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# Sunday, December 11, 2005

Our book is now available.  Go buy it! :)

Professional ADO.NET 2: Programming with SQL Server 2005, Oracle, and MySQL

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Sunday, December 11, 2005 1:06:48 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, December 10, 2005

I was prompted recently to write some thoughts about Christmas and what I think it means as a Catholic living in America.  The reason I think it's important to mention that I'm American is that Christmas has taken on a lot of popular American traditions and has thus lost sight of the essentially Christian and Catholic meaning.  I think it's important to say Catholic because the Catholic tradition is what gave birth to and has developed the essential significance of this holiday.  Some traditional Protestant denominations (like Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopalian) have retained some of these Catholic vestiges, but it seems to me that Catholicism has the most to offer in understanding Christmas, both historically and theologically.  I also mention it because I speak as a convert from evangelical Protestantism, which has retained very little of the Christian significance of this holiday, and it seems to me that it is this evangelical and non-traditional Protestant culture that has most strongly shaped the popular American understanding of Christmas today.
If you asked most Americans today what Christmas is about, they'd likely say family, giving, and (possibly) the birth of Jesus Christ.  The more jaded might say it is all about trees, lights, and shopping.  Growing up, I witnessed a number of "put the Christ back in Christmas" campaigns, all wistfully yearning for a return to an earlier time when Christmas did not involve the other popular aspects (such as gift giving).  And I even know of some who refuse to give gifts in their family because they think it helps them to put more focus on the "real" meaning of Christmas, which of course is, at its most basic level, a celebration of the birth of Jesus.
But there is, at least in the Catholic tradition, much more to Christmas than that, and there are, I think, theologically sound reasons to participate in Christmas as it has developed (including the giving of gifts).  First of all, the Catholic new year starts, as far as the Church calendar is concerned, with Advent.  Advent (an Anglicized form of the Latin adventus, which roughly translates as "coming") starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas; it is a four-week period of prayer and penance during which we are called to prepare for the coming of Christ.  It has a two-fold meaning: first, symbolically, we are preparing for the first coming of Christ at his birth, the Incarnation, which is celebrated at Christ's mass (Christmas); second, really, we are preparing for the second coming of Christ, which all Christians are called to be prepared for. 
This is why Advent is a time of prayer and penance, and in times past, both Catholics and Orthodox celebrated it in a way similar to Lent (another penetential season leading up to Easter).  In fact, I'm told by an Orthodox friend that they still celebrate Advent with fasting, and it is a more solemn season than Lent is for them.  This is why, if you go into a Catholic church during Advent, the altar will be decorated in purple (the color of penance) as well as the priest's vestments; it is also why Advent wreaths use purple candles.  Additionally, on the third Sunday of Advent, the color of the vestments and candles are pink to symbolize a heightened sense that Christ is almost here and to lighten the penetential character a bit in celebration of that anticipation. 
These days most Catholics (in America at least) seem to have forgotten the penetential aspect of this season; I think it is in part due to the popular American sentiment during this time, which is anything but penetential.  It is hard to focus on penance when the culture around you is saturated with the happy-go-lucky atmosphere of "the holidays."  Of course, we should never lose site of the joyous culmination of the season, but Catholics should try to remember that in the midst of all this, we are called to prayerful penance in preparation of Christ's coming.
Advent is one way in which I think the Catholic understanding of Christmas is greatly enriched.  Of course, the pinnacle of Advent comes with Christmas, when we celebrate the Incarnation of God.  There is much in early Christian writings and, especially, in the East about the significance of the Incarnation.  Some have seen it as the single most significant event in human history, even more significant than, or at least as significant as, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  I don't have time to explore this topic in any depth, but to sum up, there is an ancient saying attributed to St. Athanasius (and/or St. Irenaeus, depending on whom you ask) that speaks to it: "God became man so that we might become God."  On its surface, this seems radical, but the essence is that it is by Christ's taking on humanity in the Incarnation that our likeness to God (our being created in the image of God) becomes complete, and it is only through his becoming human that the sacrifice on the Cross can be the source of saving grace for us. 
There is so much more to explore, theologically speaking, on this point, but I draw it out briefly to highlight that there is an ancient Christian significance that is lost in the popular, superficial acknowledgement that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus' birth.  The Nativity is only important in as much as we consider the grace that became possible through the Incarnation.  I should pause here and comment on a misconception that might occur when speaking of the Incarnation in relation to the Nativity, which is the suggestion that by thus speaking, we are implying that life begins at birth.  Obviously, though, this is not the teaching of the Church (who unequivocally teaches that life begins at conception), so one must be more reticent and simply appreciate that the Nativity provides a tangible way to reflect on the Incarnation, and that is why we meditate on the Incarnation with the Nativity.

