Simon Hutchinson on RPG Code and RPGPGM.com
Paul talks to Simon Hutchinson about the why and how of producing the RPGPGM.com blog and he gets unusual insight on a different approach to hiking!
Paul: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. Delighted to be joined today by RPG blogger extraordinaire Simon Hutchinson. Hello, Simon.
Simon: Hello. Thank you very much for having me on your iTalk. I'm very flattered to be here.
Paul: Oh, it's great to have you here, Simon. So of course, Simon, the blog I mentioned is the RPGPGM.com blog, which I think any of the programmers out there will know about, but just before we start talking about the blog and that Simon, do you just want to fill people in as to sort of what you do in your real life when you are not blogging?
Simon: In my real life, well I have two alter egos. By day, I am a humble IT manager for a large manufacturing company in the Los Angeles metropolis. And like many IBM folks unfortunately, I can't work with sort of a blank sheet of paper and write these applications from scratch because we do use an ERP application. A lot of it is going ahead, extracting information from it, interfacing information to it, writing reports, and so on, but the beauty of it is is you can still, or I still keep up to date with all the latest RPG and SQL and use that in my daily job which then allows me to segue into my other job. At night, I become the RPGPGM blogger where I can go ahead and take what I have learned during the day and write about it because I'm a great believer in the more we share information amongst each other, the better we all become educated.
Paul: Oh, no argument on that. So just before we start talking about the blog then Simon, I'm sure a few people will have noticed⎯well those who are listening as opposed to reading the transcript⎯that you do not have an American accent.
Simon: Well I was about to ask you. Do you keep the transcript in English if I speak in English as opposed to American?
Paul: [Laughs] We'll keep it in English for you Simon.
Simon: If you interview an American, you have to use the American spellings right?
Paul: Well they are going to end up with the American spellings anyway so nothing we can do about that. [Laughs]
Simon: You're right. I do have an English accent. I've been living in the United States for the past almost 25 years now.
Paul: So you can take the man out of Coventry but you can't take Coventry out of the man.
Simon: That is right but the funny thing is that I've been here so long now whenever I go back and visit family in England, they all tease me for how American I sound-
Simon: Because by all means I do keep a light English accent but I now completely use the American words for things.
Paul: Yeah as is the norm. The same with my good colleague Jon Paris. He's the same. So let's-
Simon: It's the problem of being an immigrant. Whenever you join another society, you do change.
Paul: Oh, yeah.
Simon: You don't become American. You don't stay being English. You become something⎯I'm waving my hands here⎯beautifully in between.
Paul: A hybrid [Laughs]. So the blog Simon. What possessed you to start doing a RPG blog?
Simon: It really goes back to about eight years ago when I had a small programming team writing Data-Mart applications and I had a Java programmer who would sit over my shoulder most of the day. As we were making these things, he would want to have mods done to the … by all means it wasn't a SQL database in those days. It was all still DDS. He would want to have changes done to things and so in one day looking over my shoulder he'd said I can do that because it was written in what I call the partially free RPG. You know the fixed format definitions but the CSPEC was all free format so I said OK. Next time we have a project, you are going to write the RPG code for it. Notice how I didn't volunteer to write his Java code for him. I decided that was probably tempting fate a bit too much so I gave it to him and said OK, here you go. Go out there. Have a look. See what you can find on this stuff and come back to me and we will work together to go ahead and do it. He spent a good couple of days Go0gling everything he could find on how to write RPG programs, the ways of doing things and so on. He brought it all back to me and I must admit I was rather disappointed by what he had found. Too many of the examples were old RPG code on doing things. A lot of it was RPG III, which to me was a shame. I didn't want him dabbling in that so I then went ahead and said OK. Throw that away and went through basically a very simple introductory class where I just sat down with him and would spend several hours a day explaining to him how things work. He did get his programs written. They were very good. I reviewed all of his code and explained to him why I did certain things and I have to say this to everybody. I know I have been doing this … I think I have been working on the IBM platform for 29 years. I actually predate the AS/400. I am an old system 36 guy. That's what I look at it like. IBM spurs on and despite doing it this long, I admit I don't know it all. I know there is many different ways of doing things. To me programming is more like writing an essay as opposed to a scientific expression. Do you know what I mean?
Simon: You and I can write a program to do the same things. They'll both be excellent. You'll put your nuances and ways of doing things into yours and I'll put nuances into mine. Which one is right? They have probably both got things that are right and probably both-well mine I know will have things that are slightly wrong and I'm sure yours will be absolutely perfect. [Laughs]
Paul: I think one of the things we have to do Simon is someday you will have to send over a beer and I will discuss with you my theory of programming as an art form.
Paul: Because I'm a great believer that there is actually a great amount of art-
Simon: Oh, yeah.
Paul: In programming. So-
Simon: When I first got into it, they always said to me you are not a mathematician or an engineer. You'll never do well in this. You really do need to be excellent at maths.
Simon: The thing is I do have a⎯I actually have an honors degree in medical biochemistry. I do think having that analytical kind of mind really helps you no matter what you do in a programming or other scientific-type discipline.
