Monday, November 23, 2009

PDC 2009 Session Links

I extracted the session titles and links into this PDF to make it easier for me (and for you) to find and navigate to the PDC 2009 session materials. Hope it works for you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Easing into Prism

I received a familiar email today:

Is it possible to start slowly with this Prism stuff and work my way into it gradually. Can I get something running quickly with DevForce as I know it now? My client has seen a prototype and I need to construct it soon. Then can I come back later and modularize the whole thing behind the scenes?

Here’s my reply:

You do not need Prism to get started!  You can introduce it into your application as you see opportunities that make sense to you. Prism is not a monolithic framework. It is a small collection of free-standing components that also work well together. You can adopt it a piece at a time; some of it you may comfortably ignore.

It’s definitely worth reading about. It’s worth looking at the Reference Implementation and the Quick Starts. Get the Composite Application Guidance book from Patterns and Practices, look at what folks are doing with it and saying about it.

Don’t get hung up on Prism itself. It is guidance first and implementation second. Poke around. See how other people tackle some of the same concerns. You might look at Caliburn, for example.

In other words, take your time and educate yourself.  You don’t have to dive into the deep end.

However, I feel strongly that you should start wrapping your head around Dependency Injection (DI) and Inversion of Control (IoC) containers as soon as you can.  They will completely transform the way you write your application. They will position you for future modularity and make your code ever so much easier to maintain.

Learning IoC is also a great career move.

When you see yourself writing “new XXX(…)” you will learn to stop and ask yourself, “Do I really want to lock myself into the XXX type or would I be better off if XXX were delivered to me instead?”  In recent years my answer has increasingly been to avoid “new” and let the IoC construct and inject the instance I need.

Don’t get carried away now. It’s a shiny new toy. Take it easy. But get used to it.

I know you asked about Prism and here I am waxing on about IoC. I only go on about this because your decision to use or not use DI/IoC is fundamental. Prism (and its ilk) will come along naturally if you use DI; they won’t seem so natural if your application is not DI-ready.

I promise the effort of learning DI (and it does takes some effort) will pay off quickly … and for the rest of your career. The principles are fundamental to emerging Microsoft technologies (see the Managed Extensibility Framework – MEF). Dependency Injection is the primary vehicle for implementation of most modern application development patterns.

You have plenty of IoC containers to consider. Microsoft Unity is one choice but by no means the only one: AutoFaq, Castle Windsor, Ninject, and StructureMap are popular (apologies to any I omitted).

Do not be overwhelmed! These alternatives are vying for your affections with tons of features and you may easily become convinced that DI is super-complicated.

You can ease into DI. Take a look at our “Prism Explorer” (which uses Unity); you’ll hardly notice IoC but it’s there. I limited myself to the simplest Unity techniques. If I remember correctly, I only use constructor injection, I register very few interface types, and I don’t use any of the attribute markup. You can go amazingly far without any advanced IoC features.

In sum, get going on your application and do not let these technologies distract you. They are important and valuable but you don’t want to destroy your business relationship by drowning in technologies that you know nothing about.

Get acquainted with Dependency Injection first and start using it experimentally. Learn about Prism in all that spare time.

Try partnering with someone who has been down this road before. If that is not possible, find a local users group and latch on to other like-minded developers. It’s much more fun when you play with others.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Young @ Heart: The (2007) Movie

Stumbled into “Young @ Heart”, a documentary about a New England choral group performing punk, rock, and R&B covers; the hook is that the members are well over 70 (high of 92).

Sounds like an opportunity for terminal cuteness … “oh those feisty seniors … isn’t it amazing that they can sort of sing at all at their age? … it’s so inspiring!”.  That’s exactly the sense you get from the trailer which is delivered with the typical phone-it-in Fox Searchlight style. Exactly the kind of movie I avoid.

But this one caught me completely by surprise and I’m still roiling with emotions a day later. I’m trying to figure out why.

It should have been utter treacle like one of those sentimental movies about animals, or kids, or illness, or the mentally infirm. Instead it’s a rich character study in which each member of the cast takes you somewhere you’re likely to go … somewhere you want to go … if you’re lucky enough to live that well.

Singing is the glue and reason enough to watch. The songs - well-known pop tunes of youthful love, rage, despair, and hope – confess new moods and meanings as sung by performers far from adolescence.  The juxtapositions can be simple fun as in the raucous “I Want to be Sedated”, given literal treatment by a cast for whom the wheelchair is a serious threat. Or it can rip you open as when Bob Knittle’s rich baritone pleads “I will try to fix you” to the barely perceptible beat of his oxygen machine, counting down toward the inevitable. It would be contrived if it didn’t actually happen, inadvertently, before a packed house of loving fans.

The heart of the movie is the interviews and the lives of the cast as they orbit the rehearsal hall. The authenticity is striking. At a jail house concert the camera lingers on the prisoners’ faces each surrendering a thought of present loss or worrisome future. They are not being entertained (although they think they are); they are transported to the company of someone they miss, of someone they may become.

Death is a looming presence. Close as he is, the cast are no more ready for him than we are.

It’s not great filmmaking. It’s great human material triumphing over the pedestrian. It’s people being themselves, striving for meaning and community, just a few feet ahead of us down the road we travel together.