Programmer? Interrupted?

My friend Andrew Connell (@andrewconnell) posted a very interesting article called Programmer Interrupted to Facebook today, saying:

…all developers should share this with the one you love or non-developers you work with. Help them understand why you get so pissed when they come into your office to ask the simplest questions. Many times I feel like I’m holding a castle made of cards up with one finger, holding my breath when suddenly there’s this tiny puff of air that brings everything organized to complete chaos Smile

I do think that these effects vary considerably across individuals, and I don’t think it has to be a permanent condition.

When I was a young programmer (my second job in the mid-80s), I was in a highly interrupt-driven environment at Bain & Co., the management consulting company. I did a bunch of different things during my tenure there, but a lot of it was what we called “programming” at the time. Because I was interrupted extremely frequently – sometimes half a dozen times an hour, by my recollection – I simply learned to be better at it over the six years I was there.

At a later job around 1999-2002 at a company called ArsDigita, I was amazed at how defensive the young developers sometimes were with their time. They occasionally could be almost hostile at interruptions, which in a way ensured that they couldn’t learn to deal with them. I think the headphone thing actually made it worse, since an interruption was more jarring to their memory patterns, as it often required a physical incursion to get their attention. They interrupted each other, too, by the way; I’m not basing this just on my observations from interrupting them myself.

I can’t say that I’m great at managing interruptions, but I do think that I learned to be better at it than some people are. I don’t suggest that everyone embrace interruption – or even encourage it as I sometimes do – but I do suggest that everyone should consider how their work environment actually functions most of the time to consider how best to adapt. If you are likely to be interrupted, work to identify how you can best work inside that construct.

Techies often get a bad rap because they are too defensive and say no too often. Part of that bad rap can come from the impression of “my work right now is more important than whatever you are here for” that comes from reacting unpleasantly to interruptions from the very people for whom we are supposed to be doing the work.

Don’t just try to avoid interruption, treating it as an evil, but welcome it on some level so that you can be a better IT professional. You’ll have a happier user base, and you might just learn some new tricks.

SPTechCon SFO 2014 Wrap Up

SPTechConLogoAnother splendid time was had by all at the latest rendition of SPTechCon, this time in sunny (mostly) San Francisco at the Hilton Union Square. The BZMedia folks who put on SPTechCon are great people and both the San Francisco and Boston versions are on my list of favorite SharePoint events.

Announcing SPTechCon BostonIf you weren’t able to attend this one, you may still be interested in my slides. Face it, though: it’s much more fun to go to these events to watch me make a fool of myself in person. Consider, nay decide that you will be, attending the Boston SPTechCon coming up September 16-19, 2014.

I’ve posted them to SlideShare for your fun and enjoyment. Even though several of the sessions I did were repeats of previous performances, they continually evolve, so every deck always has some new goodies in it.


Booting Windows 8.1 in Safe Mode

MinecraftThe other day I realized that I had done something very dumb. I have a killer laptop and I sometimes let my nine year old son play Minecraft on it. The worlds he builds are spectacular. (He also wants you to know that he loves pigs.)

Well, he’s gotten interested in some of the mods that are out there and wanted to try out the Anti-Gravity mod. Minecraft itself is pretty kludgy, but branching off into the wilderness of mods is an entirely different story. There’s no real “place” to find them, just endless forum posts about this, that, and the other thing with links that take you from one forum site to the next with lots of detours into spamware sites and worse.

I thought I’d finally found the mod Calder wanted so I downloaded and installed it. Yeah, too fast. I ended up with my laptop infected with at least two insidious, crapware, bloatware pieces of $hite that I certainly couldn’t leave on there. And the install wasn’t even the mod we wanted.

I’m pretty good at digging myself out of virusland, but one of these little buggers was dug in deep. It was called gorillaprice, and it had itself wedged in way too far to get it out easily.

No problem. I figured I’d just boot my Windows 8 laptop into safe mode and stomp out the little bugger.

Not so fast.

Apparently the wisenheimers in the Windows Division at Microsoft decided that getting to Safe Mode in Windows 8 should be like a treasure hunt, but without a map or eyeballs to help out.

F8 doesn’t do anything on boot up anymore.

I found many articles and blog posts out there, but every single one of them was wrong. No, “mashing” Shift-F8 on start doesn’t work, nor do any of the other ridiculous suggestions I found.

I actually did find an article on the Windows site on that was close, but not close enough. It didn’t show up very high in Bing results, either, so it took me a while to find it.

I’m running Windows 8.1 with the update on top of the update (I’m up to date), so maybe that’s why the article is off. It’s damn hard to keep documentation up to date, especially when people are running every single variant that is possible all the time. “Smart docs” would be awesome. They could detect what you’ve arrived with and adjust their content accordingly. As soon as they invent them.

