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Richard Morris

Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell: Geeks of the Week

13 September 2010

Learning .NET doesn't have to be dull: not when there are geeks like like Carl Fraklin and Richard Campbell with the wit and ability to talk interestingly about it. If you don't listen to their podcasts on .NET topics, then maybe you're missing out on a great way of whiling away the time spent commuting between home and work.

For those who may have missed it .NETRocks! is a weekly internet talk show run by a couple of MVPs, Carl and Richard, who are also experienced  broadcasters, and is hosted at MSDN Online. It is aimed at anyone interested in programming on the Microsoft .NET platform, and most of the regular listeners download the shows as podcasts, but the pair do a very popular roadshow and live Weekends..

The 600 podcast shows, going back to  August 2002, range from introductory information to hardcore geekdom. they are presented by author, conference host, entrepreneur, teacher and developer Carl Franklin. Carl also produces weekly shows on dnrTV, a screencast video interview/demo show in which the .NET experts show viewers how to write the code which they talk about.

As if a career in the technology isn't enough, Carl is also a songwriter, singer, guitarist, composer, arranger, audio engineer, and producer.

"There’s no such thing
as a perfect program,
and no such thing as a
perfect song. The mastery
is in the striving for perfection..."

His co-host Richard Campbell has spent more than 30 years playing around with microcomputers. Along the way he's done virtually every job you can imagine in the industry, from manufacturing to programming to consulting, training and writing. Today Richard is a Microsoft Regional Director, an ASP.NET MVP and as host of RunAs Radio (, the podcast for Microsoft IT Professionals.

Carl you’re known as a pioneer of the podcast. But what came to mind first, .NETRocks or the pod? And why did you decide on a radio show?
.NET Rocks came first. I have always been a fan of public radio shows like Car Talk, Whadya Know, and Talk of the Nation Science Friday. I am of the mind that radio, in particular talk radio, provides a very personal - dare I say 'intimate' - experience for the listener. When done right, the listener feels like they are part of the conversation. Without the distraction of eye candy, our brains can concentrate on just the voice. I always wanted to have a show like that.
You’re getting very close to 600 shows did you expect the programme to last as long as it has? Are there plans to make it into a regular radio station with a question and answer session or do you think the model is just about right as it is?
I love doing live radio. In this market, however, I think it's difficult. If we could have 10,000 simultaneous listeners to a live stream I would be into doing a Live Weekend now and then, and I think Richard would too.

I never know what to expect with this type of thing, so I never really thought about it. I was very happy to see it gain in popularity. Given the longevity of the Larry King’s of this world, I'd say as long as we continue to serve our audience we'll be doing this until we drop, or we have nothing left to say...
While it’s a little shocking when you look back over all those shows, I’m having a ton of fun doing them. I’ve found a way to harness my short attention span for the forces of good, spending an hour delving into different technology topics.

Carl and I are always discussing how we can reach more people – we’ve explored some live show ideas to see how that works. The current format works pretty well, it lets people listen when they want to listen. I have made it a habit to tweet about a show we’re recording and often we’ll get questions through twitter that we can ask the guest.
A few of the people I’ve interviewed such as L Peter Duetsch and Don Knuth compose and play music and Carl you’re something of a musician and composer too. Is there’s an obvious link with music and technology?
Oh wow, there is so much there. I've met CEOs of multi-million dollar consulting companies that say they only hire musician programmers, and in particular jazz musician programmers. There's really something similar in the way the brain solves problems of music and programming. Music is all about solving problems. When soloing, how do I get from this chord to that chord and still make music? In programming, how can I get from this state to that state and still maintain application flow? There are so many examples.

Here's a quick list: source code versus music notation; small teams/combos being agile versus large teams/orchestras requiring more structure; patterns in music versus patterns in software development; music composition versus architecture; the ability of a performer (when practicing) to work on very technical parts one second and still have an ear for the presentation versus the ability of a developer to work on very small technical pieces and still see the big picture of the application... the list goes on and on.
I think there’s an element of mastery there too – there’s no such thing as a perfect program, and no such thing as a perfect song. The mastery is in the striving for perfection.
Do you prepare for a show before you begin broadcasting – or do you just plunge in? How do you hope your shows will affect people?
Richard books the guests, then we take some time beforehand to research the guest if we have never heard of them, then we just have a conversation. I think sometimes not having any clue about the topic makes us ask better questions. I guess it depends on the topic.

I don't see our job as having to provide all the answers. I hope the listener gets their questions answered, but if not, then I hope they get fired up enough to go online and do a little research. Ultimately we're motivators. We motivate developers to look into things deeper.

You don’t want to know too much, you’ll skip over questions or clarifications that the audience might need.
There’s so many different shows we do, each have different goals. When it comes to a show on a new technology or technique, I think the goal is to save the listener time – set the technology in context, so they can make an informed decision as to whether or not it fits with their needs as is worth exploring further.
When you look back on all the shows you’ve produced, is there one that you like the best?
Now even if I did have a favourite, that would make 599 other guests feel bad, wouldn't it?
That’s like picking a favourite child! They’re all great in their own way, although admittedly, some are greater than others...
You both carry a lot of humour on the show. Have you ever thought about a career in stand-up? And how did the two of you get together?
Richard and I met properly at the speaker dinner at DevTeach in Montreal in 2003 (I think). He has a voice that demands your attention. I felt myself listening in on his conversations about flying cars and his water-cooled PC. I asked him if he'd like to be a guest on the show. That was show #69. We made a video of that show... interestingly, we didn't talk about .NET. He started doing a "Richard the Toy Boy" segment at the end of .NET Rocks shows, where he showed a few good toys and a few bad toys that you can buy on the web. When Rory Blyth left the show, Richard was a shoo-in for co-host. He started on show 100.

