the big lakes have many shipwrecks to blow bubbles around. While I have many, two of my most favorite diving memories are:

  1. My first dive in Orchard Lake with Tom. We were down near the bottom of the bowl, roughly 100 feet down on an overcast day. There was enough light that we didn't need our dive lights, but as anyone who dives the lakes knows, visibility was a brown 10-20 feet with the cold thermocline well above us. As we approached the bottom, I stuck my glove covered hand out to feel the texture of the bottom. Much to my surprise the bottom was not "hard" - in fact it was not there at all. What appeared to be the bottom turned out to be layer upon layer of decaying leaves and other matter. No, it wasn't gross! It felt like nothing was there as I guided my hand, then arm deeper and deeper into the "bottom". At one point, I just "swooped" my whole body down through this mass and then back up. To me, this experience fits going to a "Different World"!
  2. I had a last minute opportunity to dive the wrecks of Isle Royale (Wikipedia), in Lake Superior. Isle Royale National Park is recognized as a world biosphere for its Moose & Wolf population. Another instructor (Susan Kushner) and I jumped at this chance without a second thought!

    The drive to Portage, Minnesota is a fair drive from southeast Michigan (like 14-16 hours). Thankfully, another instructor friend (Thanks Laurie Miller) loaned us her van to make it easier to haul our gear (e.g. drysuits, multiple sets of regulators, 6 SCUBA tanks, about 30 lbs of weights each, sleeping bags, tools, etc). The dive boat was a small 35-40ish foot live-aboard - small front cabin (3" cushions on plywood) and a foldout dinette for sleeping. Including crew there were 7 of us going for 5 days of circumnavigation of the Isle with 2-3 dives each day. If you expect the Princess - you took a wrong turn on the highway… it's about the diving, not the above water time.

    Diving the wrecks of Isle Royale ranges from the shallow to the very deep, with a mix of old wooden vessels to steel hulled freighters and lots of rocks. Isle Royale has very clear water, but a very rocky shore and with the 'gales of November' (e.g. Gordon Lightfoot's song), darkness, fog, and snow - you can bet they don't mix well with ships.

    The Isle has 3 outstanding wrecks available to a sport diver. The America - a passenger boat (steel), the Chester A. Congden - the 'fish head wreck' (steel freighter), and the Emperor (steel freighter). Each is interesting for their own reasons and due to the cold water and steel hull, the wrecks look like the day they went down. The Congden is the dive that disorients many divers due to the steepness of how it is resting on the bottom, and the Emperor for the length and depth of its stern. The America more for its story. While actually quite shallow and near to shore - the passengers still had to swim to shore in the cold Lake Superior water and then walk several miles to help.

    For me, at the Isle, the Emperor is the "Different World" dive. There are wrecks deeper - but this one is a complete ship and reasonably accessible in that you can sit back at the stern and look up and see the stern illuminated by the sun in a very visible, but slightly hazy green glow - yet you are 140+ feet underwater (ask me in person what the + was). It is a magnificent view!

Look for the Different Worlds! They make life interesting.

P.S. ask me about hiking Isle Royale, it is also a Different World!

Developer Survey

I took the 2008 survey. If you develop applications that use the "Web" (Intranet or Internet) - I urge you to take it also. Time is short.

I took the 2008 survey

Flush the Junk

Sarcasm: down the drain imageNegativism is a useless waste of your brain chemicals and will be ignored. This includes the unfortunate waste of human energy - Junk mailer and their close relative the Junk poster.

Both do nothing but waste valuable bandwidth (e.g. Internet and personal time). The death penalty is too good for these idiots. BTW ...: they do not deserve to use the name of the meat product and I will not. They are "junk", pure and simple.

Some might say "one man's junk is another's gold" - alas in this case I cannot agree. In the words of the character, Frank Barone (R.I.P. Peter Boyle), "That's Crap". But I don't want to call them crap, because as one who spends a fair amount of time in the garden, we have a good use for crap... only we call it manure. In the case of the junk mailer or poster - there is no amount of composting that will make what they do valuable!