Borkopolis

April 22, 2011

Certifications as a Learning Tool

Filed under: 20-minute,programming,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 1:18 am
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Shoktar devourer of worlds

Matt Kloskowski had a posting on his Lightroom Killer Tips blog about LightRoom 3 ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) certification test prep materials becoming available. Then there were a couple of paragraphs defending the whole certification process: basically, if you’re looking for a career that is based on Lightroom or Photoshop, having the ACE sticker on your resumé is a good thing. It shows potential employers that you have a certain base-level of knowledge, and the sitck-withitedness to see the ACE through to its completion.

Possessing a certification doesn’t mean you’re good, of course. I’ve worked with Certified Oracle DBAs that were freaking amazing. (xux, I’m looking at you), and others that barely knew how to analyze a table. Both were certified Oracle DBAs. Both had passed the tests. But quite a difference in knowledge, ability, and work ethic.

That being said, I kind of like certification tests. Even if you don’t need the certification and don’t intend on taking the tests, they certification test contents provide a curriculum you can use to learn stuff.

I rarely admit it, but I have an Oracle 8i DBA certification. I took the five tests, passed them on the first try, and got my little certificate and card. Did I want to be a DBA? Hell no. Good DBAs live a high-stress life keeping twitchy and cranky systems up and running. But I wanted to be a better developer. I like being self-sufficient. If I could set up my own Oracle instance I could do local experiments and not rely on the remote systems. If I knew how all the different moving parts interact I can design the physical layout of my schemas so that disk I/O is somewhat optimized. If I knew how the profiling tools work I can rapidly tune queries, or at least figure out what tradeoffs I need to make to achieve adequate performance. If I knew how backups worked I would know the difference between a good backup scheme and one that’ll bite us in the ass if the DB turns toes-up. I could also restore to a test cluster to run tests against “production data” that wouldn’t actually affect the production site.

Oracle’s exams were broken into five tests. I used Oracle’s training materials as well as the “Exam Cram” series of books to steep myself in the material for each test. I could have skipped taking the test of course, but the company was willing to pay the $100 or so for each one, so it was a no-brainer to take. That little certificate might have come in handy later on. (It didn’t)

After my Oracle work, I was needing to learn Java quickly for a contracting gig. At everyone’s recommendation I tried working through Bruce Eckel’s introductary book Thinking in Java. Unfortunately, it’s what I call a “loops are cool!” book. As a developer with fifteen years of experience under my belt, I just couldn’t fathom slogging through beginner programmer material.

Then I found the Java2 Exam Cram books. I really should have looked for those first. They were geared, of course, to giving you the info to pass Sun’s Java certification tests. This was perfect for an experienced developer. The books were a distillation of all that was different with Java from other languages, as well as a discussion of any truly peculiar portions of the language. A week of reading a couple of these books prepared me for kicking butt on-site.

So, looping back to Lightroom, will I take the Lightroom 3 ACE test? Nope. But I’ll probably pick up some of the educational materials so I can find out more about the software product I use after every photo shoot I do. I’ve already spent a couple hundred dollars on software, and hundreds of hours of my life learning bits and pieces of it, and I know I’ve really only scratched the surface of what it can do. So I believe in the long run it’ll be money well spent.

 

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April 20, 2011

Why I don’t go out much, part 2

Filed under: 20-minute,music,rants — Mark Dalrymple @ 2:07 pm
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D3C 3836

I tend to attract annoying people whenever I venture forth into the world of public performances. In fact, I’ve already written about that once here, with a string of bad experiences at the Lord of the Rings movies. A friend who read it told me “It must be a Lord of the Rings curse”. I wish it were so. I wish it was just limited to that. So here continues the Litany of Annoyance.

We have some good friends in the area, with a daughter who is a serious over-achiever.  In addition to knowing everything Star Wars, she has an incredible singing voice. The final high school choral concert of the year featured her singing a solo. I was expecting a somewhat noisy audience, given that it’s a group of students and parents in a somewhat backwater part of the state, but I was completely unprepared for the rudest grandmothers in the world. You’d think that if you were coming to a concert to hear Little Johnny sing, you would be quiet during the singing parts so you could actually hear them, and talk during the quiet parts. Bizarrely enough, they talked incessantly (and loudly) during the singy parts, and were silent during the in-between parts. After a brief, but friendly, dressing-down by me, they stop talking at the tops of their lungs, and only quietly muttered about “that bastard” sitting in front of them. At least I got to hear Erin’s solo.