I don't think I'm funny enough to be a stand-up comic.
Carl and I both love comedy... off-air you can catch us reciting Bill Cosby’s Revenge to each other. Any time we get an urge to do stand up we record a Mondays instead, with Mark Miller and Karen Mangiacotti, who are much funnier than either of us.

Carl and I met at DevTeach in Montreal in 2004... I had known who Carl was for years previous to that, having been a regular visitor to Carl & Gary’s Visual Basic Home Page. We have some unusual things in common – we both have a passion for great audio, great software and great scotch. As for the show itself, I did a radio show in Vancouver called “Common Sense About Computers” years before, so the format worked for me, and thinking about what topics are important to developers in the future is something I enjoying doing. Our skills complement each other well.
Richard the Toy-Boy? Is this something the female listeners of .NETrocks! should know about?
That would be Boy-Toy... different thing entirely. I’m a gadget guy, I love fiddling with the latest stuff and figuring out if it’s actually useful. There’s a lot of bad toys out there.

Spouses to tend to react to my toys one of two ways.

Either “Don’t you dare buy anything until you talk to Richard first.” Or “Don’t you dare talk to Richard, that guy will cost us a fortune!”
Getting back to the questions about the show, who’d be on your wish-list of guests?
I want to interview Bill Gates about the old days, programmer to programmer. BASIC, compilers, operating systems. I want to geek out with Bill - completely avoiding any talk about Microsoft, the company, its future, money, or business in general.
Yeah, Bill Gates is the great whale we’ve never landed – although we’ve come close! Dunno if it’ll ever happen now.

I’d love to have a long conversation with Steve Ballmer, but I don’t know that I would want to record it, much less if anyone would want to listen to it.

But a wish-list is more than just individuals, it’s also topics. I think we’re approaching a revolution in programmatic techniques around massive parallelism, and my wish-list to find the folks that are going to lead that revolution and help bring their thinking to light, because it will change things in a very fundamental way.
You mean to say that when you interviewed Arfa Karim (9-year-old girl who became the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional) you didn’t asked her to sneak you in to meet Bill or Steve?
Nope, didn’t ask... she was great and very busy herself, we only got a little time with her to do an interview.

We had lined up an interview with Bill at TechEd 2008, which was going on just a couple of weeks before he retired. It had literally been months in the planning, trying to get on his interview schedule. In the end, just a few days before TechEd, they cancelled all interviews.
Is there anyone you regard as your Zen master, the person who has taught you most about what you know today?
I have had many mentors, from the guys I worked with at Voyetra Technologies, to Ethan Winer and Don Malin from Crescent Software, to Eileen Crain (Fisher) who ran the RD program at Microsoft when I joined, to Richard. I have been blessed to have worked with so many smart and nurturing people. I feel sorry for those who don't have mentors. If you yourself happen to feel that way, perhaps you ought to go be a mentor to a kid somewhere who really needs you.
Most of what I know about business I learned from my business partner in the 80s, a fellow named Lionel Shapiro, who was 40 years my senior. He’s passed away, but he’s the one who cemented my thinking around return on investment in computing. If your software doesn’t make a business do more with less or measure its performance more effectively, then why build it? It wasn’t an easy education, but it certainly served me well.
Is there any moment or event either in IT or computer science you would have liked to have been at and why?
Interesting. I was so green when computers came of age, I can't imagine myself being there and understanding. I would like to go back in time and experience the wonder and magic of computers for the first time. It seems like young people just expect computers to do magic. You and I know that really smart people are behind it, but I wish I could convey the miracle of the PC to my kids, for example.
I’d love to have the chance to meet Charles Babbage back in 1822 and help him finish his difference engine. He had all the elements of computers in front of him 120 years before ENIAC. Imagine what the world would be like today if we’d had steam powered computing back then.
Richard, I have to ask, how’s Stan the server. Is he still alive? And how’s Jimmy? Are you indebted to South Park?
Funny you should bring up Stan and Jimmy, since they’re both web servers. Stan was the older server that was replaced by Jimmy. Stan is long retired to the scrap heap, but Jimmy continues to serve web pages. Cartman is still in the rack too as a file server, Butters is a virtual machine server, hosting Dougie, which is the mail server that replaced Kyle... and Kenny, well, Kenny’s dead.

Am I indebted to South Park? Definitely... it saved me from naming my servers FILE_SERVER_1.
Richard Morris

Author profile:

Richard Morris is a journalist, author and public relations/public affairs consultant. He has written for a number of UK and US newspapers and magazines and has offered strategic advice to numerous tech companies including Digital Island, Sony and several ISPs. He now specialises in social enterprise and is, among other things, a member of the Big Issue Invest advisory board. Big Issue Invest is the leading provider to high-performing social enterprises & has a strong brand name based on its parent company The Big Issue, described by McKinsey & Co as the most well known and trusted social brand in the UK.

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