Saturday, December 31, 2005

Educated Plumbers

Joel Spolsky just released one of his excellent piece of wisdom, this one explaining how the great bargain of IT courses makes his life difficult when trying to select smart recruits. He is of course fully right but I feel like adding a few words.

First, the sabotage of education is not limited to IT: my wife being a math teacher, I can tell you that the level of what she is teaching is constantly on the down curve. It is like the attention span of young generations has narrowed so much that it is not an option anymore to dare exposing them to problems that need several minutes of reflection to be solved.

Second, it is certainly not wise to focus on a particular language when teaching the fundamentals of software development. In fact, when I recruit someone, I do not particularly care about what language she studied at school, the courses is more important: evaluating if the candidate has learnt to learn is the key point. Then I focus on language and frameworks only for particular projects.

Then, yes Joel, Java can be learnt in two days (like C#): what takes a lot of time is mastering the whole SDK, dealing correctly with multi-threaded environment and thinking object oriented. This takes years to learn, even for a master of C.

Finally, nowadays 90% of the programmers will spend their day on plumbing jobs: connecting beans to cryptic frameworks and deploying them on fussy application servers. They will not deal with writing core algorithms, so the average mind will show some convincing signs of success, until confronted to some serious problem. Then the difference between an educated plumber and a seasoned craftsman will show.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Rediscovering Verne

I am reading Jules Verne again: last time I was too young and got overwhelmed with his long descriptions and the usage of incredibly exotic units (I was raised as a metric-system mind).

It is a true pleasure to rediscover this author, both in his famous books and in the less known ones. I do not consider Jules Verne as a visionary: he has not foreseen anything like the heavier-than-air vehicles or the usage of oil as a source of energy. He is not such a scientist as well: you can see that he hardly explains what system allows the space travelers to survive the enormous acceleration of the bullet that carries them to the Moon.

But he is very well informed on the state of science and technologies of his time, and extremely good at imagining what could be the most advanced versions of what he was seeing around him. For me, he is more an extrapolative mind than a prophetic one!

But there are of course some interesting coincidences, like the fact that he estimated a lift-off to the Moon would happen either in Texas or Florida, when actually it was from Florida controlled from Texas!

Globally, it is a rejuvenating experience to read his books: his faith in science and engineering, his depiction of righteous men, his fascination for nature are communicative: it makes the grey and gloomy days of winter a little brighter and hopeful.

Moreover his true admiration for the United States, which he considers the land of bold endeavors and true democracy, is also refreshing, because full of genuine tenderness. Can Jules Verne help rediscovering America?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The other David does not like you too

I really have a problem with tailgaters, like David Lynch. Not only the jerks could not avoid crashing into my car if I have to do an emergency braking but they won't make me drive any bit faster because the cruise control does not care about how close is the car behind.

I think that tailgaters lack consistency: if they do not want to respect the speed limit (which I usually exceed of 5%) then they should overtake, whether we are in town or the line is plain, because why would they bother of one regulation (passing prohibited) and not another one (speed limit).

Finally, unless tailgaters sign an agreement where they would pay the tickets I would get if I drive faster to please them... they can stick to my fender!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Intelligent Resign

Like many people in France, I have heard about the controversy that currently takes place in the US about creation and what is called "Intelligent Design".

Of course, in the post-Christian society that is France, this kind of debate looks curious at best and more generally incredibly obsolete for the vast majority of people who think that Christian faith is a middle-aged superstition and a crutch for weak persons.

This "intelligent design" debate will not help ridding these prejudices and misconceptions: there is nothing intelligent in wasting energy in talking about subjects that are all but extremely peripheral to the core of the message that Christians should broadcast. There is nothing new in this kind of intellectual diversions: re-read what Paul has written to Titus about this, almost two millenniums ago.

Confronting science and faith is a sterile debate: they are both in different non-competing fields (the "how" and the "why") and both can benefit from each other. Can not faith be re-enforced by the beauty and the majesty of the discoveries made in the heart of the matter or at the borders of the known universe? Can not science benefit from a little consciousness when it comes to potentially dangerous discoveries?

