Jun 21 2012

Interview with Mark Dalrymple, June 2012

Sheep ThrillsSpecial guest post by LeAnn Boucher, Ranch Public Relations.

(ordinarily I don’t like being put into the center of attention, but they threatened me with posting something even more embarrassing. que sera sera. ++md)

June 2012 Big Nerd of the Month: Mark Dalrymple

Drumroll please! Your fearless blog editor Mark Dalrymple is the June Big Nerd of the Month. You regularly benefit from his wisdom and tips, but do you ever wonder, who is that cowboy-hat topped man behind the Big Nerd Ranch blog? (To be 100% honest, I generally just lease a cowboy hat when needed. Otherwise I’m sporting a Ranch or CocoaHeads baseball cap. ++md)

Read on…

BNR Blog: What would be the best word/phrase to describe you?

MarkD: Mostly harmless.

BNR Blog: It recently came to our attention that in addition to amazing, big-brained Nerdy-ness, you also possess a special talent for taking squeaky, air-filled pieces of flexible plastic and forcing them into adorable little shapes.

MarkD: It’s true! I’ve been making balloon animals for decades now, since high school. It’s a great stress relief, and it’s great to see people’s faces light up when presented with a critter made especially for them.

BNR Blog: What is the hardest balloon animal to twist?

MarkD: Pretty much anything involving a hook twist is tough for me to do. They can hurt, they’re pretty hard to do without popping the balloon, plus it can be difficult get the exact shape you want.

As far as figures go, I did a bunch of sheep for a church window decoration, and that was a pretty tough one to get right. It takes three or four balloons, and you have to keep the proportions correct from balloon to balloon, lest things really look messed up. I made about a dozen of them before I got the proportions consistently decent. The lamb pattern is from a VHS tape (!) made by Mr Rainbow, a.k.a. Dave Bartlett. I had to borrow a friend’s VCR so I could remember how to make it.

BNR Blog: Wow! Is there any truth to the rumor that students in your Advanced Mac OS X class are treated to this amazing display of talent? (Speaking of our Advanced Mac OS X class, have you signed up for the July 23 class in Atlanta? If you’ve attended classes before, you can always take advantage of our 10% alum discount. Check it out!)

MarkD: Yes, one of the week’s activities does include balloon animals. Folks leave knowing how to make a three-fold dog and a flying mouse. Oh yeah, and a bunch of stuff about OS X programming.

BNR Blog: How did you meet Aaron?

MarkD: Same way many of us did – by taking a class. I took a Cocoa class in 2002, shortly after I got laid off from my dot-com job during the dot-com-bust. This was back when the classes were in Asheville, NC, and there were llamas we could visit. I was That Annoying Guy in the class – I had read through the book and worked through all the exercises, so I often went on my own tangent for the current chapter under discussion, coming up with the obligatory hard questions. A couple of months later I pitched a class idea, and we iterated until we came up with the first Core OS X class and subsequent series of books.

BNR Blog: What advice would you give recently graduated college seniors?

MarkD: Be sure you learned your data structures. Aside from that, “make contacts and treat them well”. I’ve spoken to a Pitt CS/CE seminar about the squishier side of software engineering, and also wrote a blog posting ages ago. Technology comes and goes. The important things are the people in your life. The wheel of karma can uplift in addition to smacking down.

BNR Blog: What was your first job?

MarkD: First paid job, or first real job? My first paid gig was at Visix Software. Started out as a Tech Support Fool, did a couple of years on the phones and helping to port the software to various Unix platforms, and worked my way up to being an Senior Software Enginerd, contributing to important parts of the toolkit. It was an incredible working environment, working side-by-side with folks a lot smarter and more experienced than I was. It was a sink-or-swim crash course in C, software design, building large maintainable products, with a critical eye on performance and API design.

My first real job was doing work for my Dad during summers in high school and college. He was a chief of staff of nuclear medicine at a VA hospital. They didn’t have the resources to hire me, so I literally worked for cheeseburgers. I was technically a volunteer – work more than four hours in a day gets you a voucher at the hospital cafeteria. Most of the stuff there was revolting, but the cheeseburgers and onion rings were awesome. I built PC-XT and -AT clones from spare parts (we couldn’t order complete machines, but could order spare parts by the truckload), and wrote some tools for the department, like an isotope tracking and reporting system, and quality control / effort summary system to give feedback to the physicians and techs in the department. Hooray for DBase II and Turbo BASIC.

I got to work with an older programmer who was a numerical analysis expert. He mostly did FORTRAN work crunching numbers. It was fun introducing him to the small-PC world, and I got introduced to larger-scale computation.

BNR Blog: What trait do you admire most about Chris Aquino, the BNOTM who came before you?

MarkD: I can’t think of enough good things to say about Chris. Aside from possessing that horrible combination of “rugged good looks” and “really nice guy” (you just want to hate him, but you can’t!), he’s also way smart. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on a client project, and I feel like I’m totally standing still. The guy does stuff in the browser that I didn’t think was possible.

BNR Blog: If you were stranded on a desert island, who would your ideal castaway mate be? Tom Baker’s Doctor Who or Captain Kirk?

DJ Markie “D”: Tough question. I imagine TB’s The Doctor would have a near limitless fund of conversation, and would speak in a predictable rhythm. On the other hand, the choice between the island being beset by Daleks or the island being beset by green alien dancing women is pretty easy to make. I’d have to give the edge to Captain Kirk for that one.

BNR Blog: That’s solid logic. Thanks Mark!

Anyone else left with the come-hither eyes of the green dancing women of Orion now? If not, this will – the vintage and updated versions

You’re welcome.

3 Comments

  1. Steven Holland

    Good interview, Mark. If you could recommend one great book on data structures, what would it be?

  2. Mark Dalrymple

    Hrm – good question. I’ve been using the Sedgewick ones as my go-to for the last couple of decades. Nowadays you can probably find great materials on the web. The O’Reilly Algorithms in a Nutshell is kind of dry, but has some good stuff.

    The main thing is being able to talk to someone and know what the terms “order n-squared” or “order n-log-n” mean, and the impact they have on the amount of data your systems are processing.

  3. Jason Howk

    I would love to see a list of fundamental “great books”. It’s been way to long for most of us and having a list of books like Sedgewick et al. would be very beneficial.

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