Chatting with Scott Hanselman

2008 February 18, 09:45 h - tags: interview english

This week I interviewed another person from the Microsoft camp, Scott Hanselman. I know him from his podcast Hanselminutes. In one episode he interviewed both Martin Fowler and David Hansson at last year’s RailsConf, a truly remarkable conversation.

He also posted a great screencast about Microsoft’s new alternative MVC framework and I thought it would be great to have him at my blog to talk about technology and web frameworks. As I said before I think that we should not become alienated about what’s going on in other fronts and Scott is a very forward thinking and open minded person as well.

AkitaOnRails: First of all, let me congratulate you mr. progman.exe :-) I understand that this was something you’re very excited about. Can you tell us a bit more about your transition to Microsoft and your new duties?

Scott Hanselman: I’m working for Simon Muzio who runs, and large content-packed sites like that. I like to think my job is writing a book that will never end, where that book is blog posts, articles, screencasts, videos, talks, etc. I’m a teacher at heart, so while I took the title “Community Liaison” I like “Teacher.”

AkitaOnRails: Tell us about your history. How did you start in the computer world? Did you always develop more toward Windows or did you have a background in the Unix world as well? And before you recent departure to Microsoft you worked for Corillian. What was your role there?

Scott Hanselman: This blog posts talks about my early years in school.

See that book on the right there? That’s how I learned to program. This book was THE book in 1984. I typed in the whole book on a Commodore 64.

And a VERY influential teacher that set me on the right track.

Marianne Mayfield is my fifth-grade teacher and the reason I’m in computers today. She was at my wedding, at graduations, at family events. Twenty years later and we are still close. When I was young, she recognized that I was “at risk for trouble” and sat down with my family in order to find a way to get me back on track. She saw that I was transfixed by the Apple II in our classroom and set it up so we could sneak the computer out of the school as long as it was back by Sunday Night and noone noticed.

(click links above for more details)

Scott Hanselman: I was the Chief Architect at Corillian, working with other engineers and architects throughout the company, planning, designing, coding the next generation of Corillian’s Online Banking Platform.

AkitaOnRails: I applaud your Team Hanselman campaign to help fight Diabetes. I understand that you have Diabetes as well and that, fortunately, you managed to have it under control nowadays. Can you tell us this story and the goals of your campaign?

Scott Hanselman: My personal story is here :

I currently take three shots a day of Symlin while also wearing an Insulin Pump 24-hours a day, even while I sleep. The pump saves me from an additional six shots a day, which I took for 8 years before the pump. I test my blood sugar by pricking my finger between 8 and 10 times a day – that’s about 46,500 finger pricks so far, and miles to go before I sleep.

And there’s a good explanation of diabetes here :

Here’s where the analogy gets interesting. Remember in the analogy we are flying from L.A. to New York, except we only get to check our altitude seven times. And, we only get to change altitude (take insulin) less than ten times. But, when I check my blood sugar, I’m actually seeing the past. I’m seeing a reading of what my blood sugar was 15 minutes ago. And, when I take insulin, it doesn’t start lowering my blood sugar for at least 30 minutes.

The campaign ended up raising over USD$30,000, and that money will be applied to research, education and programs surrounding diabetes.

AkitaOnRails: “What in the world were you doing at a RailsConf?” That’s what I think people from outside of the Microsoft blogosphere would ask you :-) So, are you just curious about Rails, or do you actually develop Rails-based apps? I am very interested to learn your opinions about Rails. How did you find it? What do you think is best about Rails? And more importantly, what do you think Rails could have improved?

Scott Hanselman: I’m always trying different programming languages and frameworks. I’ve been doing Rails on and off for about 18 months, but it hasn’t clicked for me yet. I’m sure it will soon. The MVC pattern is very old…I was doing it in Java over 10 years ago, and certainly the pattern goes back 30 years. I think that Rails is a good framework considering it’s young age. I think it’s Ruby that is the real magic though and I find the Ruby aesthetic to be very in line with my own.

AkitaOnRails: Then, following my biased preferences, the next article I like is your screencast over the CTP ASP.NET MVC framework. I see that this new framework resembles Rails a lot. Of course, it may just look like that because both implement MVC2. But on the other hand, it uses very similar Rails idioms everywhere. It lacks a little bit of ‘convention-over-configuration magic’ but from what I saw, it looks much better than doing conventional ASP.NET. What do you think about it? Can you summarize it a little bit for those that don’t know this product yet? And what do you think will still improve in it?

Scott Hanselman: If one points at Rails and says “that’s MVC” then everything else looks like Rails, sure. Any good MVC framework needs to not only follow the pattern as appropriate but also abstract away HTTP (assuming it’s a web framework) in a clean, but not complete, way. The ASP.NET MVC implementation still has some baggage that it will always have to carry because ASP.NET WebForms came first and wasn’t design from scratch for testability in mind. That said, it’s all about alternatives. Use the framework that makes you happy and you feel most productive in. Some fraction, maybe 20%, of ASP.NET devs will prefer MVC. Now they have a MS support choice with good integration with C# 3.0

at RailsConf’07

AkitaOnRails: And what would be tech world without discussions and flame wars? I understand that most .NET developers don’t even pay attention to Rails or other frameworks. I even heard that there are some developers questioning things like “Why yet another web framework if ASP.NET is already there?” Meaning, why reinvent the wheel and divide attentions? I particularly think that this new MVC is the way to go, but it is undeniable that the old ASP.NET has much more acceptance and support. How to reconcile both point of views?

Scott Hanselman: That’s just FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Think what they like, this Framework is just about alternatives. WebForms is great, and if you’re doing Line of Business (LOB) apps with complex grids and such, it’s not going anywhere. However, if you’re an agile shop with a penchant for TDD and have been frustrated by ViewState, then check out ASP.NET MVC. There’s nothing to reconcile. Some people take a car, some a motorcycle, and others walk. As long as you get from point A to point B and feel good about the journey.