Another point to ponder about the Nativity is that it is God's gift of himself to us and (ultimately) his gift of salvation through the Incarnation.  Because of this, I think it is good that we imitate God in celebration of that gift by giving gifts to others.  This is where I think we can see that a firmer grounding can help us to truly celebrate what is good in the holiday, even despite that this aspect has become secularized and commercialized.
Now, I just said "the Nativity" referring to Christ's birth; however, there is yet more significance in the "Nativity scene," as it is commonly known.  This is the portrayal of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, angels, and the wise men at the birth of Christ.  Of course, it is great in the obvious significance of recalling the historical events surrounding Jesus' birth.  But I think there is a deeper meaning to be garnered from it.  Catholics often refer to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as "the Holy Family."  It is in this Holy Family that we see God further blessing the social institution of the family.  God chose to not only become human but to become human in the context of a loving family and to grow up within that family.  During Christmas, we have a special opportunity to cherish this significance, and it adds theological depth to the common acknowledgment that "Christmas is about family."  Without the Catholic tradition of the Holy Family, one loses a rich source of grounding in the value of the family and, especially, why we should celebrate it at Christmas.

Another neat Catholic tradition in relation to the Nativity scene is the practice of not putting Jesus in the manger until Christmas.  This is a physical expression of the theological significance of Advent.  In fact, having grown up with "complete" Nativity scenes, I find it quite poignant and noticeable when Jesus is not present.  It becomes an immediate and regular reminder of the purpose of the Advent season, and it adds an extra happy ritual for Christmas when we finally get to put Jesus in the scene, further emphasizing the meaning of the celebration.

One might think we could stop there.  We did, after all, just talk about Christmas, right?  Well, another old Catholic tradition is the celebration of the "twelve days of Christmas."  These are the days from Christmas to Epiphany, which is the celebration of the finding of Jesus by the wise men.  This is the time whence we get the term "Christmastide."  It is the source of the song about the twelve days of Christmas, and Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" was set on the last night of Christmas.  During this time, American Catholics celebrate other important holy days (feasts) like the Holy Family (on the 26th), St. John (the Divine, apostle and author of John's gospel), the Holy Innocents (those slaughtered by Herod's henchmen in search of Jesus), Mary (the mother of God, celebrated on New Year's Day), and other saints. 
Christmas isn't just a one or two-day affair for Catholics.  It starts four weeks before Christmas and ends twelve days after with the Epiphany that the wise men had in finding him.  It's not just about the birth of Jesus, at least, saying this does not speak to the profound significance that this holiday holds for the Christian, including a season in which we are called to renewed conversion and repentance to prepare for the coming of our Lord.  It's not just about feeling good and having fun with your family; it is an essential celebration of the value of the family as shown through the Holy Family.  It's not just about running your feet off, buying gifts for people because that's what everyone does; it's about imitating God and giving of ourselves to others as he did of himself in the Incarnation.  Even the paradigm of the giver, Santa Claus, is derived from St. Nicholas (an early Christian bishop) who freely gave of himself to the poor.