Without more ados, here’s what worked to get me into Safe Mode, modified from the instructions at the link above. Count the steps and clicks. It’s tough.

  • Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, tap Settings, and then tap Change PC settings. (If you’re using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, click Settings, and then click Change PC settings.)
  • Under PC settings, tap or click Update and Recovery
  • Click on Recovery
  • Under Advanced startup, tap or click Restart now
  • On the Choose an option screen, tap or click Troubleshoot
  • Tap or click Advanced options
  • Tap or click Startup Settings
  • Tap or click Restart
  • On the Startup Settings screen, choose the startup setting you want
  • Sign in to your PC with a user account that has administrator rights

Simple as pie, and about as hidden as something could be. Maybe we don’t “need” Safe Mode anymore with the wonderfulness that is Windows 8, but in this pickle I sure did.

BTW, the junk I got is gone and I’m back to running speed. We got the Minecraft mod installed and Calder’s been adding upside-down floating trees to his world. Very cool.

Dealing with Hearing Loss: #ShareHear

A few weeks ago I tweeted and posted to Facebook a news story from CNN which I found very intriguing: Can Apple help make hearing aids cool? Based on the article, I’d have to say that the “cool” factor ought to be outweighed by the “I could hear better” factor.

Can Apple help make hearing aids cool?

Image from

So why this post? It’s hardly in line with my normal SharePointilistic musings. Well, when I tweeted the story, several people got in touch to ask about my hearing aids and hearing loss. One well-respected person in the community pointed out that

…I think sharing anything is our purpose, SharePoint or not. I’d read what you post for sure. What caught my attention was the techy side of iPhone controlling the aids. It went from thinking technology was in the way to it being helpful and cool. Great message and opportunity.

This person has been wondering if it’s time to get his hearing checked, and now maybe he will, having realized that it’s not such a horrible thing. (Neither are colonoscopies, by the way, but that’s a whole other conversation.) If one or two people read this and understand people in their lives with hearing loss a little better or decide to get their own hearing checked, then it was worth writing it. And besides, I’m pretty sure I’m coining the latest #Share- hashtag: #ShareHear.

I’ve been using hearing aids for a little over five years now. Both my maternal Grandfather and my Mother had/have congenital hearing loss over the course of their lives, so I had a decent idea that it was going to happen to me, too. So far, my sister and brother seem to be doing OK, but they are younger.

In the kind of hearing loss I have, it’s a long, slow slide. I noticed probably in my mid-40s that I was having trouble hearing conversations in loud rooms – like bars – but I figured it was more about whether or not I cared enough about the conversation or something. Besides, I was getting older, so who had the energy to hear everything, right? Then a while later I realized that I was watching people’s mouths as they talked rather than their eyes. It took me a while to realize what that meant, but when I did, I figured something might be off.

In my line of work – consulting – I simply have to be able to have clear conversations with people. There aren’t that many professions where there are zero conversations, but I need to be able to hear what people say, internalize and synthesize it, and restate it or react quickly to it all the time. If I can’t hear what people are telling me in a conference room or on a conference call, I’m in trouble.

Even though I knew something was amiss, it wasn’t until I met someone who already had the latest generation of hearing aids that I decided to get my hearing checked out. In my case, they very literally weren’t my Grandfather’s hearing aids. (We actually called him “Grandfather”, just like Heidi in the eponymous movie.) Modern hearing aids are small, nearly unnoticeable, and highly sophisticated.

Here’s a photo of a hearing aid similar to the ones I have:

2014-04-07_14-38-25If you check out the Web page, you’ll see that they can even match the casings to your hair or skin color. As a member of the silver fox, gray-haired society, I think my casings are “Winter Silver”.

Everyone’s hearing loss is different, but as you can see, these things are small. If you’ve talked to me in the past and didn’t notice them, that’s why.

So are hearing aids perfect? No, far from it. As my most excellent audiologist told me early on, we can’t fix hearing, we can just make it better. Our hearing is never going to be as good as it was when we were kids; it’s just a fact of life.

The old style hearing aids were really just amplifiers. Both my Mom and my Grandfather had that kind. The sounds around them were just louder as they were pumped into their ears by ineffective speakers attached to ineffective microphones. Hearing aid technology is a place where improved circuitry and miniaturization makes a *huge* difference. Today’s hearing aids – at least the ones that you pay decent money for – had digital signal processing built into them and they are tuned for exactly your type of hearing loss.

If you do decide to get hearing aids, they are expensive. At least in my case, insurance covered none of it. One would hope that may change at some point, but not to date. Those ads you see in the Sunday paper for free or cheap hearing aids are come-ons, either for crappy hearing aids or ones with hidden costs.

