Scott Hanselman

I miss Microsoft Encarta

August 13, '19 Comments [47] Posted in Musings
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imageMicrosoft Encarta came out in 1993 and was one of the first CD-ROMs I had. It stopped shipping in 2009 on DVD. I recently found a disk and was impressed that it installed just perfectly on my latest Window 10 machine and runs nicely.

Encarta existed in an interesting place between the rise of the internet and computer's ability to deal with (at the time) massive amounts of data. CD-ROMs could bring us 700 MEGABYTES which was unbelievable when compared to the 1.44MB (or even 120KB) floppy disks we were used to. The idea that Encarta was so large that it was 5 CD-ROMs (!) was staggering, even though that's just a few gigs today. Even a $5 USB stick could hold Encarta - twice!

My kids can't possibly intellectualize the scale that data exists in today. We could barely believe that a whole bookshelf of Encyclopedias was now in our pockets. I spent hours and hours just wandering around random articles in Encarta. The scope of knowledge was overwhelming, but accessible. But it was contained - it was bounded. Today, my kids just assume that the sum of all human knowledge is available with a single search or a "hey Alexa" so the world's mysteries are less mysterious and they become bored by the Paradox of Choice.

image

In a world of 4k streaming video, global wireless, and high-speed everything, there's really no analog to the feeling we got watching the Moon Landing as a video in Encarta - short of watching it live on TV in 1969! For most of us, this was the first time we'd ever seen full-motion video on-demand on a computer in any sort of fidelity - and these are mostly 320x240 or smaller videos!

First Steps on the Moon

A generation of us grew up hearing MLK's "I have a dream" speech inside Microsoft Encarta!

MLK I have a Dream

Remember the Encarta "So, you wanna play some Basketball" Video?

LeBron James from 2003

Amazed by Google Earth? You never saw the globe in Encarta.

Globe in Encarta

You'll be perhaps surprised to hear that the Encarta Timeline works even today on across THREE 4k monitors at nearly 10,000 pixels across! This was a product that was written over 10 years ago and could never have conceived of that many pixels. It works great!

The Encarta Timeline across 3 4k monitors

Most folks at Microsoft don't realize that Encarta exists and is used TODAY all over the developing world on disconnected or occasionally connected computers. (Perhaps Microsoft could make the final version of Encarta available for a free final download so that we might avoid downloading illegal or malware infested versions?)

What are your fond memories of Encarta? If you're not of the Encarta generation, what's your impression of it? Had you heard or thought of it?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Systems Thinking as important as ever for new coders

May 9, '19 Comments [28] Posted in Musings
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Two programmers having a chatI was at the Microsoft BUILD conference last week and spent some time with a young university student who came prepared. I was walking between talks and he had a sheet of paper organized with questions. We sat down and went through the sheet.

One of his main questions that followed a larger theme was, since his class in South Africa was learning .NET Framework on Windows, should he be worried? Shouldn't they be learning the latest .NET Core and the latest C#? Would they be able to get jobs later if they aren't on the cutting edge? He was a little concerned.

I thought for a minute. This isn't a question one should just start talking about and see when their mouth takes them. I needed to absorb and breathe before answering. I'm still learning myself and I often need a refresher to confirm my understanding of systems.

It doesn't matter if you're a 21 year old university student learning C# from a book dated 2012, or a 45 year old senior engineer doing WinForms at a small company in the midwest. You want to make sure you are valuable, that your skills are appreciated, and that you'll be able to provide value at any company.

I told this young person to try not to focus on the syntax of C# and the details of the .NET Framework, and rather to think about the problems that it solves and the system around it.

This advice was .NET specific, but it can also apply to someone learning Rails 3 talking to someone who knows Rails 5, or someone who learned original Node and is now reentering the industry with modern JavaScript and Node 12.

Do you understand how your system talks to the file system? To the network? Do you understand latency and how it can affect your system? Do you have a general understanding of "the stack" from when your backend gets data from the database makes anglebrackets or curly braces, sends them over the network to a client/browser, and what that next system does with the info?

Squeezing an analogy, I'm not asking you to be able to build a car from scratch, or even rebuild an engine. But I am asking you for a passing familiarity with internal combustion engines, how to change a tire, or generally how to change your oil. Or at least know that these things exist so you can google them.

If you type Google.com into a browser, generally what happens? If your toaster breaks, do you buy a new toaster or do you check the power at the outlet, then the fuse, then call the neighbor to see if the power is out for your neighborhood? Think about systems and how they interoperate. Systems Thinking is more important than coding.

If your programming language or system is a magical black box to you, then I ask that you demystify it. Dig inside to understand it. Crack it open. Look in folders and directories you haven't before. Break things. Fix them.