We can still enjoy the season with all our fun American traditions, but I think these should be additive to the more essentially Christian significance of the holiday.  I'm thankful for becoming Catholic, learning about, and experiencing these traditions that enrich this uniquely Christian holiday.  I had many reasons for becoming Catholic.  I have many reasons for remaining so, and the Catholic experience of Christmas is just one of the ways in which I think Catholicism offers a richer understanding of the Christian faith and heritage.  You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy this holiday as I've described above, but it is certainly easier to do when it is built into the culture and history of your Christian community, and there is something to be said for the shared experience to be had in a communal celebration of these things, which I think can only fully be found in the Catholic Church.

Saturday, December 10, 2005 4:30:53 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Monday, November 28, 2005

As I was riding home this evening, I tuned into Classical Radio on Sirius. Normally, I'm more inclined towards classic jazz, Christian rock, or, in my more energetic moods, hip hop. But tonight, it was dark and rainy, and I was in the mood for something more mellow and just happened to stumble across this station.

The program playing was an old-time bank robber story with the familiar, even cliché, gangsta and of course the melodramatic dames that go along with the old movies and radio. But it was a not-unwelcome reverie of that bygone era when clichés were okay, when men were men and women were women. And Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Down With Love are both pleasant pastiche that take one back.

Though all of these call back to a time before my own, I can still appreciate them, partially because I often watched older movies as a child (and so they hold some nostalgia on that point) but also because they were unabashedly fiction. It seems that real fiction is becoming increasingly rare in the popular media.

Sure, we still have fiction, but what do you hear folks talking about at the coffee pot or water cooler? How about Survivor, Apprentice, the news, or "the game"? Even shows that aren't technically non-fiction are essentially about everyday happenings or dramatizations of them. Take as an example ER, House, the ubiquitous CSI, or the even more ubiquitous Law and Order. What about the abundance of other reality shows, crime dramas, self-improvement, home improvement, science, history, etc.? And in literature, though it is admittedly losing some favor, the most popular genre of late seems to be memoirs and other stuff that barely passes for fiction, if fiction at all.

The media seem to have collectively lost their imagination. There are a few shows that are welcome respites, such as Threshold and Ghost Whisperer, and the SciFi Channel has a regular plateful of fiction, although it is often, sadly, poorly done, with the notable exception of Battlestar Galactica and, at times, the various flavors of Stargate. Firefly and Farscape were both awesome, original science fiction series, but both were canceled before their time, and from the looks of it, Threshold will go the same way soon (why else do they keep changing show times?).

But of course, the media aren't only the ones to blame. They're at the mercy of popular sentiment; the money follows the eyeballs. So the real question is whats wrong with us? Have we become so dull and jaded that even our entertainment is nothing more than our reality?

I think this is indeed a symptom of our deadened imaginations, imaginations that have been repeatedly quashed by our teachers and the scientistic ideologues that inform our educational system; the ones who have been forcing materialist dogma down our throats since early childhood.

After all, why should we expect anything more than reality if thats all there really is? If I can't see it, touch it, smell it, taste it, or hear it, it's not worth my time. Or at least thats what we've been taught to believe, and now that dead view of reality is making itself painfully apparent in our popular entertainment and literature, which should be our liveliest, most imaginative relief from the banality of ordinary life.

The current state of the media is in the death throws of its imagination, throwing people together in ridiculous circumstances and seeing how they'll react or, rather, act. I'm at a loss for what do to about it. I think all I can hope is that people will grow weary, as I have, of the pathetic offerings that most of the media are dishing out today and throw their sentiment in with more creative and imaginative outlets, forcing the majority media to respond and give us back our collective imagination.

Yet there is hope, I think. The popularity of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, more especially, of Harry Potter are positive indicators. Zathura and Narnia are welcome additions that I hope will further spark the imagination of the younger audiences. One can only hope that as that generation grows (one not far behind my own, I might add), there will be a resurgence in demand for good fiction and we may yet save ourselves from this post-fiction world, and maybe some of us who will soon be inheriting the world can do our part to provide good fiction for our hungry and weary minds. The world needs more Tolkiens, Lewises, and Rowlings.