The Pittsburgh Symphony is not immune to Audience Members from Hell. Sharlotte and I went to a “building the audience of the future” concert with some fun pops stuff on it. If this is going to be the audience of the future, I think I’ll stick to things like “CD’s” and “mp3s” and “sitting in an orchestra“. We were up in one of the middle balcony sections. Two rows ahead of us and about 30 degrees to our right was a guy eating a big bag of Peanut M&Ms. Crinkle-crinkle-crunch-crunch. Luckily he didn’t throw M&M shells on the floor. Behind us a couple of rows,and near the exit was a Young Teenage Couple making out. Behind us were some folks chatting. And in the row ahead of us, about 10 seats down, was a dude flicking his ticket. *flick*. And not in *flick* time with *flick* the music *flick*flick*.  I was *flick* amazed at his *flick* arhythmic abil*flick*ity to have no correlation *flick*flick*flick* with the music. *flick*.

Even the subscription concerts aren’t immune. Brahms Requiem. Nice piece, with the Mendelssohn Choir doing the backing vocals. The Brahms was on the second half of the concert, with the first half being some modern stuff. Persichetti in particular, and something else. I actually like Persichetti having played some of his band music. The folks behind us apparently hated it. Hated It. They obviously Just Came For The Brahms To See Their Friend Singing, and complained bitterly about being denied that. I’m ordinarily a meek and mild individual, but I had to ask them to be quiet, or leave, since they’re obviously not enjoying the music, and not making it especially pleasant for anyone else.

Musical theater. I was playing a run of Brigadoon in college. Someone out in the audience had a screaming child. Said screaming child was present for both halves of the show. Those of us in a pit (and it was a sunken pit, not able to see the audience at all) were giving each other the “can you believe that?” “no, I don’t really believe that.”

We went with a friend to see Fiddler on the Roof at a downtown theater. Behind us was a father with two young girls, maybe 6 and 8. Too young really for the show. Even though Fiddler has some familiar tunes, it’s a really heavy show. From the outset, the girls were asking “can we go home Daddy?”. “No, watch the first half, and if you want to go home at intermission, we’ll go.” They were reasonably well behaved, although Father Unit decided he had to explain everything that was happening. At half-time, the girls informed their parent, in unison, that they wanted to go home. “We’ve already seen half of it girls, let’s see the rest of it.” Argh! The girls did the right thing and started complaining bitterly, and thankfully they all left ten minutes into the second half.

Really. It’s not you. It’s me. Tell me how the concert or movie was, and I’ll be glad to live through you vicariously. *flick*

 

April 19, 2011

Learning iPhone Programming

Filed under: 20-minute,cocoaheads,programming,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 5:15 pm
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D31 2840 1

This last weekend I taught an Objective-C and iOS bootcamp to a group of students and faculty at WVU down in Morgantown WV. They have a cool “AppLaunch” project going on, to inspire students to write real applications on iDevices and encourage an entrepreneurial spirit, and they invited me down to kick off the technical portion.

A common question I got beforehand is “what’s the best way to get up to speed on this stuff?” That’s kind of like asking “what’s the best kind of pizza”, it all depends on where you’re coming from, where you want to go, and how fast.

If money is no object, take a Big Nerd Ranch class. In addition to teaching there, I have taken a number of Ranch classes from a bunch of different instructors, and they are all top-notch. The Ranch has a way of doing things that ends up with a really high quality product, enjoyable to both instructor and student. This will cost you a couple thousand dollars and take a week of your life, but you will be well on your way to iPhone programming studliness. Check out AnneKate Halsall’s Taming the Wild Dogcow tumblog for impressions and ah-has during the course of a class.