Paul: Well I've found that the people who make the best programmers are people who either have a background in either philosophy, history. Philosophy or history or music of all things; now the mathematics I suppose comes with music. Anyway we are segueing. We are segueing here Simon so-
Simon: OK. We'll bring it back on track.
Paul: Back on track. So, one of the things that fascinates me, Simon, about somebody who writes regularly. Now I'm a person; I don't write regularly. I'll do occasional articles and that so is it a thing that you know because of blogging, I mean do you sort of have a … Do you do it on a regular basis like where you say every week I'm going to do something or do you sort of go oh, well when something comes up or something takes my fancy, I'll write about it?
Simon: I actually have my own timetable. I tend to publish a technical article every Wednesday morning. And I try to keep one of them stacked up so at least if I do have writer's block or you know what it is. Something else happens in your life, you can't really do it for a while that I'm not panicking as I’ve got nothing for the next week.
Simon: Then normally on Thursday I actually start thinking about what do I want to talk about next. What do I want to write about next? I'm very fortunate to have access to an IBM i hosted in Germany. I'm not sure if I can mention names but hosted in Germany.
Paul: You can. You can. It's not a problem.
Simon: I'm going to say it in a wonderful American accent. RZKH-
Simon: And I'm very fortunate that they give me access to one of their partitions, which is 7.3, latest technical refreshes that I can go ahead and play on. I am that much of a geek. I come home after work and I play on an IBM i. That probably sounds very sad. I'm very fortunate. My wife is an IBM i developer too so I think this is how I get away with it. [Laughs] I think if she did another job I think she would have left me a long, long time ago or I wouldn't get the time to do what I want to do which is just play on this stuff.
Simon: I spend a couple of days. I'll come up with an idea. I'll spend a couple of days on the RZKH server playing with how to do it, how to work it out. Then of course as I am sure every developer does who might spend anything then how to break it-
Simon: So at least you know what not to do and then normally about Friday, Saturday I start writing; it normally takes me about a day to write, to write the post up so I'm normally finished on a Sunday.
Simon: Then I got a couple of days of free time and then straight back in again come the following Wednesday.
Paul: So of all the stuff that you've been publishing over the years, what sort of has getting the most reaction or historically what got the most reaction for you?
Simon: I think-I think we are living in very fortunate times at present. IBM has spent a lot of money on the i operating system. There have been a lot of massive changes in my opinion over the past three or four years. I've just been blogging during that time and feel very fortunate to be doing so. The thing I get the most feedback on of course is the fully free RPG, the changes in that. Obviously many, many people are like me. They don't work in an environment that is all brand spanking new databases, using DDL tables, use indexes and so on all beautifully written in SQL and so on. So many people happen to be working with other software that is sometimes more ancient than the ones I do so they are asking me questions. How can I work with this and do things in a modern way? How do I do this? I do get a lot of feedback from users, Facebook, emails. I'm sure I'm the same as you Paul. Lots of stuff and lots of people saying how do I do this? I do try and answer some questions. When I get enough of them with people asking me the same question, I then tend to turn it into a post as opposed to just answer it and say hey John, you've asked me-or John or whomever and just say hey, you've asked this question about this. I wrote about it earlier. Here you go.
Simon: SQL is also-a lot of people are now getting interested in SQL. How do I access data from files? How do I build views? I attended a wonderful presentation by yourself on views. It certainly became a Eureka moment for me on making my life a lot easier in programming by using views and views of views. I am in some ways a lazy programmer. If I can get the system to do things rather than me having code it myself, I'd rather have the system to do it. It can probably do it faster and better than I can and it makes my life a whole lot easier.
Paul: Yeah. So actually since you touched on it there, Simon, so where do you get the inspiration for the articles? I mean what are your sources?
Simon: Some of it is just my daily … from my daily work. Quite often when I am given a project to do, I will quite often have a search on the internet and see is there another way of doing this. I said I'm a geek. I love to play. I then work out how to do something in that way just to fit the situation I have and think this would be something good. I take it home and get to play on it on the other server and make it into a story. I've been very blessed in IBM has been throwing all this wonderful stuff at us over the past few years and I tend to assume I can persuade the guys at RZKH to update to the latest PTFs or technical refresh. The moment they tell they've done that boy, I'm there playing with all the new stuff I can do too which is another source of articles. Another thing is people write to me. That is why I did a series of articles, a couple of articles on just sub files. It seems to be something everybody asks about-
Simon: Who is a junior level or a beginner. To me, I know it sounds complicated and I know some of the error messages you get from them are just positively misleading but once you get the hang of it, they are very simple to do.
Paul: Great. So I mean the word you used there and it's the one I've been using myself for many, many years. It's the one I love is that word play.
Simon: Yes. That's another thing. I'm going to steal a phrase from your friend Jon. Jon Paris.
Simon: I remember him saying at a wonderful meeting and say when you've been in this business for 25 years, which I have, do you really have 25 years worth of experience? Are you still learning and doing new things or do you have five years worth of experience five years over? Paul: Yes.