Monday, November 28, 2005 4:47:39 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 

Now this is the most useful innovation using .NET technology in the realm of ASP.NET that I've seen in a long time.  Fabrice Marguerie of metaSapiens has released a small framework called PageMethods that provides ASP.NET developers with an easy way to do both retrieval and validation of HTTP parameters as well as retrieval of URLs in a strongly-typed manner. 

I haven't had time myself to really play with it, but looking over the site gives me the impression that it is a well-thought-out architecture and I would think should be something that the ASP.NET team considers adding to the framework in the Orcas timeframe.  It's one of those ubiquitous problems that we've all implemented different solutions for in the past, so it is a perfect candidate for such adoption.

Good job, Fabrice!

Monday, November 28, 2005 1:10:14 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Friday, November 18, 2005

I don't think any of us can get away from thinking WWF initially when we hear or read about Windows Workflow Foundation.  The other F's in WinFX (WCF and WPF) both abbreviate and use the natural acronym approach, but obviously, we can't use it for Windows Workflow Foundation.  This point is addressed in Scott Woodgate's blog here, and also in the webcast referenced here.  Scott thinks WF is an acceptable compromise, but I agree with one of the commenters on his blog that for consistency and disambiguation, we should use something with at least three letters.  Another commenter suggests WinWF, which is better but is still inconsistent and almost too long.

I suggest WFF.  The reasons are:
1) It is three letters, starts with W and ends with F, like the other WinFX foundations, so we achieve consistency.
2) It isn't used by anything I know of.
3) WF is actually a common acronym for WorkFlow in our industry.

So it would read Workflow Foundation, with the Windows being implicit, but we still get the consistency, disambiguation, and lack of other cultural references (that WWF has).

What do you think?  If you like it, start using it.  Microsoft has said they're not going to make an official one, so it is up to the populus to determine it, and the way for that to occur is via common usage.

Friday, November 18, 2005 9:45:05 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Yesterday, Mrs. dotNetTemplar wanted to order pizza for lunch.  (I was working from home.)  So I pulled up papajohns.com and put in an order.  About 45 minutes later, the delivery guy arrived, and I met him at the door.  I just happened to be wearing one of the shirts that Microsoft has given me.

"You know, you oughta put that shirt up on eBay," he said.  "You might be able to get two Linux shirts for that one Microsoft shirt."

"Well, ya know, it pays the bills, hehe," I retorted kindly, and he acquiesced on that point, returning to his car.

It wasn't until a minute or two later that the full irony of the exchange hit me.

"You might be able to get two Linux shirts for that one Microsoft shirt," said.. the.. pizza.. delivery guy.. to.. the.. full-time.. professional.. software developer.

Hmm...  maybe he just loves delivering pizza...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005 1:47:10 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I was thinking today about the proliferation of the "Foundation" terminology in the new Microsoft offerings (e.g., Windows Workflow Foundation, Windows Communication Foundation, and Windows Presentation Foundation).  It occurred to me that the broader foundation for all of this is the .NET Framework and the CLR.  One option that came to mind was Microsoft Intermediate Language Foundation, or MILF.  I can't imagine why they didn't go with that...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 10:09:15 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Friday, November 11, 2005

It appears that my previous remarks have not fallen on deaf ears.  Last night, on "The Colbert Report," I was pleased to see Mr. Colbert "swearing himself in" and saying that Jesus Christ is the only true God, that he established a Church with Peter as its representative on earth, and that the current Pope Benedict XVI is his successor (roughly quoting, but that's the gist).  That's more like it Mr. Colbert; thanks for clearing that up.

And because of that, I'll take back my call for a crusade against him.

I was also pleased to see some wit targeted at the Da Vinci Code in the segment called the Da Colbert Code, in which he illustrated the ridiculous reasoning that is rampant in the Da Vinci Code.  Each day I watch the Report, my opinion of Mr. Colbert is raised.