And on the subject of what is taught to kids at school, I really think that there are more serious threats that weight on our children than hearing about the theory of evolution. Living in a fallen world is all about filtering, anyway!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Wish Kids

Does anyone remember the Whiz Kids? This TV show has been a flop: one season and off it went... But for me it was a true revelation.

I think this show hit France a few years after its US release. At this time I was already hooked on computers, or at least what we used to call "computers" at this time (I am of course talking about the electronic spawn of Sir Sinclair).

Everything seemed possible in the Whiz Kids: pervasive computers were the key of all the plots and the sun was constantly shining above these smart young Californians.

I reckon that I must blame this show for having set my mind on two major wishes: become an expert in taming computers and relocate to California... So far, it is a 50% success (the geographical part of the challenge remains unfulfilled) ; should the show have taken place in Anchorage, I sure might not be eager to reach the 100% target!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

This Is Called Revulsion

I feel pretty ashamed about the fact that, until I recently learnt that Lavoisier died on the guillotine during the French terror, I was pretty neutral (if not favorable) with the concept of revolution, more precisely, violent ones.

I needed to realize the atrocity of the death of such a beautiful mind, who contributed so much to the development of science, to reconsider my position. Lavoisier was hastily judged on the fact that he used to be a "general farmer", i.e. a tax collector for the king. His death was merely symbolic.

For the same symbolic reason, millions of people died in Cambodia, Cuba, China and many other places where the word "revolution" has been invoked as a reason for violently removing the people who were somehow symbols of the previous regime.

Were all these deaths and all this pain worth it? Read my lips: not a drop of blood was worth it. History has shown, and shows time and again, that a revolution always ends up by replacing one form of human servitude with another one.

What happened recently in Ukraine (the Orange revolution) brilliantly confirms the message of Gandhi: a peaceful crowd can accomplish great things, including revolutions that would take the life of no-one, hence that would not nurture fear, anger and the need for revenge.

Friday, October 14, 2005

From Simple To Dumb?

Now what? There is an on-going effort to simplify Spring's configuration lead by James Strachan himself under the jolly name of XBean and this terrifies me to death.

First: when Mr. Strachan talks of simplicity people using Struts and other Strachian offspring can reasonably start to wet their pants.

Second: Spring is already simple: who on Earth needs to make simplicity simpler, especially when the risk is to make things simplistic if not dumb!

True XBean offers a richer XML syntax where beans are represented by actual elements but this remains XML, no harder, no simpler. Would a new DOS syntax have made it simpler? The true simplicity came from a layer above.

Hence, what could make Spring simpler would be a powerful Eclipse plug-in that would allow me to not only wire my beans but also to take advantage of other features of the framework (JMX exposition, AOP, MVC and, why not, Webflow): this would hide XML completely and really make Spring simpler.

Post-Scriptum: People knowing NxBRE could argue that this post is a cheap shot as I did exactly the same when I introduced a richer syntax for the Flow Engine by XSL-Ting the general de-typed XML Schema into a more specific one. To my defense, let me point out that I have never claimed that the new syntax will be simpler, the goal was to make it richer...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Back to 1936

The latest incidents in Corsica remind me of my youth, when we were protesting in the streets, trying to convince the government

to maintain its stake in the deficit laden steel industry sector. 25 years have past and steel industry, as well as coal mining, are history in France, sacrificed on the altar of profitability. Is this sad? Surely for all the families that have been badly hit by the situation, but looking at the tough work conditions of these industries, it might be better to follow the trend of western countries and evolve to a service and leisure oriented society (who said shallow?).

Anyway, it was profitable for common good to relieve the state from such debt-crippled industries, and the same applies to the ferry operator SNCM. What is tragic is the incapacity of the government to explain this simple fact that there is no more wonderland and welfare states ; what is also tragic is the fact that the unions are still engrossed in concepts dating from the middle of the 20th century.

A nice alternative would have been to help the employees of the SNCM to buy their company, make it their own so they would take care of it in the way that would please them and make them proud. That would have been a better investment than this pathetic last-minute promise of keeping a few percent stake in the operator.

