December 18, 2000-- Newsletter #111

By Joe Burns

December 18, 2000--Newsletter #111
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warrior,

Well, my semester has ended and not too many students were upset with their final grade. That's a pretty good sign. I am on break now and will spend most of my off time trying to get ahead on Goodies tutorials. Because there will be times I simply cannot look at the computer screen any more I've started a couple of books. I mean I'm reading them, not writing them. I'm about halfway through with both and I am enjoying them immensely.

The first is titled The Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper. It's about how technology created by programmers is just not overly helpful to the general public. Computational advances are made to better the power of the system rather than to help those of us who want to actually use the power for ourselves. Next time you're in a bookstore, just read the first two pages and you'll be hooked. It's very funny and well written, a great stocking stuffer for the tech-head you know and love.

The second is a little academic. No, it's a lot academic. It's titled, Visual Explanations by Edward Tufte. A Goodies reader suggested it to me. Its content is a little difficult to explain. Tufte is interested in the visual and how it affects the viewer. I'm not really doing the content justice with that statement but to nail the topic down would take a couple of paragraphs more than you probably want to read. If you're at all interested in design of any kind, this might be one to pick up. It's a little pricey and you'll see why when you open the front cover. The paper stock is much better than your average book and the pages are full of flaps and things to play with. It's a very enjoyable book to read and play with.

Did you hear

There won't be as many dot-com commercials running during this season's Super Bowl. CBS television is getting round about 2.5 million for ad space and the Internet giants of last year are just not flocking to the game. I have heard that and E-Trade will return but past that, it's all the traditional football sponsor fare.

NAPSTER got us all up in arms about music and money on the Internet. Well, it looks like copyright is going to bite one more time. In a ruling by the U.S. Copyright Office, radio stations will now have to pay more for the rights to broadcast music if the station's signal is carried over the Internet. That's too bad. You would think that paying the ASCAP and BMI blanket fee would be enough. This might spell the end of a lot of stations delivering their signal over the Web. If I was a radio station General Manager, I don't know that I would pay the extra fees unless research could conclusively prove to me that the Internet signal was drawing listeners or selling sponsor product.

Let's all move to Oberhambach, Germany! As a cyber-test by the German government, all 279 residents of Oberhambach are going to receive a free computer and Internet access. This first German Internet community is a research project aimed at determining if Internet access will help older, isolated people reconnect with a community. If I hear the results, I'll let you know.

Now onto today's topic

I have to stop going to conferences.

I just attended the C|Net Builder's Live conference in New Orleans. The same thing that happens to me at all tech conferences happed there. I walked through the book room and saw the absolute sea of letters representing programming languages. I was, as were most people I'm sure, overwhelmed.

On the second floor was the demonstration room. Every company from IBM to brand new start-ups were there showing off their new wares. I stood for 20 minutes while a guy pitched his new drag and drop database system. In just a couple of minutes he built a database that would have taken a PERL or PHP programmer days to complete. I was amazed and wondered how long my knowledge base would hold out.

I talked to a myriad of programmers who would all say the same basic thing, I know a little PERL, a little JavaScript, a little Java, a little XML, and some HTML.

The letters may change, but that was the basic concept of their statements. It got me thinking. Since the world of technology moves so fast, is that really all we can hope for as programmers? Can the best we shoot for is knowing, a little or some?

I ask that because in order to really stand out in the world of programming one must not be on the cutting edge but rather on what has been termed the bleeding edge. If that's the case, how can any one person hope to know any more than a little? By the time a programmer gets a grasp on the newest language, another three or four letters are lifted from the alphabet soup and a new tome is placed on the conference book-room table.

I like to get into a discussion with students who are choosing classes. They often ask what they should take. My question to them is rather broad.

Is it better to know one topic very well, or to know many topics at an average level?

Which do you think is better? Should a programmer devote his or her attention to one language and know it through and through or should the programmer know a little of ten different languages.

I think many programmers would immediately answer that is it best to know many, but why? My thinking is that the market demands it. In order to succeed in the world of Internet programming, one must know all that is coming out when it comes out. I can't tell you how many emails I receive asking when I will be putting up my 30-step primer series on the latest and greatest programming language.

It's a real struggle to undertake the time to learn enough of a new language and then write tutorials only to watch the language fall by the wayside a year later. There have been many times I simply chose to ignore a language because I knew I simply couldn't do it justice because I would only be able to offer tutorials on a little.

If I am correct in my assumptions, then the world of programming is made up of mainly people that know a little of this, a little of that, and some more of this. Yes, I know that a programmer's definition of a little is a far more deep an understanding than the Weekend Silicon Warrior, but still it's a knowledge base spread over many areas without perfecting any one area.

Which would be better, a group of programmers that know a little of this and a little of that or ten programmers who are all masters in their own field?

I would like to see more of the later. Maybe this coming year, we could not put out any new alphabet soup languages and allow programmers to focus on their chosen language, and then at the end of the year we could make a decision about what really works and what really doesn't. Then we might know what language must come out next rather than simply jumping on whatever comes out next.

It's a thought, but I have to go now. I am off to read my latest reference book on VMLXMLASP.


That's That. Thanks for reading.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: The two largest fruit crops on earth are the grape and the banana.

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