July 2019

Volume 34 Number 7

[Don't Get Me Started]

Where Are They Now?

By David S. Platt | July 2019

David S. PlattI’ve been writing this column for almost a decade, a very long time in this business. Along the way, I’ve visited with and written about some pretty remarkable people and events. So at the risk of waxing nostalgic, here’s a retrospective of some people and things I’ve written about and how they’re doing today.

Gísli Ólafsson (November 2014) somehow managed to avoid catching Ebola during his trips to Liberia at the height of the 2013-2016 outbreak. He continues his humanitarian work, flying to wherever a natural disaster hits, most recently Mozambique after Cyclone Itai. Check out his TEDx Talk at youtu.be/ittc7_OoaYc, and his book, “The Crisis Leader,” at amzn.to/2KbkvbQ.

Hugh Blair-Smith (May 2016) is enjoying his retirement, waxing contemplative at the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, which his computer enabled. He was good for a quote when I first met him, and he’s good for one now. Says Blair-Smith: “I enjoy Buzz Aldrin’s T-shirts emblazoned ‘Get Your Ass to Mars’ but there aren’t a lot of good suggestions as to what one’s ass should do when it gets there. The only thought I find compelling is setting up a permanent settlement so that the 100 best people on Earth could relocate there just before we finish screwing our home planet. Hope that’s enough to avoid inbreeding—want to be on the selection committee?”

Amazon’s Mayday button (May 2014), which I loved on my Fire tablet, unfortunately was removed in June of 2018. Whenever I had any trouble, I’d just tap Mayday. A live, English-speaking person would appear on my screen, walk me through whatever problem I had, drawing on my screen to show me where to tap. I can still get help by calling Amazon on the phone, but that’s much less convenient. The live agents must have cost too much. Too bad Alexa can’t do that job yet.

The winners of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup programming contest (October 2011) have gone from good (Barcelona, 2003) to excellent (New York, 2011) to [expletive] amazing (Seattle, 2019). Bryan Chiang, an 18-year-old UCLA freshman, figured out how to deduce blood glucose level by examining a snapshot of a patient’s eye, taken with a low-cost adapter on an ordinary smartphone. The process uses convolutional neural networks that Chiang developed with Azure Virtual Machines (see bit.ly/2W77jqA). Think of the millions of daily needle sticks no longer needed to measure a diabetic patient’s sugar level, the billions of dollars no longer spent on testing meters and supplies; all replaced by a selfie (September 2015) and some cogitation.

MSDN Magazine’s April 2011 guest columnist Simba died that August, aged 20 years and two months. We have Starlight and Toothless now, and they’re great. But they’re not Simba.

Annabelle’s FIRST robotics team continues to compete and amaze. As their mentor, I’ve watched them fall down, learn, get up, fall again, learn some more; always getting up one more time than they fell down. Our ranking in the standings wasn’t great, but we won the District Engineering Inspiration Award, the second-highest award that FIRST bestows, for “outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s school or organization and community.” That’s a fitting acknowledgment for the blood, sweat, tears and soldering iron burns these students offered up. They blasted Queen’s song, “We Are the Champions” as we drove home, singing along at the tops of their lungs. And, indeed, they are champions, regardless of their finishing place. If you’ve never done one of these gigs, I can’t explain it to you. And if you have, then I don’t need to.

Which brings me to daughter Annabelle, guest author of my September 2014 and September 2017 columns, graduating high school as I write these words. Through hard work and personal drive, she won admission to her first choice—Olin College of Engineering, in Needham, Mass.—and I won a stack of college bills. (How about some consulting help or in-house classes this fall, dear reader?)

Annabelle will be packing up as you read these words. And I’m left to recall the scene from “Fiddler on the Roof,” where Hodel takes leave of Tevye to follow her beloved Perchik on his exile to Siberia, saying: “Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again.” To which Tevye replies: “Then we will leave it in His hands.” As the train pulls away and the smoke fades into the endless Russian steppe, Tevye looks heavenward and says: “Take care of her. See she dresses warm.” Amen.

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 have taped down two of his daughter’s fingers so she would learn how to count in octal. You can contact him at rollthunder.com.

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