But we live now in a society that has the luxury of considering that rights are not balanced with duties, so it is easier to enter in a useless and expensive blockade to have workers rights recognized instead of helping them dealing with the duty of saving and restoring the company they work for so hard.

This is not a easy talk and surely not one you want to hold less than two years from presidential elections. Who cares about truly empowering people? Let the noise-making property-breaking unions do their show. Welcome back to 1936.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Thin Ice of Civilization

Yep this is a sheer paraphrase of Pink Floyd, but it so applies to our world today.

How thick do you think is the varnish of civilization that covers the true misery of human existence?

Several centuries of so-called humanism have left us with pink-glass shades that drive most of us in a true denial of our inner nature and an hopeless faith in humanity.

How much is this humanity worth in Iraq's bloodbath or Louisiana's flood? The value of humanity is not 6 billion times the value of a single human being: it is equal to the very value granted to single human life.

Break the thin ice of civilization and you discover this value...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Land of Disappointment

A few weeks ago, I was back from the US and readers of this blog surely have noticed my enthusiastic and exhilarated pro-American post named "A land of Possibilities". Now, hurricane Katrina came, devastated New Orleans, took many lives and left me with some disappointment (I recognize that the latter is definitively of no importance!).

Let me express this disappointment with questions:
  • How come a country that can mobilize so much energy to achieve so many harsh and complex endeavors, as it regularly does, can be so grossly mismanaging such a natural disaster?

  • How come, when it was about putting off an imaginary threat in a remote country, no human life nor billion of dollars have been spared ; and when it is about dealing with a genuine imminent menace, so few has been done?
Well, may be because, after all, disappointment is also a possibility...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tainted Green

A friend of mine recently posted on his colorful and witty blog a little reflection about using vegetal oil instead of gasoil in diesel engines, which triggered some thoughts and lead to what you are currently reading.

Let me introduce you to the French ecologist political party named Les Verts. With the increasing environmental issues (lack of water, extreme weather events) and the energy crisis (need for alternate source of power), you could imagine that those guys would be booming.

Let me give you the big no-no: they are not. They are divided and wishy-washy, thus weak and useless. To be more accurate, they made the single biggest mistake an environmentalist party could make: they decided not to be politically neutral and took side for leftist parties. Therefore from truly green they turned pink, if not red.

This tragic mistake made ecology a left-side concern, when it should have been a truly independent and impartial business ; a third power with the mission of issuing warnings and suggesting new paths about how to run the country in an environment-friendly way.

I think that people are readier to pay attention to ecologists: everyone knows how harsh we scorch the Earth and how bad she gets mad at us ; everyone knows how our oil-based energy system is unsustainable both politically and ecologically ; everyone knows that it is time for a change unless we want to impotently watch the upcoming disaster.

Can tainted green be turned back to its original color?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Blue Oyster Wisdom

Airplanes make strangers of us all
Give us distance

Much too easily

Blue Oyster Cult, Mirrors, In Thee

Oh boy, what a summer! Airplanes in the news almost every day, and not for good reasons: the birds keep falling down, claiming the lives of hundred of passengers and crew members, leaving us with sadness and doubts.

Is flying so benign after all?

As a (currently grounded) pilot, my answer will be of course: no. Flying is a very involving activity, where the most critical part of the job (landing) is performed when the pilot is the most tired (after hours of flight) and where there is no easy way out like parking on the side of the road for a little break...

But, as a very distracted driver, famous for increasing the chaos level of highway traffic (dubbed as "D-Factor" by my friends), I will remind you that flying remains the safest way of transportation! The shocking thing about a plane crash is that it takes many lives at a time, while it will take more car crashes to reach the same death toll.

Anyway, this blog was not about travel safety, it was about another side effect of airplanes. Nowadays, you can work and meet people all around the world and then, just after you started to have feelings for them, you fly back home.

Your cherished ones will expatriate to some remote land where you will pay visit to them from time to time, but soon it will, again, be time to fly back home.

Home is known to be where your heart is, but, because of these airplanes, your heart will be in so many different locations, so where will your home be?

