Window Change: Zay Muv't My Chisa!



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Tuesday, 10th July 2012
NOIDA

Preamble: What Windows developers have known as the Windows API has changed with the advent of the Windows 8 operating system. This is unsettling.

As a Windows user as well, you will find yourself in a contingency – a state of mild stupefaction mixed with feelings of betrayal. The new, improved user interface, which they’re calling “metro,” looks like a big cell phone screen, as big as a desktop you have, staring back at you in anticipation of being fondled with while you freeze into the character of a confused idiot with an urgent need for an old priest and a young one.

In the ensuing five minutes, though, and without the help from the priests, you’ll have figured out that the new user interface is touch-based and that it allows you to use the mouse and the keyboard as well. And you’ll be excitedly touching the sizable cell phone in places with your keyboard and mouse and hands and legs and other things. Give a Neanderthal a jukebox and you’ve got the picture.

Windows 8, about which I know approximately diddlysquat because I have never installed and used it because of my poor means, has had a Consumer Preview release, and even more recently, a Release Preview. All I have seen of it is from reading the first 294 published pages of the sixth edition of Charles Petzold’s magnum opus Programming Windows, watching the very few YouTube videos on the topic and loitering about Channel 9.

Note: If you are a C/C++/C# programmer of any reputation and you are wondering who Charles Petzold might be, then the best practice in such a situation is usually this (and I know you are a best practices person).

You should take a close friend with you into a forest. Dig a deep ditch, remove your clothes, and wear a white bath towel from the waist down. Now, climb down the ditch. Next, request that you be immediately covered with mud. Finally, as the best practice recommends, have your friend walk away from the scene.

The baking is still in the oven. The cake-smith has allowed us a peek through the glass covering. The sweet-meal has already taken its shape. The hash-slingers are waiting tables to write orders. There’s no un-caking it now.

This time, Microsoft has made its hugest leap ever by bringing the touch-screen to the conventional desktop and replacing virtually every old user-interface control with a new one. Someone at the top at Microsoft is encouraging big thinking even if it involves making lots of mistakes, scrapping all old stuff and creating entirely new stuff without worrying too about the impact that might have on usability or user psychology. This is a risky deal.

Look back at history and we notice that this behaviour is very typical of Microsoft. The company has never been scared of trying new things; big things involving a lot of risk.

In 2007, they did that with Microsoft Office when they did away with all the old ActiveX controls and created new things like ribbons, hair-pins and what-not.

A few years ago, they worked on DLINQ for a long time, invested a good deal in it, invited everyone to the party, hired a DJ, got the sound, camera, lights rolling, got the music started and just when everyone was about to start dancing, they realized that another team was working on something almost exactly similar, so they sent every one of the guests back home hungry and in hot blood for a dance, tossed DLINQ into the litter-bin, and unified the development efforts of other teams to the development of the Entity Framework and Linq to SQL.

Another prank was that of making everyone believe that COM was almost in its grave and now sauntering about the same old COM alley for the user controls in Windows 8.

But this time, their courage is bigger. This is big. And I am confident that it is for good, but yet. It is disconcerting.

I am not sure whether I feel excitement or disappointment; perhaps neither. But I do feel something. Perhaps, I am ill-at-ease with the pain of giving up an old habit and re-learning how to write “Hello, World!” again, but I couldn’t be sure.

Although the thing about learning the ropes all over again is not entirely true because the new Windows API, the new beast of burden, which they are calling the Windows Runtime in the boardrooms and WinRT in the bedrooms, perhaps because it rhymes with sweetie, is almost like programming with the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). Except that the toolbar, the ribbon, the edit control, the dialog box will all recede into relic status to give Earth to new user interface elements such as tiles and topless, bottomless, full-screen metro style windows.

I am certain that we’re moving into a world where we each eat fewer carbohydrates, have fewer pesticides on our food crops and have more love and abstraction, but that’s precisely what appears to be the cause of my discomfiture.

Higher levels of abstraction are surely good for, umm, world peace, but I can’t stomach the fact that this time they changed something so fundamental, something that I had grown so used to. They moved my cheese.

I am discombobulated! The Win API does not seem like the Win API anymore, programming is getting a lot more like dealing with stodge, and the experience of reading books about programming on the Windows platform, though still one of great interest, is also one of bathos -- one of switching from reading Gödel, Escher, Bach to reading Hardy Boys.

I know that twelve months heretofore, I and Windows 8 will look back and laugh at this like it never really happened. Five years hence, these will be bedtime stories I will be telling my children. And all of that is good and glorious. But having been a Windows developer for a long time, through this written article, I express my consternation. I bring to your mind the same bizarre imagery that I have dreamt of in relation to this development. You’re probably about to read a specimen of absurdism and the finest grade of literary nonsense you might ever lay your eyes on.