On top of that, a few nights ago, he had Catherine Crier on the show.  She wrote a book about how 'activist judges' on the far 'right' are changing America's laws to conform with their own views of the world.  Mr. Colbert was seemingly joking in his criticisms, but I think you can tell whether he really thinks what he's joking about thinking.  In this case, he seemed to be only half-kidding, and I appreciated his perspective.  It's nice to hear someone ask "would that be so bad" about America becoming more religious.

That said, I must admit that I do think that any kind of activist judge is not a good thing, whether or not I agree with the judge's philosophy.  We make our laws through our elected representatives, and for good or ill, I don't want any judge or group of judges to overturn them just because they don't like them.  If they stick to strict, historical, and reasonable interpretation, I think our country would do just fine.  The problem with so many judicial decisions today is precisely that the judges don't do that and prefer to shape the country in their image instead of the Founders', who were overwhelmingly religious and Christian.  If judges did stick to that kind of interpretation, our country would be much better off (and more morally sound in its laws).  That's where I think Mr. Colbert is right in asking 'would that be so bad?'


Friday, November 11, 2005 9:43:38 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Thursday, November 10, 2005

Yesterday on the aspnet-architecture list (on AspAdvice.com), we had a little fun going off topic, but rather than continue that discussion there, I thought I just post my thoughts here on something that sprung up (again), namely, the "outsourcing threat." 

Now I'm going to be (potentially) elitist.  Simply put, if you are valuable enough, there is no such thing as an outsourcing threat.  All natural-born Americans have something unique to offer, which is their expertise in American culture and American English.  These are not skills that someone can just pick up at an ESL course or even at a four-year college.  This is something you only get by living here for a long time and, likely, since childhood, and these can be used to your advantage in business.

Granted, I'm not going to say that outsourcing isn't replacing jobs that would otherwise be filled by Americans (that would require living in a fantasy world).  But the jobs that can go off shore are only those that don't require the skills mentioned above.  In the software industry, this is typically going to be low-level support and programming, typically jobs that only require a very basic level of proficiency and little interaction with the business.  I know, for instance, a company that sends off a lot of coding to India, but they still employ a lot of Americans to do the business analyzation and design and even some development. 

The reasoning is obvious--the business is American and Americans like working with Americans because of the aforementioned skills; there is no language or culture barrier to overcome.  Getting software right is hard enough without introducing these barriers, so any company worth its salt will see the value in that and hire Americans wherever interaction with American business is required.

So that's one way in which any American can get the upper hand.  Take advantage of your American-ness.  That's something you can't just ship off shore.  And I can promise you there are tons of businesses, especially smaller businesses, that will never consider off-shoring their work or working with non-American companies.

Another way you can make off-shoring irrelevant to you is simply by becoming good and staying good at what you do.  This requires extra effort, but it will pay off.  It requires passion about what you do.  If you're just in the software industry because you think it is a cakewalk and pays well, you probably won't get very far and off-shoring should be a concern for you.  But if you're passionate about software and translate that into just becoming d**n good at it, you will never lack for employment, whether that's working for a company or as an independent contractor.

Let's quit victimizing ourselves.  American economy is built on the free market, and it has proven time and again that it works.  The latest example of this is the recent oil conundrum caused by the hurricanes.  We had many people predicting ridiculously high prices and suggesting government controls, but by simply going up to where they did, demand was strangled and prices were forced to come down.  You can apply the same to the software industry; it is a matter of supply and demand.  You need to identify where there is a demand and fill it.  There will always be a demand for Americans who understand American culture and business as well as software, and there will always be a demand for good people. 

So rather than complaining about the free market and trying to get the government to control American businesses, which is rarely a good thing, focus on yourself, make yourself an indispensable commodity, and you won't have to worry about the fact that some jobs are being off-shored.

Thursday, November 10, 2005 9:24:05 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 

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