The heck to such hollow concepts as "global village", this hurts! Even BOC knew it and this was in good old 1979...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Land of Possibilities

I am just back from my usual summer trip to the US and I have to say that, more than ten years after I started to roam this country, I am still very impressed.

Not only by the awesome landscapes I had the opportunity to discover in Utah and Arizona, but also by the spirit of the people. Let me detail a little.

There are many places in the world that you would like be emptied of the locals prior visiting: yep, I am thinking of France! Just imagine France without the French! As far as I am concerned, this does not apply to the US: Americans are really interesting people to meet and discover how they live.

The main driver I have discovered in the different places I have visited and people I have met is that things are possible there.

Roads are too narrow and create the heck of traffic jams? Let's widen them, let's build new ones! How about car pool lanes to encourage car-sharing? Ever dreamt of drive-in banks? It is there. Ordering Wendy's while refilling the tank? Piece of cake... Want a new job in a field where you do not hold a diploma? Who cares? Work hard, perform and you're in!

This country is a place where will in action produces results in order to make things reality, not any land but a true land of possibilities.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Summer Bloody Summer

So it's all wicked and bloody and sad, as a summer can be.

First, Paris loses the Olympic Games in favor of London. Personally, I do not really care nor know how bad it is, but according to people around me, it's pretty sad news, so I am emphatically affected.

Then, the morning after, London gets hit by terrorists and many people lose their lives. It seems that using the US Army as a bait in Iraq is not enough anymore: terror is coming back to us, as Al Qaida resumed their deadly agenda.

Only two flashes of light this week:
  • the European Parliament rejected Software Patents: that was enough of this non-sense that could only satisfy big corporate.

  • and the success of Deep Impact, a jolly NASA mission that consisted in crashing a probe on a comet.
Pfew, I just can't wait the autumn gloom.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

It's going to be a beautiful spring...

What happens to me? Summer has been here for five days and I start talking about spring... Well, in fact, I mean to talk about this Spring.

Yes, the Spring framework is beautiful. Not only: it is a friendly framework that goes where you want, without forcing you to subclass its objects. It is full of facilitators that make a developer's life really easier.

I already had this academic knowledge. Since a few days, I have tasted the true nature of Spring, and my life has changed.

I have just started a new open source project (jinFORM) and after a few days already used these features:

  • the Dependency Injection framework (the true core of Spring) for gluing all the components together (bye bye infamous Mr. Service Locator!),

  • web flow for MVC support, easy URL/controller mapping and centralized exception support,

  • EHCache support, for a no-brainer instantiation of the cache manager,

  • AOP for introducing Serializable in DOM documents and JAXP XSL Templates, where this interface is missing, which prevents them from being cached,

  • property file support for easily injecting configuration values into beans,

  • and many utilities like the so convenient FileCopyUtils...
Next step will be to use Spring for easily exposing internal objects as JMX beans!

If you have not started to use Spring, please do yourself a favor and follow this link.

Kudos to the Spring team!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Eurotrash in Euroland

Old habits die hard: Europe is once again on the verge of... of what? Nervous breakdown? Temporary malfunction?

In a world where compromise is not an option, the current tensions are not surprising. Our favorite politicians flex their muscles in Brussels to look like champions fighting for their own homeland, in order to appease nationalists and protectionists at home.

And all this costs an awful lot of money. Is it worth it? Yes, definitively. Burning billions of cash to feed and bread eurocrats is still much less expensive than risking war again. Investing money in such rooster parades, I mean, high level political talks, is worth each and every penny: let them meet, talk, get angry and reconcile... When they do that, they do not ask us to fight each other.

Talking about things that die hard, I know someone able to handle this eurotrash: John MacLaine! Beware politicians...

Monday, June 06, 2005

Get Out Of My Field!

So Martin Fowler reminds us what we all should already know, that people matter most. Why does he have to do that? Probably because in I.T. you very often face the situation where this obvious statement is loudly claimed while at the same time people are considered disposable. There is certainly an attitude problem, that finds its source in both the employers and the employees.

Employers: If I.T. is for you only a way to generate margin by selling at higher price what you have bough cheaper, please leave the field! We do not need you here, we all suffer from your cold cynicism: clients get infuriated because you sell rookies as experts, experts get mad at you because you break the market prices. Consider selling gravel and stones.

