Atlanta .NET User Group

I will be presenting on “Working with new ASP.NET features in .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1” at the Atlanta .NET User Group on Monday, October 27th.  Magenic will be providing refreshments, as usual.   The meeting will begin at 6:00 PM at Microsoft’s Offices in Alpharetta.  It’s a lot of material to pack into an hour long presentation, but I think I have a few good strategies for working with that.  The presentation will cover Dynamic Data, Entity Framework, Data Services, the Silverlight Media Control, the Ajax browser history feature built into the Script Manager, and Script Combining.  That gives me about 10 minutes per technology.  Whew.

Microsoft Corporation
1125 Sanctuary Pkwy.
Suite 300
Atlanta, GA 30004

Directions to Microsoft

The problem with computer literacy

basoliA recent post on Boing Boing is titled Paper and pencil better for the brain than software?  The gist of the article and its associated links is that software, in guiding us through common tasks, actually makes us dumber.  The Dutch psychologist Christof van Nimwegen has performed studies demonstrating the deleterious effects of being plugged-in.  From the post:

“Van Nimwegen says much software turns us into passive beings, subjected to the whims of computers, randomly clicking on icons and menu options. In the long run, this hinders our creativity and memory, he says.”

This certainly sounds right to me, from personal experience.  About a year ago, my company gave away GPS navigation devices as Christmas gifts to all the consultants.  The results are twofold.  On the one hand, we all make our appointments on time now, because we don’t get lost anymore.  On the other, we have all lost our innate sense of direction — that essential skill that got the species through the hunter-gatherer phase of our development.  Without my GPS, I am effectively as blind as a bat without echolocation.

In Charles Stross’s novel about the near future, Accelerando, this experience is taken a step further.  The protagonist Manfred Macx is at one point mugged on the street, and his connection to the Internet, which he carries around with him hooked up to his glasses, is taken away.  As a man of the pre-singularity, however, his personality has become so distributed over search engines and data portals that without this connection he is no longer able to even identify himself.  This is the nightmare of the technologically dependent.

Doctor van Nimwegen’s study recalls Plato’s ambivalence about the art of writing.  His mentor Socrates, it may be remembered, never put anything to writing, which he found inherently untrustworthy. Consequently all we know of Socrates comes by way of his disciple Plato.  Plato, in turn, was a poet who ultimately became distrustful of his own skills, and railed against it in his philosophical writings.  From the modern viewpoint, however, whatever it is that we lose when we put “living” thoughts down to writing, surely it is only through poetry that we are able to recover and sustain it.

It is through poetic imagery that Plato explains Socrates’s misgivings about letters in the Phaedrus:

At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

We can certainly see aspects of Manfred Macx’s experience of disorientation in our dependence on tools like Google and Wikipedia, which provide us all with the same degree of wisdom, or at least the same show of wisdom.  In tracking down the above quote about Theuth, I had to rely on a vague reminiscence that this memory passage occurred in either the Timaeus or the Phaedrus. I then used my browser search functionality to track down the specific paragraph.  Very handy, that search feature.  But how much more wonderful it would have been had I been able to call that up from my own theater of memory.

My only stand against the steady march of progress (from which I make my living, it should be remembered) is that I turn my spell-checker off when I write emails and articles.  A consulting manager recently chastised me for this practice, which he found error prone and somewhat irresponsible.  To this I could only reply, “but I already know how to spell.”  

I should have added, “…for now.”

Visual Studio 2008 SP1 Toolbox Crash

For the past month or so, whenever I tried to add a control to my Visual Studio Toolbox, the IDE would shut itself down.  My solution, of course, was to avoid adding tools to my Toolbox.

Finally I decided that I needed to do something, ahem, a little smarter.  The specific problem occurred when I tried to use the Context Menu’s “Choose Items…” option on my toolbox.   It turns out that the Power Commands (when did I install that?) has a conflict with VS 2008.  This apparently can also mess up the class viewer in Visual Studio 2008.  There are two work-arounds for this.   The first is to hack a config file for your IDE settings.   That solution can be found here:


Unfortunately this didn’t work for me.  The second work-around is simply to uninstall the Power Commands.  If you go into Add/Remove Programs, it is listed as PowerCommands for Visual Studio 2008.


Oddly enough, Add or Remove Programs says I used this particular tool frequently, even though I’m not exactly sure of how I used it. 

Presenting on WCF in October

I will be presenting at GGMUG, the Greater Gwinnett Microsoft User Group, on October 9th.  My topic is building N-tier applications using WCF (the announcement from GGMUG says I’ll be presenting on WPF, but I’m not going to let a consonant get in my way).

Of course all the buzz is around WCF and SOA architectures these days, but people actually still write traditionally architected applications, and WCF makes it soooo easy.

If you are in town and have a few hours to kill, please stop by.  The session starts at 6:30 at Gwinnett Technical College, with food and drinks provided by Magenic Technologies.

Geek Literacy


I’d previously posted about some questions I’d like to ask the Presidential candidates.  The thing is, the questions I’m most interested in aren’t particularly useful to anyone but another geek.  Slashdot has certainly made an effort to pose questions of interest to the sci-fi reading, Scientific American subscribing, computer literate types, but they tend to fall short of being truly interesting — instead they simply cover mundane subjects like the teaching of evolution, global warming and Mars colonization.  Yawn.

Here are the truly geeky questions that should never be answered by anyone seeking higher office and probably should never be asked, but which I find inherently fascinating:

1. If you knew that a deadly AI like Skynet were to emerge in the year 2013 and attempt to enslave mankind, what steps would you take, as President of the United States, to prevent this?

2. If you were the leader of the last 50,000 or so humans who have survived a Cylon attack on the home colonies, would you suspend habeas corpus in order to preserve the fleet?  What advice would you give to President Laura Roslin in a situation like that?

3. As President, would you consider opening up an X Files type section of the FBI?  And would you agree that the show jumped the shark in the last three seasons?

4. Before shoring up Social Security or trying to keep the Medicare program solvent, don’t you think something should be done to prepare the American people for the coming Singularity?

5. Would your counterpart in the Mirror Universe wear a goatee, and what sort of president would he be?

6. As President of the United States, you will have access to the secret files of the FBI, the CIA, and several black agencies none of us no anything about.  What question would you want to have answered first?  — Who shot JFK?  What really happened at Roswell?  What was kept inside of Area 51? Something else?

7.  As President of the United States, you would find out almost immediately if the U.S. government has been in contact with alien civilizations or, say, has a Star Gate that can transport people to alien worlds.  Will you commit, now, to telling us if any of it is true as soon as you find out?

8.  What Jedi power would you most like to have, and what steps would you take to avoid going over to the darkside?

9.  Should the United States have a plan in place in case of mass Zombification?

10. Do you support working towards the colonization of Mars?