There are a number of video courses available. Stanford CS 193P iPhone Application Development is online. I had come across another one that was really awesome, but I’ve lost the link :-( . I’ll update this posting if I come across it.

The next level down is books. I love books. I learned to program from books and magazines. Old folks may remember back in the day when computer magazines had pages of BASIC program listings. Keying those in and debugging the inevitable typos is how I learned to program. There are two books I really like for iOS programming: the Apress Beginning iPhone 4 Development: Exploring the iOS SDK by Dave Mark, Jack Nutting, and Jeff LaMarche; and the Big Nerd Ranch iPhone Programming, the Big Nerd Ranch Guide by Aaron Hillegass and Joe Conway. I recommend people read both of them. If one book glosses over a topic the other covers in depth. Disclaimer: I’ve been the technical reviewer for the Apress Beginning iPhone books since the first edition.

What order to read them? If you’re strapped for time, read the Ranch one first. It’s short and to the point. Dedicate a weekend or a couple of evenings and type in everything. Then start working through the Apress book at your leisure.

If you’ve got more time, or you’re working over a longer period of time with other people, such as the Pittsburgh CocoaHeads Learn iPhone project, use the Apress book. It’s longer and wordier (380 vs 630 pages), but goes into topics in more detail. Some of the code is repetitious so you might not want to type in everything.

You’ll want some introductory books if you’ve never programmed before. Stephen Kochan’s Objective-C 2.0 programming Language good. I’m partial to the Apress Learn C on the Mac by Dave Mark, followed by Learn Objective-C on the Mac the latter written by me and my hero Scott Knaster. This pair was designed to take you from “loops are cool!” up through Categories, Properties, and Predicates. If you already know C you can go straight into Learn Objective-C. If you already know how to program in something else and just want a quick brush-up on what’s peculiar to C, I’ve broken out the first two chapters of the first edition of ore Mac OS X Programming into a C Refresher. Learn Objective-C has an appendix on what weirdnesses to expect if you’re coming from other languages like VB or Java. I know I get frustrated when I have to wade through “loops are cool!” when picking up a new language, so it’s nice having different places you can catch the train.

Finally, take a look around your community. You may have an active CocoaHeads or an NSCoderNight chapter, or perhaps an iPhone programming MeetUp. If there’s not one now, start one! There’s nothing like having living breathing people to ask questions of, and to generally hang around with. You might discover one-off classes like what I did at WVU, or longer-term learning projects like what we’re doing at our local CocoaHeads.

(slightly edited and re-posted over at the miniblog)

April 14, 2011

Indoor Cycling

Filed under: 20-minute,cycling — Mark Dalrymple @ 3:10 pm
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Global keiser

Indoor Cycling.  Sounds kind of pointless, doesn’t it? “You go inside, strap yourself to a stationary bike, and pedal nowhere for an hour or more.”  Why not just go outside on a Real Bike?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love riding bikes outside.  Nothing quite like the rush of wind going down a big hill, or the thrill of accomplishment once you reach the top of an even bigger hill.  But Indoor Cycling can be a lot of fun in its own right.

“Spinning™”, a trademarked form of Indoor Cycling, emphasizes a group dynamic.  You’re in a crowd of other folks on bikes, with loud, driving music, getting cues from an instructor.  This is a lot of fun, losing yourself at a primal level with a group of other people.

There are also virtual rides, pioneered by Global Ride out here in Western Pennsylvania.  A virtual ride is a first-person trip in an exotic location, such as Hawaii, Italy, France, or Rhode Island. You’re on your indoor bike watching a video on a big screen, transported to another place.  Throw in some awesome music, and a group of other folks, and you have an indoor experience that replicates much of the outdoor experience.

Riding outdoors is awesome.  Except in my neck of the woods in winter.  Between the ice, snow, and generally terrible drivers, you’d have to be insane to be out on a bike in the winter.  Instead, you can go indoors and work out.  With a structured plan like Cycling Fusion’s Winter Training, you can do work indoors that translates directly to riding outdoors.