 

Microsoft DreamsI NEVER thought Windows and gender were related. Then, I read this book.

Someone somewhere said something about the top people at Microsoft brushing their teeth and cleaning their gums every morning and going into their cabins, locking them up from the inside, and going into deep sleep to dream big dreams; dreams about work underway in the Delhi metro and about laying tiles. Gums and gumption were mentioned, I remember.

Since I read that book, I began to believe that Windows is in fact related to gender and those people have done something to its gender.

You don’t understand? Wind your clocks back a decade and a half.

In those days of wrist watches, using the Windows API was a simple affair. Like that of running a one master, one servant household. Windows was a male society. There was one manservant who took your orders, just the one drudge, the one peasant of the patriarchal land, the one runner of all errands, the labouring oar, the servant of all work, the one myrmidon, and he was a gent, a gentleman's gentleman -- PASCAL, the menial, the official man Friday for all those who used the Win32 API.

While at rest, he lounged in a hot tub playing water games and making water related theories, smiling affectionately towards the ceiling.

But when his master called, he leapt out of the tub with the panic of a solider called to duty during a war crisis, put on his clothes and gave you the look like he had come to lay down his life for you even when all you wanted him to do was count the characters in a string.

So, when you, the master, the programmer calling the Windows API called, "Yo PASCAL bum!" PASCAL leaped to your toe in the most servile manner.

If he didn't, you called twice, "You blaizy PASCAL, you pretend like you hear LONG and FAR when I need you about the chores.”

When Pascal tried to explain that he was in delay only because he was reciting sonnet 57 to himself in his private celebration of his loyalty towards you, you interrupted him sharply.

“You won't work without no arguments from me, eh? You only take my argument and go stack 'em up right, or I stick this pointer into your behind, and it will give you the nuisance like the fresh dingleberries of the season."

At that, the poor creature hurry-scurried off with your order. Waiting for your homing thrall to make homeward with the fulfilment of your order, you swung back and forth on your rocking chair whistling "Oh, when the saints go marching in.” Twenty milliseconds hence, he cut off your tune with a sudden appearance.

Every so often, the schlemiel did return spent and empty-handed. In those occasions, you didn't yell at him. Just like a wise dictator does not punish his toady underlings for their habitual incompetence knowing fully well that his toady underlings are incompetent servitors, ineffective weaklings, useless cogs, for if they were not so, his dictatorship would be naught, not? So knowing, the dictator but makes advantage of it.

With the same wisdom, you patted PASCAL’s hunched back, fondled his ear like a mahout, and discoursed about the merits of self-blame, "Get Last Error, PASCAL. When you accept blame for your sins, you sport the look of a true knight."

At other times, his returns were either in excesses, bearing the positive signature of adherence or he returned unblemished, with his integral value intact, unsigned by influences of the kind that afflict the servant class of people.

WPF UnionA busy, working man is reasonably tempered. So was PASCAL. Alas, such a statement cannot be made with regard to the fair sex, esp. those of today!

“Frailty, thou art twisted psychology incarnate,” true that fellow said.

The new API is a band of skivvies.

Under the new regime, the new hewer of wood and drawer of water is a clique of nurses, a lady's gang, a cadre of woman deputies, a batch of shrewd matrons, unyielding to any authority but their own. They invaded Windows. They tried to kill PASCAL but he fled to another realm and has left no signs of his whereabouts for the sleuths to sniff about.

These new emissaries are fighting for women's rights and such and are calling their crew the Women's Power Federation (WPF). These gangers are all about keeping and using up power. Mein Kampf and The 48 Laws of Power were required reading in their initiation program. Witches!

I mean, we had Unions even back then, but they were nothing like this gang of hags.

Ever since these sectaries formed their company, employers who advertise their belief in diversity of race and sex have actually started to put their beliefs into practice, have considerably relaxed labour laws and have cringed in fear.

The lady attendants are slow in going about their work, much slower than PASCAL, the old pro. And they are lazy, too.

CamelIt is rumoured that the lady gang took a girlie trip to Arabia last summer where they had a lot of crack, absolutely no pun intended. There, they found a lone camel standing aloof on the border between the Sahara and the Kalahari deserts. Like all women do for their teddy bears and things of that nature, the women folk took pity on him and brought him home.

Now, they have the camel tethered in their compound outside their headquarters. It acts as their doorbell speaker. If you have to meet the female entourage to give them instructions, you first have to talk to the camel in some strange camel talk that goes something like, "open da less than bracket sign x m l close by the greater than da bracket sign unroll da canvas and by god now close da bracket by the greater dan bracket sign, put da boiled eggs in da textblock and open the bracket sign," and so on.

