Monday, February 3, 2014


I got frustrated trying to write a post that included a bunch of code, and thus I'm abandoning this blog. Unfortunately, because I didn't personalize the URL, it's not as easy as pointing such a name to another place, and so the best I can do is provide a link, to its new home, Notice how I failed to learn my lesson about the URL... And to see the post that led me to move, you can go directly here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Missed it by *that* much

Looks like I missed the chance to have an "I'm not dead" post on the three-year anniversary of my last post. What a shame.

 Since that last post, things have changed, as they do. New job, new child, new skills...

 I still aspire to make my mark in the computing world, dashing back and forth between various projects over the last three years, and foolishly never finishing one.

  My work with Windows Phone development has been on hiatus for a while, mainly because of other projects that came along and drew away my attention, but more recently because the focus in that industry is now on Windows Phone 8, of which I have neither a handset nor a machine that is capable of running the development tools. I still think the platform is fantastic, and fully plan on returning to it, as other projects yearn to reach multiple platforms.

  I took part in the MintChip Challenge, but because of time, and the fact that I was determined to submit my entry on a not-quite-supported platform, I didn't complete a submission in time. It's an interesting technology, and it was a fun project to be part of.

  I'm currently involved in The Loom game engine community. This is a growing community of talented game developers of varying experience, and the small team at The Engine Co. are a friendly and bright bunch. I'm hoping they go far, and hoping to take advantage of the Loom engine in the near future, not just to ensure I take full advantage of the promotional free year license I currently have.

  I've been attempting to stick to Agile development practices for my personal projects, even when the project is a team of one. I've fully moved to and embraced git, if for no other reason than because everyone else is doing it. I'm a branching fool, now. And I've hopped around a variety of issue and task management tools, settling currently on the Atlassian suite, with JIRA, Greenhopper for Agile, and Confluence for document management. I used to be a written-on-a-pad-of-paper guy for keeping track of bugs and future features, and while I'm not 100% disciplined, I'm definitely finding these tools help direct me more efficiently than before.

  As for new technologies, they just don't stop coming. I've been staying atop the latest in ASP.NET MVC development, and love the Entity Framework for tying together my data and my front-end. I've enjoyed diving into TypeScript, Microsoft's bridle for Javascript. With it I've finally gone beyond the simple onClick snippets of Javascript use to some large-scale projects, most powered by Node.js. I've still not gone head-first into any of the popular JavaScript libraries out there, but I've dabbled with a few and have a lengthy set of bookmarks to return to when I'm ready to overpower a web front-end.

  There are lots of technologies on my radar that I've not given enough attention to. I finally gave Ruby a look after years of scoffing, only to realize it's a sane Python, which makes it good in my books. I still want to give F# a try, but have yet to find a project that I could/should use it for. Same goes for Scala; it's getting popular, and while I've read the reference and am intrigued, I've not found the need to put it to use. I recently learned about SignalR, which I wish I had a few years ago for a variety of defunct/hibernating projects.

  I learned about SignalR during one of the numerous JumpStart courses over at Microsoft Virtual Academy. I'm not sure how long that's been around, but I'm miffed that I didn't know about it sooner. The range of material and the quality of the courses there are fantastic. The ASP.NET MVC course had something interesting or useful in every portion. I've joined a few local user groups and have been attending their seminars, allowing me to keep up on other new technologies, ranging from server platforms and virtualization to multiplatform mobile development (Xamarin). I've also been watching a few of the Pluralsight videos I have available through my work MSDN subscription, but the majority of them aren't as advanced as I would like or need.

  Getting my own MSDN subscription, including a bit more access to Pluralsight, is what I'm hoping to do soon via the BizSpark from Microsoft. This program helps startups get a leg-up with free tools, training, resources and community, including access to Azure. For a while I'd been giving The Cloud a "yes, yes, storage and services on the net - very nice" tone of dismissal, but after finally poking around Amazon AC3 and Microsoft Azure for a bit, I'm finally on-board with needing and wanting such services, especially for my current project. The fact that my old Linux machine finally died, leaving me with one less option for self-hosting, certainly helped drive me to finally looking into the hubbub around cloud services.