Indoors you can concentrate on the four phases of your pedal stroke. Outdoors if you do too much of that you’ll end up in a ditch.  Indoors you can closely monitor your heart rate and see how it changes with exertion.  Outdoors you’ll end up in that ditch again.  Indoors you can do hard intervals followed by quality recovery time.  Outdoors you’re at the mercy of your route and the wind.  One day’s recovery segment becomes hard work as you pedal into a 20 mph headwind.  Many indoor bikes these days have power meters, so you can apply power-based training principles.  Outdoors, power meters will add a couple of thousand dollars to the price of a bike.

For me, I spend late fall and winter inside, where it’s comfortable, and work on the fitness, strength, and skills I’ll need for the next year.  In the spring it’ll probably be half-and-half, with summer primarily being outside.  Unless of course it’s over 100 degrees and 105% humidity, in which case I’ll head back in to someplace climate-controlled, or at least has a bunch of fans.

 

April 13, 2011

Rapid Learning

Filed under: 20-minute,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:05 pm
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Learning

Back in the mid-late 90s I stumbled across troubleshooters.com and the Troubleshooting Professional online magazine. It’s a somewhat odd place, an entire site dedicated to troubleshooting and discussing the ten-step Universal Troubleshooting Process. I sometimes point young programmers to the universal troubleshooting process, becaue having instructions to follow means you don’t cut corners. You can zero in on your problem faster without floundering around and wasting time.

Steve Litt, creator of the troubleshooting process, also created a “rapid learning” system. This boils down to building a lexicon of terms and concepts about whatever it is you’re learning about, build demo systems, and apply the troubleshooting process when your demo systems don’t do what you expect. It’s applicable to all sorts of technical systems, from learning to configure your Postgresql database to absorbing the iOS location and motion APIs.

I know how I learn best, and that’s “eyes to hands to eyes”. Back in college I copied my class notes at the end of every day. I had my scribbly class notebook, and my neater real notebook. I got rid of the scribbled notes after they got transferred to the neater book. Not only did my class notes turn into something legible (my normal handwriting has a half-life of about four hours), but by reading the class notes, writing them down, and then reading them again, it cemented the concepts.

Back when I was studying for my Oracle DBA certification, I would read the materials, type the information into a text document, then read it again, the information stuck. Plus it gave me a pile of text I could go back and search through if needed.

Nowadays I follow a process similar to the Rapid Learning system. Say I’m wanting to learn about the Apple keychain API. I use VoodooPad as a repository of notes.  I watch WWDC sessions and transcribe the slides. That eyes to hands to eyes thing again. I read the API docs and build a lexicon of terms and meanings. This consolidates the necessary information into one place, where in the docs the core information is usually scattered amongst a lot of pages. I also note important calls that I’ll be using or writing about. This keeps all the information in one easy-to-find place, easily searchable later.  Plus with VoodooPad’s handy page linking I can push ancillary information off into another page. It’s there if I need it but out of my face if I don’t. Then I build some projects and figure out why they don’t work. Before I know it, I’ve mastered a new technology.

April 12, 2011

Manual and TTL

Filed under: 20-minute,photography — Mark Dalrymple @ 5:01 pm
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Lights

I went to the FlashBus yesterday, an around-the-US tour by two of the big names in small-flash photography: David “Strobist” Hobby and Joe “Numnuts” McNally. David is a manual shooter and Joe is primarily a TTL shooter. The dude sitting next to me, and several others at the seminar didn’t seem to get the distinction between Manual and TTL flash usage. And unfortunately this about the only part of the entire day where I felt the explanations were weak.

Manual is what it says: everything is manual. You have to tell each flash how much light to dump when it is triggered. You can adjust the flash by changing its power directly on the device, usually by fractions of power like 1/128, 1/64, etc or by using a CLS remote unit but telling each flash to be manual. The Elinchrome Skyport system also lets you adjust Big Flashes in manual mode remotely. You’re just telling each flash exactly how much light to dump when triggered. How that light looks, is entirely up to you. Want more fill? Increase your fill flash a stop from 1/32 to 1/16 and see.

How do flashes get triggered? There are a couple of ways – you can PocketWizard each of them. You can also optically slave them so that a trigger flash, say a 1/128 speedlite on your camera, will cause the other flashes to fire. Nikon calls this “SU-4” mode. A CLS commander can also trigger the lights.

