November 2016

Volume 31 Number 11

[Don't Get Me Started]

Brain Droppings

By David Platt | November 2016

David PlattI keep having small ideas pop into my head, ideas that can’t fill an entire column, even one this short. So herewith is my next installment of brain droppings or, if you prefer, microaggressions:

As I’m teaching Annabelle to drive (and how the hell did that happen?), I wonder if I belong to the last generation of parents ever to do this. Will self-driving cars take over by the time Annabelle’s kids turn 16? Will she then not teach her kids to drive, as my parents never taught me to ride a horse?

Reversing that thought, as I see my aging parents deciding when to give up driving (and how the hell did that happen?), I wonder if I belong to the last generation of adult children ever to worry about this. Will self-driving cars take over before Annabelle has to decide when to take away my keys?

Self-driving cars will finally settle the controversy of automatic transmission versus stick shift. What will I then do without that analogy to teach UX? Because if there’s one thing I’d bet my house on, it’s that software will still be sucking, because the developers who write it don’t understand their users and, therefore, will design powerful but complex interfaces that please their geeky selves.

My daughter Lucy’s phone died, and the only one I had lying around to give her was a developer edition Windows Phone 8. The girls in her eighth grade class crowded around to see it, fascinated by the Live Tiles animation (don’t get me started, see my May 2013 column at They seemed to regard it as doctors today regard a case of measles: Everyone wanted to look at it, because they’d heard so much about it, but never actually seen one. But, also like a case of measles, no one else wanted one of her own. 

I don’t like to be ruled by noises, so I often set my phone to vibrate, even if I’m not in a space that requires quiet. I’ve been noticing lately that I sometimes feel a vibration in my leg under my phone pocket, even if it isn’t ringing, or sometimes even if I don’t have it in my pocket at all. Have smartphones become so much a part of us that we experience phantom sensations in their absence, as an amputee experiences a phantom limb?

A lot of .NET guys are feeling abandoned out there today. They see the excitement around cross-platform, or mobile devices, or the cloud. And they feel like an old, once-beloved dog, relegated to a crate, seeing the family cooing over a new puppy. But at Build 2014, Anders Hejlsberg said, “Microsoft is going all in on .NET.” The components are finally rolling out of Redmond, ready for application programmers (see Julia Luison’s First Word column in this issue). I’ll probably be rewriting my Harvard Extension School class next fall to cover “.NET Today.” What Microsoft now needs is an outreach effort to help the old dogs learn these new tricks. I think they’re smart enough, don’t you? (And if Microsoft is looking for an ambassador, I’m available. Tell them you want me, OK?)

I swear I’m going to lambaste the next person who uses the term “herding cats” to describe the difficulty of managing chaotic people and situations. Herding cats is a lead pipe cinch, as I learned from Simba and her mates. All you have to do is open a can of tuna fish and walk while holding it at knee level. What would be the geek equivalent of this?

The Flying Wallendas, that famous tightrope-walking family, are appearing at a fair near me. I’m definitely going to see them. Their seven-person pyramid—four on the wire, two on their shoulders, one more in a chair on their shoulders—is unbelievable. Watching it on video ( is nothing compared with experiencing it live. Our work in the software business is very abstract—queues, stacks, clouds, virtualization. Theirs is as real as it gets: a half-inch steel rope and a balance pole versus gravity. It’s elemental, primal, concrete, real; in a way we geeks sometimes forget. They earn their standing ovations. The world will be a poorer place when they are gone from it.

David S. Platt teaches programming .NET at Harvard University Extension School and at companies all over the world. He’s the author of 11 programming books, including “Why Software Sucks” (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) and “Introducing Microsoft .NET” (Microsoft Press, 2002). Microsoft named him a Software Legend in 2002. He wonders whether he should tape down two of his daughter’s fingers so she learns how to count in octal. You can contact him at

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