Know what artifacts your system makes and what's needed for it to run. Know what kinds of things its good at and what it's bad at - in a non-zealous and non-egotistical way.

You don't need to know it all. In fact, you may dig in, look around inside the hood of a car and decide to take a ride-sharing or public transport the rest of your life, but you will at least know what's under the hood!

For the young person I spoke to, yes .NET Core may be a little different from .NET Framework, and they might both be different from Ruby or JavaScript, but strings are strings, loops are loops, memory is memory, disk I/O is what it is, and we all share the same networks. Processes and threads, ports, TCP/IP, and DNS - understanding the basic building blocks are important.

Drive a Honda or a Jeep, you'll still need to replace your tires and think about the road you're driving on, on the way to the grocery store.

What advice would you give to a young person who is not sure if what they are learning in school will serve them well in the next 10 years? Let us know in the comments.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Coders: Context Switching is hard for both computers and relationships

April 4, '19 Comments [10] Posted in Musings
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Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World

Clive Thompson is a longtime contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired and now has a new book out called "Coders."

"Along the way, Coders thoughtfully ponders the morality and politics of code, including its implications for civic life and the economy. Programmers shape our everyday behavior: When they make something easy to do, we do more of it. When they make it hard or impossible, we do less of it."

I'm quoted in the book and I talk about how I've struggled with context-switching.

Here is TechTarget's decent definition of Context Switching:

A context switch is a procedure that a computer's CPU (central processing unit) follows to change from one task (or process) to another while ensuring that the tasks do not conflict. Effective context switching is critical if a computer is to provide user-friendly multitasking.

However, human context switching is the procedure we all have to go through to switch from "I am at work" mode to "I am at home" mode. This can be really challenging for everyone, no matter their job or background, but I propose for certain personalities and certain focused jobs like programming it can be even worse.

Quoting Clive from an ArsTechnica article where he mentions my troubles, emphasis mine:

One of the things that really leapt out is the almost aesthetic delight in efficiency and optimization that you find among software developers. They really like taking something that's being done ponderously, or that's repetitive, and optimizing it. Almost all engineering has focused on making things run more efficiently. Saving labor, consolidating steps, making something easier to do, amplifying human abilities. But it also can be almost impossible to turn off. Scott Hanselman talks about coding all day long and coming down to dinner. The rest of the family is cooking dinner and he immediately starts critiquing the inefficient ways they're doing it: "I've moved into code review of dinner."

Ordinarily a good rule of thumb on the internet is "don't read the comments." But we do. Here's a few from that ArsTechnica thread that are somewhat heartening. It sucks to "suffer" but there's a kind of camaraderie in shared suffering.

With reference to "Scott Hanselman talks about coding all day long and coming down to dinner. The rest of the family is cooking dinner and he immediately starts critiquing the inefficient ways they're doing it: "I've moved into code review of dinner.""

Wow, that rings incredibly true.

That's good to hear. I'm not alone!

I am not this person. I have never been this person.
Then again, I'm more of a hack than hacker, so maybe that's why. I'm one of those people who enjoys programming, but I've never been obsessed with elegance or efficiency. Does it work? Awesome, let's move on.

That's amazing that you have this ability. For some it's not just hard to turn off, it's impossible and it can ruin relationships.

When you find yourself making "TODO" and "FIXME" comments out loud, it's time to take a break. Don't ask me how I know this.

It me.

Yep, here too 2x--both my wife and I are always arguing over the most efficient way to drive somewhere. It's actually caused some serious arguments! And neither one of us are programmers or in that field. (Although I think each of us could have been.)
From the day I was conscious I've been into bin packing and shortest path algorithms--putting all the groceries up in the freezer even though we bought too much--bin packing. Going to that grocery store and back in peak traffic--shortest path. I use these so often and find such sheer joy in them that it's ridiculous, but hey, whatever keeps me happy.

This is definitely a thing that isn't programmer-specific. Learning to let go and to accept that your partner in life would be OK without you is an important stuff. My spouse is super competent and I'm sure could reboot the router without me and even drive from Point A to Point B without my nagging. ;)

However we forget these things and we tend to try and "be helpful" and hyper-optimize things that just don't need optimizing. Let it go. Let people just butter their damn bread the way they like. Let them drive a mile out of the way, you'll still get there. We tend to be ruder to our partners than we would be to a stranger.

That’s part of the reason why I’m now making all dinners for my family ;-)

LOL, this is also a common solution. Oh, you got opinions? Here's the spatula!

What do YOU think? How do you context switch and turn work off and try to be present for your family?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The Transitive Property of Friendship - and the importance of the Warm Intro

April 2, '19 Comments [3] Posted in Musings
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Too many LinkedIn invitationsPer Wikipedia, "In mathematics, a binary relation ... is transitive if ... element a is related to an element b and b is related to an element c then a is also related to c."