TTL, on the other hand, has a back-and-forth conversation between the camera and the speedlight that figures out how much power each flash will dump when triggered. You configure the lighting ratios on the commander: the key light is 1.0 (baseline), the fill light is -1.0 stop, the kicker light is +1.3 stop, and so on.

When you press the shutter release button the camera, a complex dance happens. A preflash is emitted. The speedlite looks at a message encoded in the flash, and then fires itself. Each of the groups fires in turn, the camera sees how much light is being produced by them, by using a sensor inside the camera getting the light Through The Lens (hence the name TTL). In conjunction with the ambient light, the camera’s exposure settings, and an N-thousand database of exposure scenarios, the camera figures out on the fly what the absolute power each flash needs to dump. “Group A, you’ll fire at 1/4. Group B, you’ll fire at 1/16. Group C you’ll fire at 1/2.”.

Once each flash is told what power they’ll fire, they’ll wait until they get an “OK! Go!” signal from the commander, and then dump their light on to the scene.

In manual you have complete control over every light. You could have 37 lights each with a different settings. It is more labor and mentally intensive configuring each light, but because you have complete control, there are no surprises from shot to shot.

In TTL you give up a measure of control to the computer brains in the speedlites and the camera in exchange for convenience. You just specify the ratios of light between different groups. You can move from dark lighting conditions to brighter, and system will compensate by telling the flashes to dump more or less light. The exposures will generally look pretty good. You spend more time taking pictures than configuring lights. But then you also get to debug things when things go weird if TTL gets confused.

 

April 10, 2011

When in Doubt, Play Out

Filed under: 20-minute,Mark Norman,music,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 10:33 pm
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Play outOne of my favorite band directors from my sordid past is Mark Norman. That man could get a group of mediocre musicians to perform far beyond their skill, and generally perform it well. I’m still impressed that our little community band in Loudoun did the complete DeMeij Lord of the Rings Symphony after only a year or two of existence. Mr. Norman is a source of a large number of short and sweet sayings related to music. One of the ones I have taken totally to heart is “When in Doubt, Play Out.”

I spend nearly most of my music time in the amateur realm: community bands, orchestras, high school and community theater musicals, and church music. Occasionally I get paid, but I know I am purely an avocational musician. One thing I have noticed amongst my peers is that many of them are timid. They’re afraid of their horns.  They’re afraid of their parts. They’re afraid of the music. “I can’t play that solo!” “I don’t want to play this part by myself!”

When in doubt, play out. The solo might be easier than you think. If you screw up. Big Deal. We all screw up. Sometimes even spectacularly in concert (I know I have). If you screw it up, try again.

If you’re timid in rehearsal, you’ll be timid in performance. Practice makes permanent.  You might as well not be there. The part you are covering is important, otherwise the composer would not have written it and the publisher would not have spent the money to publish it (well, except maybe for alto clarinet parts. I believe those are a contractual liability left over from the late 1800s). The part deserves to be heard. Inner parts too. Sometimes the third clarinet part is more important than the first.

I’m a firm believer in the conductor’s hand. I’ll play my part out with the power I think it deserves. If I don’t get The Hand from the conductor I assume I’m playing it right. If it’s too loud for the texture I pull it back under direction. That way the conductor understands that I know my part, that I can handle my part and the part will be there when needed, and that that I’m actually watching them (gasp). They’ll know that the part will be there on the performance. The highest complement conductors pay me is saying “I’m not worried about you, the part will be there.” A timid player might bring out an important part during rehearsal at the conductor’s request, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be there when the time comes during performance. That makes conductors nervous.

The same thought applies to entrances. A timid entrance can be worse than no entrance. No entrance means “someone messed up their counting, but as a group we kind of know where we are.” An early entrance is usually pretty obvious when it happens and the group adapts. A timid entrance telegraphs “I think I’m in the right place, but I’m not really sure. Do you know?” to the rest of the ensemble. This can send a ripple of uncertainty through a section or even the entire group. Lots of bad things can happen if everyone is questioning their place in the music. In rehearsal, if you’re not sure of your entrance, play out by all means. The conductor will correct you if you’re wrong, and you try again. It’s No Big Deal. If you’re right, you’ll have a little more confidence in your entrance the next time you play it, plus the rest of the group knows what that part of the piece sounds likes. In performance, of course, if you’re lost or unsure, ask you neighbor where they are.

