Interview with Alan C. Moore by Clay Shannon

By: Clay Shannon

Abstract: Music and humanities professor/JEDI director Alan C. Moore talks about the relationship between music and programming, JEDI and .NET, Kentucky, Tahiti, killer hot peppers, and makes a shocking admission.

Alan, you are obviously heavily involving in programming, and you are a professor, and yet you are not a professor of computer science but rather of Music Theory and the Humanities. How did that come about?

That is a long story. My first experience with computers was in a class with Allen Forte at Yale in the mid 1960s dealing with computer applications to music theory. We were introduced to FORTRAN, SNOBOL and other languages. These were the days of punch cards and having to wait 24 hours for your program to run so you could check the output and do a bit more debugging. I continued working with computers while I was working on my doctorate at Iowa but stopped during the 1970s when I began teaching at Kentucky State. When personal computers appeared in the 1980s I first tried Basic, hated it, and then discovered Turbo Pascal, which I loved. When Delphi came out in the 1990s I was able to learn it quickly and began writing for the COBB Group's "Delphi Developers Journal" soon after. A year or so later I started writing for Delphi Informant and the rest is history, as they say.

Have you noticed a correlation between aptitude for music and aptitude for computers, especially programming? Long ago I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of bass guitarists who were also photographers, and now it seems to me there may be an inordinate amount of programmers who are musicians. Is math the common denominator, do you think (after all, it has been said that "music is math")?

On the correlation question, very much so. In fact people write to me on this issue from time to time. You would be surprised how many folks fit into this category. A teacher in our Business School told me a number of years ago that Microsoft has gone out of its way to recruit people with music backgrounds. My own area of music is theory and composition. Speaking personally, the connection I see is in the love of structure and complex relationships. Both apply to musical compositions and software applications.

What about the Humanities--do you see a connection between these studies and programming?

Not as much in my opinion.

Do you think studying music makes a person a better programmer?

Very much so.

Do you think studying programming makes a person a better musician?

I am not as sure on that one.

Do your students know about your "other life" as a geek, or do they think of you as a musician/"humanitee"?

Oh yes; they have seen my books and I have also fired up Delphi more than once on my laptop to show them a thing or two.

Since you teach at Kentucky State University, I have to ask: do you ride a horse to school and teach bluegrass music?

Sorry, but I have to dispel some of those rumors. But I do live on a 100 acre farm I bought many years ago and love the beauty of this State.

You are the JEDI director for 2002-2003. What does this entail? How much time does it take?

At times it gets very involved. The reorganization we undertook last year was a major endeavor. But we wanted to do it properly, with full input from everyone involved in the structure at the time. We just initiated an Advisory Board, something that should provide great dividends in the future.

What is the future of JEDI?

That is up to the members. Our hottest project at this point is the JEDI Visual Component Library (JVCL). That should continue to grow and help many developers. There are a few projects involved with Kylix and those should continue.

Will JEDI, or has it already, steered into the .NET waters?

I think that is likely. There's been discussion of getting involved in the .NET movement but nothing has taken off there yet. But it will depend upon energetic developers jumping in and making it happen.

Have you written any programs to create music programmatically? Since you are obviously expert in music theory, you know all the "business rules" (art rules?) of music so you could generate "proper" music...

The one music-related program I wrote was a short one demonstrating MIDI programming for the multimedia book.

Do you think machine-generated music is valid? Is it art? Does it have "soul"?

Machines are great tools. However, in my opinion they will never replace human creativity.

Have you written some music-related components for the JEDI VCL?

No but I am seriously considering donating via open source some of the multimedia code I developed for my first book.

With the millions of dollars you've earned in royalties from your books and magazine articles, are you ever tempted to "chuck it all" and move to Tahiti?

You're dreaming, of course. On both counts. But I appreciate the joke.

Where do you live, exactly--I assume somewhere in Kentucky, but what city or town? If you are not native to that area, where are you originally from, and where else have you lived?

Frankfort is the state capitol, but I live seven miles outside town in a hilly, rural area. I was born in Hempstead, NY (on Long Island) and lived in Maryland, Connecticut, and Iowa before moving to Kentucky in 1971.

How did you get started in programming (How were you introduced to it, when did you realize you wanted to pursue it as a profession)?

I think I touched on that above. Regarding the professional writing I do, I have to thank Tim Gooch (also of Kentucky), my first editor, for much help and encouragement. He was also the person responsible for getting me to my first Borland conference in the mid 1990s.

What tool[s] did you use prior to Delphi?

In the 1980s I concentrated on two tools from Borland, Turbo Pascal and Turbo Prolog. Recently I had the opportunity to work with Prolog again with the Amzi! Prolog system that integrates beautifully with Delphi.

What languages do you know besides Delphi? Which ones do you currently utilize?

I work some in Kylix and am very excited about .NET. I am currently learning C#.

Would you recommend a career in programming to young people today?

Very much so.

Have you ever steered a Music or Humanities major towards programming or vice versa?

On one occasion I did encourage a music student who was already inspired to pursue Computer Science. Actually, music is a much tougher field in which to be successful.

What courses would you recommend wannabe programmers take? What languages/technologies should they key on?

I think it's more important to learn a solid approach to programming rather than specific languages. Object Orientation is still one of the key approaches I believe.

Which software project/product that you have participated in are you most proud of?

My grade management program -- the one that has never yet been released.

What project[s] are you currently working on?

