Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

November, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Insert Cute Little Cartoon Mascot Here

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    A long long time ago in a place far far away I was an operating system developer. OK it wasn't a place far far away in that it was here in New Hampshire where I still live but for many of you that is a far far away place in some ways. This was almost 25 years ago and that is a long long time ago in computer terms. Anyway, the operating system was called RSTS/E and it was a great little OS.

    The development team was one of the best organizations I ever worked with because the people were just plain great. Two of the things that made the team great were its sense of humor and its dedication to supporting their customer base. As part of that support the development group sent people to some major users group meetings. A popular part of the program was the opportunity to submit questions to the development team and have them answered publicly.

    One year someone made a feature request (or perhaps it was a bug report) and added a line to the effect that "any bozo could make that change." The team had a good laugh over that one because of course it was far from an easy thing to do. Then they decided to have some real fun. They went out and rented a Bozo the Clown costume for the next day. The question/issue was read from the stage and when that last line was read a member of the team burst into the room in costume yelling "I object." "Bozo" helped answer questions for the rest of the session and a good time was had by all. Bozo the Clown then became the unofficial symbol of the group for some time to come.

    Digital Equipment, the company that owned RSTS/E, had several operating systems for several different kinds of hardware. When I was at DEC (or Digital as our company president preferred to call it) the big operating system with all the investment and prestige was VMS. VMS had an unofficial mascot as well. Theirs was a Cheshire Cat. If you go to the RSTS/E page at Wikipedia you will find a logo with a bull dog (another character that was used on occasion to represent RSTS/E) and you will notice something coming out of the dog's mouth. That something is the tail of a Cheshire Cat. A little rivalry on display.

    One can see a little of that sort of rivalry at Microsoft these days. In this case it is largely seen in the programming language teams. It's all friendly of course and the teams work very well together as far as I can tell. But like so many things there are perceptions of better and worse, more and less powerful, more and less popular, and more or less prestigious. Paul Vick blogged about some of this in the context of the "persona" that the Visual Studio team uses to describe the types of developers that they are targeting. He's not all that happy with the one many people ascribe to Visual Basic and suggests another one.

    I like his suggestion a lot. But part of me really thinks what they need is a good, friendly cartoon character to use as a mascot. I'm not sure what to use for the various programming languages though.

    Perhaps the Road Runner for C++. You know - very fast but hard to understand and often frustrating for people trying to contain it.

    For C# maybe Mighty Mouse- fast and powerful and yet somehow approachable.

    For VB maybe a dolphin - smooth, friendly, helpful and just hard to hate. Let's make him look ready for business though. VB is for people who like to get things done and have fun doing it.

    I'm sure someone else, someone more creative, can come up with better ones. I just want to get people thinking about the idea.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Creating An Install Project and More

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    This is sort of a two for one post. The first thing that happened is that Clint Rutkas created a little program to delay the start up of all the applications he had running when his computer booted up. While the program is useful for itself I think it is also useful as a way to see how things are done. Things like reading files, setting up configurations and of course starting processes. You can read about the program and get the source code here.

    Well the next thing you know Clint's manager (Martin Schray) said "how about an installer to make it easier to install?" The obvious reply was "great idea Martin, let me know when it's done." We're a casual group here. The other thing about our little group is that we seldom miss an opportunity for take advantage of the "the teachable moment." In this case that means that Martin recorded a screencast that demonstrates step by step how to make an installer project. You can see the screencast here. So if you have wondered how to create an install program using Visual Studio 2005 now you have a place to go.

    I of course have just jumped in to tell others about it. I love work. I can watch it for hours. :-)

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    What in the world is a Developer Evangelist?

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    The word "evangelist" is showing up in job titles more and more these days. But what is a job like that all about? I tend to describe it as being in the "making friends and influencing people" business. But that is just my perspective.

    Recently Channel 9 posted a very entertaining interview with a pair of Microsoft's Developer Evangelists. These women are not the stereotypical computer expert and not just because they are women! While those of us who have been around the computer business for a while know that a sense of humor is not just helpful but required a lot of people assume that computer people are boring and humorless. Listening to this interview may go a long way towards convincing people otherwise.

    It is interesting hearing them talk about women in what is still, unfortunately, a bit of a man's world. Apparently one of the good things is short or non-existent lines at the women's room at conferences. Who knew?

    Lynn Langit and Asli Bilgin also talk about the different paths that took them to their present careers. It's an interview well worth a listen.

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