Per Me, if I am cool with you, and you are cool with your friend, then I'm cool with your friend. I've decided this is The Transitive Property of Friendship.

As I try to mentor more and more people and help folks Level Up in tech, I'm realizing how important it is to #BeTheLuck for someone else. This is something that YOU can do - volunteer at local schools, forward that resume for your neighbor, give a Warm Intro to a friend of a friend.

A lot of one's success can be traced back to hard work and being prepared for opportunities to present themselves, but also to Warm Intros. Often you'll hear about someone who worked hard in school, studied, did well, but then got a job because "their parent knew a person who worked at x." That's something that is hard to replicate. For under-represented folks trying to break into tech, for example, it's the difference between your resume sitting in a giant queue somewhere vs. sitting on the desk of the hiring manager. Some people inherit a personal network and a resume can jump to the top of a stack with a single phone call, while others send CV after CV with nary a callback.

This is why The Warm Intro is so important. LinkedIn has tried to replicate this by allowing you to "build your professional network" but honestly, you can't tell if I'm cool with someone on LinkedIn just because they're connected to me. Even Facebook "friends" have changed the definition of friend. It certainly has for me. Now I'm mentally creating friend categories like work colleague, lowercase f friend, Uppercase F Friend, etc.

Here's where it gets hard. You can't help everyone. You also have to protect yourself and your own emotional well-being. This is where cultivating a true network of genuine friends and work colleagues comes in. If your First Ring of Friends are reliable, kind, and professional, then it's safer to assume that anyone they bring into your world has a similar mindset. Thus, The Transitive Property of Friendship - also know as "Any friend of Scott's is a friend of mine." The real personal network isn't determined by Facebook or LinkedIn, it's determined by your gut, your experiences, and your good judgment. If you get burned, you'll be less likely to recommend someone in the future.

I've been using this general rule to determine where and when to spend my time while still trying to Lend my Privilege to as many people as possible. It's important also to not be a "transactional networker." Be thoughtful if you're emailing someone cold (me or otherwise). Don't act like an episode of Billions on Showtime. We aren't keeping score, tracking favors, or asking for kickbacks. This isn't about Amazon Referral Money or Finder's Fees. When a new friend comes into your life via another and you feel you can help, give of your network and time freely. Crack the door open for them, and then let them kick it open and hopefully be successful.

All of this starts by you - we - building up warm, genuine professional relationships with a broad group of people. Then using that network not just for yourself, but to lift the voices and careers of those that come after you.

What are YOUR tips and thoughts on building a warm and genuine personal and professional network of folks?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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F7 is the greatest PowerShell hotkey that no one uses any more. We must fix this.

March 26, '19 Comments [14] Posted in Musings | PowerShell
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Thousands of years ago your ancestors, and myself, were using DOS (or CMD) pressing F7 to get this amazing little ASCII box to pop up to pick commands they'd typed before.

Holy crap it's a little ASCII box

When I find myself in cmd.exe I use F7 a lot. Yes, I also speak *nix and Yes, Ctrl-R is amazing and lovely and you're awesome for knowing it and Yes, it works in PowerShell.

Ctrl-R for history works in PowerShell

Here's the tragedy. Ctrl-R for a reverse command search works in PowerShell because of a module called PSReadLine. PSReadLine is basically a part of PowerShell now and does dozens of countless little command line editing improvements. It also - not sure why and I'm still learning - unknowingly blocks the glorious F7 hotkey.

If you remove PSReadLine (you can do this safely, it'll just apply to the current session)

Remove-Module -Name PSReadLine

Why, then you get F7 history with a magical ASCII box back in PowerShell. And as we all know, 4k 3D VR be damned, impress me with ASCII if you want a developer's heart.

There is a StackOverflow Answer with a little PowerShell snippet that will popup - wait for it - a graphical list with your command history by calling

Set-PSReadlineKeyHandler -Key F7

And basically rebinding the PSReadlineKeyHandler for F7. PSReadline is brilliant, but I what I really want to do is to tell it to "chill" on F7. I don't want to bind or unbind F7 (it's not bound by default) I just want it passed through.

Until that day, I, and you, can just press Ctrl-R for our reverse history search, or get this sad shadow of an ASCII box by pressing "h." Yes, h is already aliased on your machine to Get-History.

PS C:\Users\scott> h

  Id CommandLine
   -- -----------
    1 dir
    2 Remove-Module -Name PSReadLine

Then you can even type "r 1" to "invoke-history" on item 1.

But I will still mourn my lovely ASCII (High ASCII? ANSI? VT100?) history box.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.