And don’t think that hearing loss is something that only happens to old people like me. It can be a problem for anyone, so if you even have an inkling of a thought that you may have a problem, you owe it to yourself to get your hearing checked. It’s actually sort of fun. You go into a soundproof room – they are usually suspended to reduce vibration – and respond when you hear a bunch of blips and beeps and repeat some words back. It’s all totally painless.

If you’d like to know more about hearing aids or anything I’ve talked about here, feel free to ping me. When I asked my audiologist for good sites to point to, she sent back this:

I was searching thru a few websites for some hearing/ hearing aid information that might interest you.  Instead of sending you lots of different places, I’m just going to point you to the direction of my favorite hearing website –  There are some moderately hokey looking pics thru the site, but it’s one of the best places to find lots links for nature of loss, epidemiology, tech updates, current studies, market studies, etc.  I think you may find the kind of things you are looking for there.

but at least for me, it was a conversation with someone I knew about his hearing loss that got me on the right track.

My audiologist is hoping to get her hands on some of the cool Apple connected hearing aids for me to try out sometime soon. If they help me hear better, I’ll seriously consider them.



Image from

Kevin Lowe mentioned tinnitus below, which made me realize I didn’t say anything about it.

Ah, tinnitus. The South of France is one of the most beautiful places in the world, at least in my book. The scent of lavender wafting on the breeze of a summer day with the bees droning in the fields is one of my most favorite things. There’s a bug there they call a cigale which sort of like what we call a locust.

Cigales are neat little bugs, and when they are present in the millions, as they are in the South of France, they let off a non-stop chirping sound which melds together into a constant hazy buzz. It’s really lovely.

Here’s a little video on a French farm with the cigales doing their thing.

All very lovely. Now imagine that you hear that sound 24×7, no matter where you are. That’s pretty much what tinnitus is, at least for me. No one fully understands it, but based on what I’ve read it’s our brains trying to fill in the information it’s no longer getting from our ears. Or something like that.

Tinnitus can be one of the worst parts of hearing loss because even though we can’t hear well, we’ve also lost our silence. That tinnitus sound fills it in. It’s subtle for some people, or fades in and out. For me, it’s virtually non-stop. I’m sort of used to it, but it doesn’t help me hear you when I’m talking with you. Unfortunately, hearing aids generally can’t do much about tinnitus. There has been some promising research about using cancelling sounds to controvert tinnitus, but nothing generally useful yet. There. That’s tinnitus.


SPServices: What About Deprecation of the SOAP Web Services?

SPServices user JSdream asked a question in the SPServices Discussions on Codeplex the other day that’s worthy of a more prominent response.

Should we, who use SPServices, be concerned at all with Microsoft recommending not to use either the ASMX web services in SharePoint 2013 ( or the owssvr.dll (I used this one a lot when doing InfoPath stuff) for development purposes?

The Choose the right API set in SharePoint 2013 article is an important one, for sure. In it, there’s pretty clear direction about which API to choose based on the specific requirements of the solution you are building. As with anything, though, there’s a strong dash of “it depends”. It depends on things like your available skills, the device the code will run on, etc.

Figure 1. Selected SharePoint extension types and SharePoint sets of APIs

Figure 1. Selected SharePoint extension types and SharePoint sets of APIs

I would say that we should all be “cautious” rather than “concerned”. The SOAP Web Services are used by many parts of SharePoint still, with the most prominent being SharePoint Designer. If you sniff around in the traffic between processes, you’ll spot other places as well.

That said, deprecated is deprecated. If you build your solutions with the data access layer separated out from the business logic layer, you should be able to replace the calls if and when it becomes necessary.

I am not aware of any official specific time frames for the SOAP services going away, and the Product Group would need to give us a good, long lead time because lots of code depends on it, SPServices or not. Many people have built managed code-based solutions which use the SOAP Web Services as well. GetListItems is a workhorse operation no matter how you build your solutions.

There are many things you simply cannot do with REST yet, though in many cases CSOM may provide better coverage. If you are using SPServices for the operations which aren’t available in REST or CSOM, obviously you’ll want to continue doing so until there is a viable replacement. The REST coverage is improving steadily. (See Overview of SharePoint Conference 2014 and new content for developers for some information.) Keep in mind, though, that the majority of improvements will end up in Office365 first and in the SharePoint Server product at some point later or perhaps not at all. So your time horizons and cloud plans are also critical decision factors.

[If I had to put my money on a horse, it’d be REST over CSOM over the long term.]

All that said, if you are starting a new project on SharePoint 2013 of any significant size, you should be considering using the App Model, CSOM, and REST. SPServices may still fit in there somewhere, so don’t toss it out with the bath water just yet. I’ll continue evolving it as long as it has people wanting to use it. I think I still have plenty of things to do.