The Arabian beast takes the instructions to the lady operatives and I suspect that these female agents and their satellites don't do jack themselves. I 'spect them lady parasites go to poor ol PASCAL to do the legwork.

The lady gang is hiring all the time and growing bigger in size by-and-by. In the hallways of their offices, they have display boards and posters showing happy faces, a bottle of some Soma prescription tablets, and the words Community, Identity and Stability displayed in bold and large letters as their core values.

And now even Windows and not just the Windows API has started acting like the lady gang. Just like those squeamish womenfolk of the liberation front, if you touch Windows now in awkward places like at the task bar a few times, it freezes into a frown, warning you that you need to reset your exploratory considerations by restarting explorer.exe. These are the stubborn facts of today.

I think Martin Luther King lied when he said – wait -- what was it he said? Yeah! He said:

Facts are stubborn things,
With their airy wings
And bottom like things
And we end this limerick about hirelings
With the words streelings and pullings.

No, I don’t think he said that. No one said that. I just made that up. But the fact is -- something is churning in my stomach, it feels like.

Einstein, Bohr and HeisenbergIt feels as though you were moved during your sleep. You went to sleep in your cosy king-sized bed in your room at the usual time, and when you woke up, you found yourself on the rough asphalt with the surroundings resembling those of a refugee camp. All your brethren are in as little camps as the one you are in. Announcements on a loud-speaker are being made about the rationing of food, clothes and some other things we can’t hear about or we either don’t care about or the objects are undefined or they don’t exist.

Upon asking, you learn that you were transported during your sleep to the moon because of an experiment and you’re now to live the rest of your life here on the moon. “Do not panic,” repeats the voice from the loud-speaker. “Behold! Einstein, Bohr and Heisenberg are doing scientific things with atoms and molecules to make water for your potty and breakfast and that type of stuff. We’re back to the living in the medieval times, but we’ll get to the present soon enough.”

Charles PetzoldMeanwhile, back in the real world, back on planet Earth that is, a few days ago, Ben & Devon, two Matrix people hired gun-man Charles Petzold, the son of Windows, to write a book about the arrival of the women staff who own the Arabian camel. They said that he was the best choice to write such a book because of his reputation as a basketball shooting guard and his likeness with Elvis Presley.

In opening the book, Charles Petzold quickly sang a very warm greeting to Windows 8, made one basket, and described his protégé Pascal as an invalid and wrote in sorry paragraphs about Pascal’s growing paunch, greying stubble and yellowing teeth.

Petzold said that while in the country side, neighbours still fought over stealing water from each other’s water pump, in the metros, the Gotham dwellers caught each other’s collar on the differences between the Model View View Model (MVVM) and the Model View Controller (MVC) architecture when used with the Repository pattern.

He also proudly prospected that we were moving into such high layers of abstraction that in the near future while the rest of us will be programming Windows simply by dropping cartoons into Microsoft Power Point, the people in England will be doing it just by spreading jam on their bread. In a few more years theretofore, he said, the people of England will be able to program Windows simply by taking too many holidays from work. That will be the day to live for.

The two Matrix people also made an experiment. They are making the book available to readers as gunman Petzold is writing its alphabets, words, paragraphs and pages. In the month of May, the book cost only $10. In June, it cost $20 and for some of July 2012, the price will remain at $20. After July, the book will sell for $50. I bought the book in May for just $10.

Now, if those strangers from the strange land don’t eat us all up this year, and all the other conspiracy theories turn out not to be true, then I will have made a huge killing in profit, which I intend to use for having a nice haircut. Actually, with a haircut under the mango tree costing nearly 60 cents where I live, I think with that $40 I saved, I’m covered for life.

If you haven’t bought the book yet, buy it now.

PascalIn the final chapter, which concerns the mysterious whereabouts of Pascal, Petzold reveals that Pascal is still there. And like God, he listens. If you call, he comes, but the misogynistic Pascal and his growing paunch live lives of a hypochondriac, the life of a yesteryear superstar fading into oblivion and poverty, living in constant fear of death and dysentery.

Pascal’s current sedentary lifestyle, excessive cigar smoking habit, declining health and fear of the crazy women dacoits do not permit him to come out in public. So, he spends his time in the jungle, sitting beneath a tree, playing five-stones, thinking about his time during the Vietnam War and mostly making water theories.

And that is the end of my shaggy dog story.

 

Streeling is a transliteration of the Hindi word. The meaning is feminine gender, or simply the female sex. Pulling is the transliteration of the Hindi word and the meaning is the male gender. The words streelings and pullings, therefore, are English pluralizations of the Hindi words. The plural forms of the words in Hindi are the same as thier singular forms.



Illustrations by Naveen Kumar Singh (naveenks dot hbti at gmail dot com)