AkitaOnRails: Speaking of flame wars, there is probably one subject that gives me the creeps: the paranoid conspiracy theories regarding Miguel de Icaza and Mono. A lot of people actually believe that Miguel is ‘selling’ part of the open source world to Microsoft. Have you ever used it? What do you hear throughout the community and what’s your opinion about this matter?

Scott Hanselman: Yes, I’ve used Mono and I think it’s a great way to get your .NET application working on Linux or Mac. I think Miguel is brilliant and a fine dancer. I hear in the community that they are happy Mono exists and that it’s available as an option.

AkitaOnRails: I will probably be cursed for this one: but I am not ‘strongly’ against Microsoft as some fundamentalists are. It is public and notorious that Microsoft is a big corporation and as such it did its share of ill conceived deeds. A lot of them were already settled in court. So, it’s more complex than people usually think. I prefer to assume that inside Microsoft there is a lot of very smart people.

Scott Hanselman: I stay out of legal stuff. Microsoft is a huge company with a lot of smart people, but it’s really many medium sized companies working together (usually). I can’t speak to “ill conceived deeds.” I can only say that I do my best every day to not be evil, as do my coworkers. There’s no evil master plan in my group.

AkitaOnRails: I particularly like the roadmap for Windows Server 2008 (with it’s minimalist approach, finally having only what you need installed). Last year you were experimenting with IIS 7 and its new FastCGI support. I think it was primarily intended for PHP support but it could theoretically handle Ruby on Rails as well. Have you tried Rails there? I think Microsoft is clearly going after the low-end with Windows Server 2008 + IIS 7, against the inexpensive Linux+Apache boxes. I think they won’t be able to reach them in terms of prices but what do you think of it as an internet service contender?

Scott Hanselman: I have little power in that arena, but every time someone will listen I’m pushing for a nice inexpensive Web Server SKU. I’m a huge fan of IIS7 and I’d like as many people as possible to check it out. I haven’t tried IIS7+Rails but I’ve heard rumors of folks getting it working.

AkitaOnRails: There are a lot of new features in .NET 3.5. LINQ is the one that interests me the most. Can you give us a brief description of why it’s so interesting? And what do you think are the best improvements of the 3.5 version? Are you already using Orcas? What’s your opinion? Oh, and are you aware of the Sapphire in Steel project?

Scott Hanselman: LINQ is interesting because it’s its own Domain Specific Language for querying objects of all kinds, and it’s living right inside VB and C#. It’s a MUCH smarter compiler and it’s a joy to work with. I’ve installed Sapphire In Steel and I know a few people who are digging it. I’m looking forward to Rails on .NET.

AkitaOnRails: One of the advantages of the Microsoft .NET strategy was being prepared since its first day to be language-agnostic. Now we have the DLR that was derived from the works in IronPython and not IronRuby. But there is yet another cool language that not many people are aware of: F#, the OCaml inspired language. Have you tried it?

Scott Hanselman: Yes, and I’ve done two podcasts on it, one with Robert Pickering, author of a book on F# and one with Dustin Campbell, an enthusiast. I’m stoked it’ll be a first-class language inside VS.

with John Lam

AkitaOnRails: I am not against technical comparisons, we have to do such things to decide our steps in projects. But I am against pointless challenges. Rails is far from perfect and I am the first say it. That said, it is great for an specific niche of web development. I usually recommend that good programmers should expand their horizons and learn as much new stuff as possible. You can’t know everything perfectly but it’s always good to be aware of the possibilities. You wrote something around these lines. What do you think about it?

Scott Hanselman: Rails is good for what it does in it’s niche. You don’t create Windows Desktop apps with Rails and that’s fine. That’s why we don’t compare Rails to WPF, we compare it to Web Frameworks. Comparison is good and there’s always good to be found on either side. I avoid flame wars as well. It’s pointless. If the shoe pinches, don’t wear it. But, try as many shoes as you can!

AkitaOnRails: Last year you wrote an interesting post about the future. Google is this big giant, Amazon released surprisingly good products in the last few months like S3, EC2, SimpleDb. I am not well aware of the current Microsoft Live’s strategy. Can you say something about where is it heading to?

Scott Hanselman: I’m not in that group so I have no insight outside of what’s already been said. However, I do still hold to my predictions in that post!

Computing will be moved into the Cloud. It’s already happening, we’re 20% there. The idea has been around since the beginning, and it will, in my opinion, continue come up until it actually happens and we build Skynet. One of these compute clouds will no doubt end up in orbit.

AkitaOnRails: And of course, I kind of ‘have’ to ask you this: do you use Windows Vista? How has it been for you given that there’s a huge underground campaign against it? Do you think it is as bad as everybody else says? I can’t comment because I never tried it outside of my virtual machine (I am a Mac guy), but they did sold 100 million licenses.

Scott Hanselman: Sure. I run Vista 64-bit on 3 machines, and Vista 32-bit on 2 machines. It was rough for the first 3 months while the driver support sucked, but now it’s fine. I’ve got 2 vista machines that haven’t been rebooted in months, just put to sleep and woken up. Once you get good video drivers, you’re usually cool.

Folks give Vista a hard time but they forget the wide range of hardware it has to run on. OS X only has to run on Macs, and a narrow range at that. Vista has to run on millions of combinations of hardware. Third Party Drivers are by FAR the thing that crashes Vista the most and it gets blamed. That’s why I run 64-bit and used only signed drivers. I’ve been thrilled with 64-bit. Works great.

AkitaOnRails: Ok, this is it :-) Thanks a lot!


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