Simon: I think that is a wonderful-I know I completely butchered it but that's a wonderful quote.
Paul: No. That's practically word for word.
Simon: And I tend to agree with him. Some of the people I work with at work are those five times five people. It's a shame when they're not really getting the benefit from the system to make to their life and job easier. I can now produce code, programs, whatever in a fraction of the time lots of the others can because I am using all the new stuff.
Paul: Yeah. OK so before we finish as is always my want on these things Simon I'd like to ask people a little bit about what they do outside of work. It was interesting when you said⎯because we were talking about this in email originally.
Paul: And when you sent the email, I sort of went oh, OK. That's interesting enough but when we were talking about it afterwards, you have a most beautiful twist on this so you have. So do you want to share with people what it is you do when you are not at work, when you are not doing the blog, when you are not spending time with your family, what it is that you do for a little bit of relaxation for yourself?
Simon: OK. I say I do walking but it's not quite as boring as that. I'm very fortunate in where I live. I'm actually living at the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains. Within two minutes, I can be out of my front door and into the hills, which is a beautiful thing to do. I find it's wonderful thing to relax is just to get away from it all. It's very quickly you can go over the first ridge of hills and you are just into these quiet little gullies and valleys. Living just outside Los Angeles just to have the sound of just the birds is blissful. But I think Paul is referring to what my employer did. My employer was part of one of these things to help cut their health insurance costs, gave us all pedometers. “Great,” I said. Give me something I can measure what I can and I'm not just going to walk around in circles and say, “I've walked 30,000 steps today.” No! So I decided OK, let's start using this thing and let's see how long it will take me to walk from my home in California all the way to Florida; when I finally reach Florida, I said OK, how about walking to Maine? So I virtually walked all the way up to Maine and having reached Maine of course, I then said OK, let's start heading home. So I then measured how long it would take me to walk all the way to Washington State and then back down to California again. It was about 7,500 miles and it took me about three years and I finally did it. So I've virtually walked around America and to me, it is far more fun to say this, to say⎯Other people are saying, “I've walked so many hundred thousand steps this week.” And I can say, “I'm merrily sitting outside so and so town in North Dakota.” They look at me a bit strange, but I don't care because it is actually more interesting to me to look at a map to see how far you have walked as opposed to just look at pure numbers.
Paul: I think this is … I tell you. If you haven't copyrighted it yet, I’m putting your copyright on this for the app.
Simon: That was a good idea of yours. Paul was mentioning to me that perhaps I should write an app that runs on a phone and you actually put in where you want to walk to and it sort of uses Google maps or something and tells you what things you are walking past or walking through. I think that would be a very cool thing to do.
Simon: I've often wanted to do that with you know the virtual reality goggles?
Simon: Somehow have that and as you are walking, you can see the countryside as you walk past. By all means I'm blessed living in Southern California until the last couple of months. Normally we have wonderful sunshine, which means I can go out, and walk everyday because the one thing I do not like doing is walking on a treadmill. If I walk on a treadmill, just boring.
Simon: I just like to go out and feel the wind on my face, hear the birds, talk to people as I pass. When you are walking on a treadmill you just don't do that.
Paul: Yeah and when you are doing that walking Simon, you prefer to do it by yourself?
Simon: Correct. I find it is a very good relaxation method. OK, I take that back. I have dogs.
Paul: Yeah, OK.
Simon: And we have my wife's dog that is a little dog and I have my son's dog, which is a big dog. Of course being my son's dog, you can guess who is the one who looks after it and walks it.
Paul: Yeah. [Laughs] Not your son.
Simon: So quite often-yeah. So quite often I take her for a walk but the tragic thing is she is getting to be an old girl now.
Simon: So she doesn't quite walk as far as I want to so quite often I'll take her out for a walk and take her home and then go a little bit further myself.
Simon: And of course living on the edges on the as we'd call it in England the countryside, the wild, there are all kind of beasties out there too. Quite often I run across things like snakes and coyotes. Certainly several encounters with coyotes have scared this dog so she doesn't really like going into the wilds. I certainly know to make myself big and scary enough that the coyotes leave me alone. [Laughs]
Paul: OK. Well I wish you the best of luck in your future encounters with coyotes and⎯
Simon: Thank you.
Paul: Simon, please keep blogging. Great source of information. So Simon Hutchinson.
Simon: I will do. I must say before you hang up, the one thing I must say is the one thing that I wake up at night worrying about sometimes in a sweat is one of these days I'm going to run out of things to write about.
Paul: Oh, may that never happen.
Simon: Oh, me too and I feel very fortunate with the recent news of a new technical refresh coming out.
Paul: Actually today. As we are recording, it is being announced today.
Simon: Yes and it is also mentioned on RPGPGM.com. The moment I think there and rubbed my hands with glee saying is oh, I can at least see six, seven, eight things I can write about.
Paul: Cool. OK, Simon, thanks a million.
Simon: Well thank you very much too.
Paul: OK everybody. That's it for this iTalk. Tune in again for the next one. Bye for now.
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