Solo entrances absolutely demand that you play out. It’s your time to shine! You’ve spent a lot of time and money to get to this point in your musical career. This is where all that works has gone for. Stand up (musically) and say “look at me! I am covered in awesome right now!” You can’t pull that off if you’re frightened of the part.

When in doubt, Play Out!

 

April 7, 2011

The Social Contact Network

Filed under: 20-minute,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 2:02 pm
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BassoonapaloozaCrew

Being an older grizzled programmer who actually interacts with the local community, I’m occasionally asked for advice. Usually it’s younger nerdier computer students, along the lines of “what’s the one piece of advice you would give to me?”.

After a flippant “learn your data structures”, I would usually tell them “make contacts and treat them well.”

I found my first job in the want-ads in MacTutor magazine back in 1989. There was a small 1/8th page ad that said “Do you want to be like the original Mac Toolbox developers? If so, call Mark Williams at ${phone_number}.” I wanted to be programmer, I worshipped the original Mac Toolbox developers, and NeXT had already given me the brush-off. Might as well make a cold-call.

After that, every job, every professional opportunity has been by word-of-mouth. A friend who moved to AOL called me up and said “Hey, we’re hiring Mac programmers. And our stock is worth something.” I missed working with Ed, so I hopped over. When my team got moved to California and I didn’t want to move, some folks gave my name to Doug McKee who ran the AOLserver group. He gave me a call and I worked on web servers. From there to arsDigita, to building my class for the Big Nerd Ranch, to my contracting clients, to Google, to my gig at Cycling Fusion have all been a chain of recommendations from friends.

Same with music. Whenever I move to a new area I pick a community band and start showing up. Because I can sight read well they typically like me. I can drop in at a rehearsal and not suck, many times performing as well or better than the regulars. There I meet folks, learn what the good and bad groups are in the area, and start setting up a network of contacts. Eventually I get on sub lists of the groups I really want to join, and eventually become a full-time player (it took five years to get my bassoon seat in the Edgewood Symphony, for instance). And eventually I get on the call lists for pick-up groups the need a pit for musicals, such as a run of Singing in the Rain I am doing this weekend.

Now this all sounds pretty Machiavellian, meeting people just to exploit their social networks. It’s actually not that way in practice. Go out there. Be humble. Be nice. Get to know people, be genuinely interested in them. The contact network is actually a secondary benefit compared to the relationships you build with your peers. But that contact network is great to have.

The reason why I recommend this to younger programmers more so than other folks is that programming is fundamentally a solitary activity and profession. Sure you have meetings, and there’s Instant Message and Twitter mailing lists and all that, but great chunks of time are spent alone in your head performing acts of pure creation. It’s very easy to become That Smelly Guy Always On The Computer and never meet anyone or make friends, and then wondering why your career has stalled. Not only is that a generally sad state of affairs, it is entirely avoidable. Go out. Make friends. Make contacts. Nurture them, not because they’ll help you in the future (even though they just might), but because it’s the good, human thing to do.

 

April 6, 2011

The NeXT chapter

Filed under: 20-minute,history — Mark Dalrymple @ 3:12 pm
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Dans panel

I guess folks liked my little WWDC guide. I got more traffic from than than everything else around here gets, combined. Poring through my referrer logs I found one tumble about it from @alanQuatermain who said:

“I have a suspicion that someone at NeXT went around with a huge bucketful of awesome one day, because everyone I’ve met with a NeXT association seems to have a fair amount of it these days.”

I can’t argue with that. Everyone I’ve met with NeXT affiliations has been incredibly smart, and usually very kind and gracious as well. The funny thing is, NeXT wanted nothing to do with me at the time.