Employees: If software development is for you only your day activity where pride and thoroughness are excluded, please leave the field! We need a true mixture of professionalism and passion in here. We do not want bland little minds but people devoted to provide clients with the most efficient, most valuable and most durable solutions. Consider civil service in a governmental agency.

Thank you.

Gee! With a little more cursing, I could turn that one into a bile!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Dog Called Rover

I curse the day that I spent listening to Scott Meyers during the last SD West. Since this very moment, whenever I am facing arbitrary restrictions in a software, I am seized by Scott's spirit , turn berserk and start climbing up the walls shouting : Keyhole! Keyhole! Keyhole! That is pretty embarrassing.

What is a keyhole for a software? It is the poetic name Scott has given to such an arbitrary restriction. Text box too small, fixed-size windows, all these limitations that make life so much fun are keyholes.

Some are simply annoying, other are potentially dangerous.

For example, the last keyhole that drove me the Hulk-way, was the incapacity of Windows XP's new search facility to find string content in files whose extensions are not recognized by the OS. Why such a limitation? It made me miss important data because some files where found during the search. If none would have been found, I would have suspected a failure of the search engine, but in my case, the fact that the search facility returned arbitrary files that contained my search string caused me much troubles.

Keyholes! Keyholes! Keyholes!

And, believe me, swapping Rover (the animated dog) with Links (its feline counterpart) does not solve the problem.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Vote While You May

Referendum time is over, the results will fall in a few minutes. It is already a big success for democracy, as around 75% of the voters moved out of their houses to cast their ballots.

Too bad the question was stupid: yes or no. What can you do with that? Moreover the "thing" you had to decide on was not really a constitution but a genuine international treaty, the full monty, with everything written in lawyerish (a variation of gibberish). European Institutions prove here, time and again, that they are unable to understand the citizens they claim to govern.

They should have made two texts out of this big mess:
  • A jolly constitution with a dozen of points, written in the vocabulary of an eight years old kid, and talking about peace, human rights, access to free healthcare, decent housing and jobs and whatnot. This constitution should have been approved by referendum.

  • An international treaty for replacing the Nice Treaty, which monicker comes after the city on the French Riviera and not because it is nice in any way. This treaty should have been signed by politicians without asking anyone, if possible in a city of a newly enrolled country with an unpronounceable name, just for the fun of it (it has been so cool to slaughter the pronunciation of Maastricht for years !).
So we ended up with a yes-no question to this huge treaty. So, on one hand, there were hundreds of reasons to vote "no": it was very easy to find a paragraph one found confusing or risky, too liberal or not, too federal or not ; while on the other hand, there was only one reason to vote "yes", and this reason was a sloppy: "yeah, okay, I don't really like it 100% but go for it, you have my support on principle".

I might have found another reason to vote yes: to compensate someone who voted no for a bad reason. This is democracy. With a spin.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Old School

So today I went out to watch the latest adventures of the most famous asthmatic of the galaxy (or is he famous for his black clad?). Anyway, after asking for a ticket, the cashier asked me if I wanted the digital version (for an extra 50cts) or the 35mm film version? What the heck?

Hint: I am the kind of guy who, when finding an interesting article on the net, prints it out to read it. Now you understand the title of this post: I am pretty old school, on some subjects at least. And by the way, Joel, thanks a whole bunch for having printed-out your blog. I finally had access to this masterpiece of wit and wisdom.

So what did I answered to the cashier? Something like: Keep your over-head-projector de-luxe session for bit-maniacs and hit me with a ticket for a true cinema projection. I want the click-click and the spots and the hairs. And I want the color palette to change when the roll changes. Oh yeah, this is old school too.

First Post!

Well, that one was easy, at least much easier than posting the first comment in the Bile Blog.

So why starting a blog, today, in 2005, after all these years of refusal, on the false pretext that I had nothing interesting to say? Do I have now anything interesting to say? Only time will tell. Maybe I simply came to accept that, like anyone, even without anything interesting to say, I had to say it.

Or not?