  Other than that, I've still not done as much as I'd like on Android or iOS, which I'm hoping to change soon. I had had big plans to get apps onto the Windows Store early, to take advantage of that early period; some might argue that Windows 8 RT hasn't gotten the traction to say that it's beyond its early period, in which case perhaps there's hope. And Blackberry 10 -- had time permitted I would have liked to get in at the beginning there, too, especially with the incentives that they were giving for app developers. Not that I'm convinced that the platform will survive, but early adopters still needed some apps to download, and it would have been nice if I could have provided something for them. It was confirmed that Xbox One will welcome development by indies, which is an appealing thought, but I'm reasonable enough to know that, for now, that platform is a bit out of my reach unless I can become a full-time indie developer.

  As you can see, I've certainly not been idle, but this blog sure hasn't supported that. Time being what it is -- lacking, fleeting, etc. -- the little I do find for personal projects goes to learning, planning and development right now, which means that writing, such as the blog, just gets neglected. As many have said, I hope to post more often, but really, will you believe that before you see it?

Friday, July 23, 2010

UO Reminiscing

I can't help myself -- I love Ultima Online. I'm not currently playing, though, because I subscribe to the update notices, I get told when a new patch goes in and get tempted EVERY TIME to renew. Luckily, I'm conscious enough of my lack of free time that I know I wouldn't be able to do a subscription fee justice.

UO is what drives a lot of my programming projects, too, no matter how hard I try to distance myself from it. When trying to work in Metaplace, I was more often working on UO-like functionality or a UO world than not. When working on my Windows Phone 7 development, I find myself making a UO-like game to learn XNA. And of course, when I work on MMORF, the whole driving motivation is to make something that can run a UO world.

Lately I've been interested in the early days of Ultima Online; I was there in the first month or two of release, but missed an Alpha or Beta testing, back when the world was young, broken, and in transition (not to say that a live MMO isn't always in transition, but...) there are some great screenshots of a world that I never got to see, but it's the handful of anecdotes out there that are really good, ones that detail how the rules worked -- or how the rules didn't quite work -- in the early days.

There weren't tons of these to be found on the old Alpha/Beta archive sites that I found; they were mostly about screenshots. But it was while reading an old post-mortem on Raph Koster's site about UO that I caught reference to where it had been originally posted: the old Usenet group! This has led to a treasure trove of opinion from 13 years ago, which has unfortunately sucked me in completely. I'm only on the second page of posts and I've already found a few priceless gems, which I'll share with you now:

I started in Yew and was swarmed by  NPCs wandering all over the place.  Several beggars followed me wherever  I went.  Most of the time, I couldn't move (server kept yanking me back  to the same place when I tried).  Eventually, the beggars cornered me  against a building and the coast and would not budge.  I tried  everything I could think of ("Look! Isn't that Lord British?") but they  would not move.  I had nothing to give them but the edge of my dagger.  Of course, after one swing a nearby guard (there were dozens) "freed" me  from the beggars. How thoughtful. :)

I went to a farm just outside Britain to see if I could make some money picking crops.  I couldn't figure out how, so I went into the farmhouse to see if I could find any farming implements.  I found a dead body lying next to a pitchfork with two guards standing nearby and thought better of it. :)

They happen to be by the same author (Dave Erazmus), so I'm going to have to watch for his "future" posts to see what other gems he might have posted.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Visual Studio

In a complete one-eighty to what I said in my last post, I've moved to Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate for all of my C# development.

Because I've started some Windows Phone 7 development, using Visual Studio is pretty much required because of the need for the emulator. Since I'm learning my way around VS for WP7 development, I figure I might as well go whole-hog with it and use it for everything, to really get used to the environment.