I remember when the NeXT cube first hit the mainstream press. BYTE Magazine had a cover story with the cube, along with a pretty in-depth article about the tech inside. The 68030 processor, the DSP, scads of memory, the advanced OS and the toolkit. There was even a centerfold. I was in love. I wanted one of those machines. Who cares if the optical drive was slow.  It was mag-NEATO! 256 megs of space! Who cares if the machine was $10,000? Somehow I managed to secure funding for it. Now all I needed was someone who would exchange a pile of money for a black cube of 2-bit graphic goodness.

The first NeXT machines were only sold to educational institutions. At the time, around 1989-90, I was still in college,  fairly small liberal arts college in central Arkansas you’ve probably never heard of. Hendrix College was too small to qualify for any kind of educational co-op with NeXT. UCA, the larger school across town, was large enough though. A friend of mine was the trombone professor over there even had a visit from a NeXT sales representative. I got an invite, and was blown away. I really wanted that machine. Unfortunately, I was told point-blank that there would be no way I could get a machine for myself through regular channels.

Plan B. I’m a programmer. They had a developer program. I got an application and sent it in. I didn’t have a huge number of qualifications (unix? Is that like VMS?), but I have programmed Macs since they first came out. I even had a couple of application ideas in mind, including a MacDraw-like diagramming app, and a medical database system similar to one I built in high school. About a month later I got my rejection letter. I think I still have it in my archives somewhere. I purchased the developer documentation anyway so I could live vicariously. Boy did Objective-C look weird. And Display Postscript.

And so there ended my dreams of being a NeXT programmer. I spent the money on a Mac IIci with an ungodly amount of memory (maybe 8 megs?) to continue my Mac programming. A little while later at my first job I discovered we had some NeXT cubes. They were in the corners being used for print servers. But dutifully I got a login, worked through the programing tutorials, had some fun, learned a lot, and then went back to my day job of unix and C because there was No Future in the NeXT technology.

Needless to say I was pretty happy when NeXT bought Apple for -429 million dollars. I now had all my favorite worlds in one place: Mac, Unix, and now NeXTstuff.

(slightly edited and re-posted over at the miniblog)

April 5, 2011

From the middle of the orchestra

Filed under: 20-minute,music — Mark Dalrymple @ 3:00 pm
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PP orch

People know I’m into Classical Music. I can usually talk intelligently about it. And I can recognize most any piece of popular classical music, or at least identify the composer. I have a decent collection on my ipoodle.

Everyone assumes I have some kind of kick-ass audiophile music system, with tuned dual-response gold-filled nitrogen cables and $5000 stereobarydynmaic headphones to eke out the last gram of awesomeness from my 512-kpbs losslessly-encoded music files.

Much to to their horror I show them my favorite headphones : $10 Sony MDR-W08 that I get from K-Mart. I usually rip my CDs using the iTunes default settings. I enjoy listening to music on car manufacturer stereos. I really don’t need hyperaccurate reproduction of music. Mostly I use it to set moods or provide general enjoyment, but the listening is not an end-goal in itself.

That’s because I play classical music. Passive listening to something like Beethoven’s Seventh or the Brahms Haydn Variations absolutely cannot compare to hearing it from inside the orchestra. Being a bassoon player I’m right in the middle of the wind section – clarinets to my right, oboes in front, and flutes in front of the clarinets. The strings are in front of us. The brass is behind me. Horns to the right, trumpets behind, low brass to the left.  There have been times in the past I’ve asked brass players to point at my head during great parts, such as the end of Brahms Symphony #1 has an amazing build-up to an incredible brass and winds chorale, easily my Favorite Single Musical Moment in the literature. Being on the receiving end of that figure has been one of the most transcendent experiences of my life.

When we play, I’m totally awash in sound. Granted, I play in community orchestras and the quality of the sound does not match that of the professional groups, but the overall effect is the same. You’re in the middle. You’re surrounded. And, most importantly, you’re contributing.

It’s one thing to point at a cool photograph and say “This is really cool. I bought this print at an art show.” It’s another thing to point at a cool photograph and say “I made this. This is me.” Same with music. Being in the orchestra takes the enjoyment level up a notch. Or twelve.

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