Alt.NET Seattle ’09

Couple of weekends ago, I was at Redmond for the Alt.NET Seattle conference. As this was my second time there, I was no longer a Open Space/Alt.NET virgin. Just like last year, an amazing amount of discussions were packed into two full days. It was very difficult to pick which sessions to attend, having to decide whether to sit in a technical discussion or a meta-discussion. But with so many people recording videos, it is almost possible to not miss anything. We are not quiet there yet, but I am sure in the future every session would be recorded/streamed in some manner.
Ward Cunningham Keynote

Ward Cunningham showed us the work he did during his time with the Eclipse project on unit testing on a new level of complexity. He calls it SWIM and was implemented in PHP/HTML/CSS/JavaScript. He proposed to start a new open source project to implement the same concept in .NET. This create enough interest to spawn off a separate session later this weekend. (The test case runner was provisionally named Swim Runner. Personally I think it should be named Swimmer!)
Encouraging Open Source in .NET

Last year in Seattle, a similar session was convened to discuss how to create more buzz and interest in open source projects in .Net space. This year’s session centered around how we can get more open source projects to start, worked on, and succeed. Scott Hanselman hosted this session and asked what the community can do. Should Microsoft give Oren Eini a mail-order bride so he can finish LINQ-to-NHibernate? (Joke) What about OSS projects adaption by VB.NET developers?
.NET/Mono on Mac, Linux, and iPhone

Miguel de Icaza of the Mono Project hosted the session. He showed us the tooling and technique to develop iPhone app/game using the Mono stack on the Mac. He also demonstrated autogeneration of linux bootable image with pre-configured apps. (Side observation #1: only a few people at last year Alt.NET Seattle had iPhones, this year very few people has phones that *isn’t* an iPhone. Since this year’s event was just before MVP Summit, there are lots of MVPs there with iPhones! Just to show loyalty does not lie with brand but usability! #2: Less than 1/3 of attendees aware of Twitter last year, this year, very few are *not* on Twitter.)
Why so mean?

Hosted by Scott Hanselman. We explored why there is an perception of elitism in the software developer community. Why C# developers talk down to VB.NET developers, why average Microsoft developers are dimmed un-savable. This discussion led to a new session on Sunday about teaching, ALT.NET Pedagogy.
Oxite Retrospective #2

When the Oxite project (a sample blogging engine created using ASP.NET MVC framework) was put up on CodePlex, it created a huge controversy in the Alt.NET community. This is the second part of the retrospective on the project and the aftermath. One of the Oxite team member from Microsoft joined us on Sunday and gave his point of view from the inside.
When to use F#?

With F# being the first class language within the Visual Studio ecosystem, functional programming is gathering more interest. When is functional programming be appropriate for a .NET project? What type of problem would it solve better than plain old C#/VB.NET? Why not just use F# for everything?
Abstract Test Assertions

The ASP.NET MVC Contrib project relies heavily, of course, on TDD. An interesting problem arise when contributors want to develop using different unit testing framework. This session explored the idea of abstracting test assertions so that any frameworks can be used for the project, and what technique should be employed to achieve that.
I’ve recorded all these sessions on video for those who couldn’t attend. Scott Hanselman also streamed live via for a number of sessions. My videos can be viewed on Vimeo, with the rest of video links on the Alt.NET wiki.


Dentist and Power Distance Index

I went to the dentist for a checkup today for the first time in over 2 years. First of all, I am not one of those 'I hate/scare of dentist' type person. All those drilling and cleaning implements don't scare me at all. What I don't welcome is the pushy dentists who always want to me to have some operation or other, despite how unnecessary it may be. For example, the last few dentists I visited always commented on the slightly impacted wisdom teeth I had, and how I should have them taken out "just in case". The first time I was told, my thought was "Why?" They are not causing me any problem now. Why can't I have them out if and when they become a problem? Funnier still, the last dentist suggested that I had all of my wisdom teeth taken out, and at his office! Ah, no thanks!