After various other demands on my time I am back to working on the grade management program. I hope to beta test it with colleagues at the University later this year.

What is the name of your business and/or employer?

Kentucky State University, an historically black University in Frankfort, KY. And Informant Communications, of course, where I am a contributing editor.

If you had a webcam on your shoulder throughout a "typical" workday, can you give us an outline of what we would see ?

No such thing as a typical workday, I am afraid. Most days I spend many hours on the computer, writing, responding to e-mail, and working on development projects. But some days I take a lot of time to do work on the farm or take long walks with my dog.

What do you do when you're not involved with work, directly or tangentially? (Hobbies? Sports?)

The major activity is Shambhala Buddhist mediation, something I have been involved in for over 30 years. I find that the mental discipline involved has impacted positively on every aspect of my life, from my work with development to my family life.

In past years I have also been involved with organic gardening, but that slipped away while I was writing those books. Now I am eager to back to it and raise some more killer hot peppers.

What was the funniest experience you've ever had related to programming?

Attending Mark Miller's first "Dark Side" presentation at the 2001 Borland Conference. I laughed so hard I was in pain at the end.

What was the most interesting experience you've ever had related to programming?

Attempting to refactor some code that Bob Swart wrote so that it was easier to read. This was for Project JEDI's DARTH Project. More than reading his articles or attending his presentations, this experience demonstrated to me what a giant he is in the Delphi community.

What was the most frustrating experience you've ever had related to programming?

Several years ago someone asked me to help with an audio-related problem in his application. To our mutual frustration it took years to complete a project that should have taken a couple of months at most. The problem was that I was working with code that I did not fully understand. I did learn one valuable lesson, however: the need to have regular backups at every stage.

What 3rd party tools do you find essential?

CodeRush has got to be at the top of the list. I could not live without all of those wonderful tools. I was a big fan of TurboPower and used many of their tools.

What do you hope to see from Borland, especially as regards Delphi, in the future?

I am hoping that Delphi for .NET will be a big success and that Borland will once again attract converts from Visual Basic.

Where would you be without Delphi?

Probably writing a lot of music and not computer programs!

Where would Delphi be without you?

Who knows?

What effect do you foresee C# and VisualStudio.NET having on Borland in general and Delphi in particular?

That is the big question, isn't it? I admit I have used C# and VisualStudio.NET and enjoy working in that environment. But not as much as I do working in Delphi. Of course there are elements in VisualStudio.NET that Borland could emulate in Delphi. But I think it's important for Borland to remember the things that have made it successful in the past: a strong and committed developer community and the best damned compilers in the world.

What do you think of the .NET framework and the C# programming language?

Both are great. The best thing Microsoft has done in a long time.

How many hours per day do you spend programming/at the computer? How much time do you spend on the newsgroups/surfing the web each day?

Both vary a great deal.

Which programming web sites do you have bookmarked?

Marco Cantu's, Eagle Software (but I expect that to move), Project JEDI, Developer's Express, to name a few.

How do you keep current with your programming skills?

I read as much as I can and examine/run all of the programs I get my hands on.

Do you think programming is an art, a science, a craft, or...?

It is a discipline that has elements of each of those. At the highest level it is an art, with much room for creativity and innovation. But its foundations are those of a craft and a science.

Which Borland Conferences have you attended?

All of them in the USA since about 1995 or 1996.

Which was the best one, and why?

2001 when Project JEDI won the "Spirit of Delphi" Award.

Who do you consider to be the best programmer you know personally, or know of?

Mark Miller.

What is your "claim to fame" outside the realm of programming?

Some consider me to be a fairly good composer of music, although I seldom have time for this activity these days.

If you could live anywhere on earth at any time, when and where would it be, and why?

Right here, right now. I have no desire to be anywhere else.

If you were given 30 seconds of free television air time, to be broadcast all throughout the earth, and could say anything you wanted, what would it be?

I guess I would ask people to consider what the world would be like if people did not go around killing each other, especially over differences in ideas, whether they be political, religious, economic, or philosophical. Then I would ask each person to examine their own views and consider if those justified taking violent action against others.

What is your favorite programming book?

"Code Complete"

What is your favorite non-programming book?

"Myth of Freedom" by Chogyam Trungpa (my mediation teacher)

What is your favorite quote?

"It's up to you" also from my meditation teacher. He probably answered more questions with this line than with any other.

What is your favorite food?

Food from India, the hotter and spicier the better.

What is your favorite beverage?

You must be more specific! Morning: Darjeeling Tea; Evening: Sake

What is your favorite color?

Dark Blue.

What is your favorite movie?

"The Matrix"

What is your favorite song?

T. Monk's "Round Midnight." I wrote a set of piano variations based upon it.

Who is your favorite musician or musical group?

Miles Davis.

What is your favorite line from "The Princess Bride" (unofficial movie of the Borland community)?

Never saw it.


Finally, the question I always like to ask: What would you rather eat: the fat from behind a caribou's eyeball, or a frosted poptart?

Is there some way of combining the two into a gourmet meal?

I am tempted to say yes, but I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader.

This interview was conducted via email June 2003.

Clay Shannon is a Borland and PDA-certified Delphi developer and the author of "Tomes of Delphi: Developer's Guide to Troubleshooting" (Wordware, 2001) as well as the novel he claims is the strangest one ever written, "the Wacky Misadventures of Warble McGorkle" (see Wacky Warble, etc. for more information on the 4 Novels application, which contains this and three other novels he has penned).

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