Archive for October, 2010

Questions? Do I get questions?

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

In short yes I do. I have gotten used to being asked all sorts of questions. Apparently people expect me to know about everything even remotely related to Microsoft.

  • “My printer doesn’t talk to my new computer?”
  • “When is such and such a product coming out?”
  • “What can you say about this court case Microsoft is in?”
  • “Such and such product doesn’t want to install, can you tell me why?”

Answers? Yeah, sometimes I have answers. People don’t like all of them though. For example, the printer not talking to your computer is probably because you don’t have an updated driver and that is the printer companies responsibility not Microsoft’s. It’s amazing how often I get asked about hardware BTW. Not the rare piece of hardware that Microsoft actually sells under their own name but some object that is advertised as working with Windows.

And the occasional Apple question. Why? No idea. I guess because it is a computer.

For products, Microsoft comes out with all sorts of products all the time. I don’t work with all of them. I’m not a gamer and I don’t work in the game group so I have no idea (or much interest most of the time) when new editions of games are coming out. And if I knew but it hasn’t been announced publically I can’t (will not) tell you any way. Chances are that if the product/game/what ever is important to you than you already know as much about the release date as I do. And if I know more?  Sorry, but I really like my job and announcing product release dates is way above my pay grade.

Court case? My understanding with the lawyers is that I don’t comment on legal issues and they don’t write code. We’re all better off that way. Oh you want my personal opinion? Sorry, I don’t know you well enough to share that. And you know, I really do like my job.

Few people ever have enough information for me to diagnose an install problem. I need to know every other piece of software they have installed, every version, every error message they have seen and even then there is a great chance that the product is outside my area of expertise.  Sigh! Though I do try when I can.

I don’t mind the questions BTW.  I get more frustrated with myself when I can’t help. But I really like it when I can help. So as long as people ask I will do my best to answer. But I don’t know everything.

Markup Languages

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

So there is nothing on TV and I am catching up on my blog reading. Eugene Wallingford had an interesting blog post from a conference (I think) he is attending. One of the things that came up, sort of on the side, was markup languages like runoff and troff. These were markup languages used for creating documents in the days before WYSIWYG word processing software. I used runoff and variations of in for a while at DEC. Later DEC developed a tool called VAX Document which processed a markup language called SDML – standard document markup language. I wrote a lot of documentation back in the day using SDML which was processed through VAX Document.

It was sort of like HTML is some ways but with a whole lot more options. If fact is was really a customized set of markup tags for creating computer documentation. It was particularly good at documenting DCL (Digital Command Line) instructions which is how most command line programs were run on the Digital operating systems.

One had to create their files using a text editor of course and enter tags manually. We were not near as sophisticated then as we are today. And as with any coding effort there was often debugging as nesting was wrong or end tags were forgotten or there were typos in the tags. The end results usually looked very good though. We were still getting used to proportional fonts back then and without WYSIWYG editors it was hard to manually format things. Markup languages and the processors that worked with them were much easier. Relatively speaking of course.

We had a markup language for specifying DCL commands. This language was used to help create code that would be used by programs for parsing command line input. For the life of me I can’t remember what that markup language was called. And I used it a lot. While I was in grad school I actually wrote a sort of compiler to input that markup language and then automatically create SDML for documentation purposes. I had to manually add some detail of course but I was guarantied that all of the commands, options and parameters that would be supported by real code were in the documentation. It was a big win for me.

The next step was to have it create more stub code that I could use in my programs. There were a lot of library calls one had to do and this also saved me a lot of work. Especially since I could create code stubs automatically in VAX BASIC, PASCAL, FORTRAN, COBOL and C++. I was using all of those languages on a regular basis at the time.

Eventually HTML came along and with previous experience with several other, more powerful, markup languages it was pretty easy to pick up. I still retain an appreciation of a good markup language. HTML is getting weird in some ways and going beyond a simple markup language. Simple is a valuable thing in a markup language. Oh well. XML is being used quite a bit these days but I am not sure that people whose whole markup language experience is XML and HTML can really understand the beauty of good markup like we old-timers. But then I may be full of it too.