Anyhow, I came to expect this line of upsale-ing whenever I visit a dentist. Imagine my surprise when I visited a new dentist today and he did not even mention the wisdom teeth, let alone trying to sale me some operations. But that was not what really impress me today. The singular event that increases my trust in this dental office was when I was with the oral hygienist. She was just about to check out the health of my gums and asked a nurse to jot down the result. Nothing new there and the conversation went something like this:
Hygienist: 432
Hygienist: 433
Hygienist: 322
Nurse: It's for number 3?
Hygienist: Yes
Hygienist: 333
Hygienist reached for some tools and shifted position.
Hygienist: Are we on number 5?
Nurse: Yes, number 5
Hygienist: 223
And so on.
If you are familiar with flight operations, you will notice the similarity where the captain will call out an item on the checklist and the first officer will respond, verbally, back to ensure the right action is performed.
What advantage does this system bring?
First, there is no implicit assumption on what action each person is performing. There is periodic checkpoint to ensure both the hygienist and the nurse are recording the data for the correct tooth. Second, and more important in my view, is the low Power Distance Index (PDI) between the hygienist and the nurse. The data recording is not a dictation where the hygienist called out the result without pause and the poor nurse struggles to keep up.

I first came across Power Distance Index (Wikipedia) in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, where he described high PDI being a factor in a string of Korean airline crashes. He went on to suggest that low PDI tends to lower the incidence rate because the subordinate is more willing to challenge the superior and thus prevents errors to occur or develop into disaster.
Coming back to my dental hygienist experience, my confidence in this dental office increase dramatically when I observed the low PDI between the hygienist and nurse, because I could see they care about patient welfare. Whether they knowingly implement this system to lower the PDI or just happen upon it, I don't particularly care. I only care that they care about me.
And the result is that the hygienist achieved something her peers had not managed in over a decade. Namely, gain my trust to the point where she convinced me to floss!

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Weekend with Kindle 2

After watching the FedEx's tracking page like a hawk last week, my Kindle 2 arrived on Thursday just in time for me to take it with me for the Alt.NET weekend in Seattle. The flights between Seattle and Newark allowed me to spend hours reading on the new Kindle. Instead of giving a full hands-on review (plenty can be found on the interweb), I'll give some comparisons with the original Kindle.

Nothing really was wrong with the build quality of the original Kindle. It is light and feel solid, despite the plastic body. But once I laid my hands on the new Kindle, there is really no comparison. The non-wedge shape and the thinness combines with the metal back cover gives Kindle 2 a much higher build quality, much like the original iPhone vs. iPhone 3G. And even though Kindle 2 is lighter than Kindle 1, I feel the new version is much more solidly built. The uniform thickness makes the new Kindle so much easier to hold. The wedge shape of the original almost forces one to hold it in about two ways that don't hurt or tiring. Now I can hold it anyway I want.
You can see the huge difference in refresh speed between the old and new here. It makes reading on the new Kindle even better experience. There is no more the need to click Next Page just a few seconds before I finish the page to compensate for the slow refresh. Of course, the quicker refresh speed allows the use of the new 5-ways controller. The increased level of grey levels (16 vs. 4) really makes illustrations becomes a viable of the eBook. Previously it depends on how much effort the publishers put it to cater for the 4 levels of grey. Some makes it readable while others make it impossible to decipher.
One of the main complain about the original Kindle is the placement of the buttons around the edge. The location makes it almost impossible to not activate a button when picking up the Kindle. The buttons in the new version are now much smaller and rock inward instead of the traditional outward. This means I can pick up or hold the new Kindle without fearing pushing a button by mistake.
UI & Navigation
The new 5-ways controller makes navigating the menu system (which is also re-designed) so much easier than the roller of the original. This also allows highlighting text to work on word by word basis, verses the line only in the original. Another thing is that the new controller is much less noisy to push than the roller. Not a huge deal normally but makes a big difference when reading in bed, next to a sleeping wife!
Battery & Charger
The new battery definitely last longer than the original. Compare to the original Kindle review which also happened during a weekend trip to Seattle, the new Kindle used only 1/3 of the charge vs. 3/4 with similar usage. Lots of people have issue of the non-removable battery in Kindle 2 but I don't feel it would be a problem. May be that's because I rarely have to replace a battery in any of my electronic gadgets. I do like the new charging mechanism though. Instead of a separate charger, the new Kindle uses a USB cable for charging from the computer, or with an adaptor from the main power. And the adaptor is very slight and easy to pack, it reminds me of the design the iPhone 3G adaptor.

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