It also helps correct one of my biggest problems when coding for myself, which is not using revision control. I just can't seem to get myself to do so when working on a project by myself (and thus without any issue of change collisions) and with no one to answer to about changes (because the projects rarely go beyond my own use). For this purpose I'm learning to use Team Foundation Server, which also provides me with a project tracker, something I should train myself to use more often as I expand my projects and find missing features and bugs.

I've made a little more headway on my UO asset stripping tools, adding them as a proper project in Visual Studio and expanding the set of data files they process. Now that I've forsaken Mono (for the time being, anyway), I have the full strength of .NET, Windows Forms, Silverlight... any method I like for developing a better-than-command-line interface. (Okay, okay, Mono supports almost if not all of these, but this is the "proper" way to do it!) And, I still hate to admit it, but I'm getting more and more used to Intellisense. And Expression Blend... pretty slick!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A month later

I'm making good headway through reading the C# 4.0 in a Nutshell book; some might say that it's not really a front-to-back book, especially in the later chapters where it's definitely reference information, but I find it a good way to get a sense of the capabilities of a system/API/library to go right through.

I'm loving C# 4.0. It has some really good advanced features of "modern" languages that make it very powerful, such as delegates, lambdas, generics, operator overloading, dynamic lookup, named parameters, variance... yes, I'm aware some of these features existed in C# before 4.0. And many of these features are available in other languages, but not usually ALL of them. Having some of my favorites from C++, Java and Lua, all bundled together, makes for a delightful language. Many of these features go very well with the way MUDs/MMOs work, with the idea of object trees, feature inheritance, scripting events and the like: if you "use" an object, the engine just has to call the object's use() function; if it doesn't have one, then nothing happens, and if it does have one, it just gets called. No having to check the object type, no need to check for member availability, no need to cast -- no need for the engine to ask "is this a useable object" at all. But now I'm encroaching on the content of my other blog.

I've just finished the first step of the asset-stripping project; I can now pull out a terrain tile and save it to file. This is something that was much quicker to do in Lua and Go, mainly because of fighting with the build environment. Even though I have access to C# via Visual Studio, I'm a die-hard command-line coder, and am much happier (and much more productive) when using emacs and make. Thus, instead of just writing the code that I've got in ten minutes and having it work, I've been fighting with getting Mono, the free implementation of C#/.NET, working for me. Some of the problems were on installation, and some were on CLR usage that looked like installation issues until Google saved the day.

In the end, though, having the full .NET library available makes things so much easier. In Lua, I ended up dumping the sprite rendering onto ImageMagick, instead of trying to find a decent PNG library. In Go, PNG support was provided with the libraries, but all of the explicit typecasting really made for an unenjoyable programming experience. In C#, once I got around the compilation issues, it was nearly trivial, with zero-indexed arrays (unlike Lua), and natural type conversions.

My next step is to get Mono to display the graphic for me, instead of just dumping it to a file; this will be the first step into writing an InsideUO clone, and my first step towards being ready to write a test game client for MMORF.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

See sharp

I got my copy of C# 4.0 in a Nutshell yesterday, so today I start my first C# mid-sized C# project as a way to learn the language.

The reason I'm learning C# is to use it as the main language for my MMORF project. I chose C# because... well, it's similar enough to Java as to make it not completely foreign, as well as to leverage a mass of .NET libraries. Why .NET? Because it's about time I learn it. Why not Java instead? Because it's about time I learn to program for Windows. Why not Java instead? Yes, yes, Java programming can be "programming for Windows", but it's about time I really learn how to program for Windows. Besides, C#/.NET is still useful, via Mono, on other platforms, so it's not like I'm abandoning the rest of my environments.

The mid-sized project I'll be writing will be an asset grabber from the Ultima Online 2d asset files. Pulling out assets for the newer Stygian Abyss 3d-style assets would also be interesting, but I'm not aware of any documentation on those file formats (not that I've really looked), but I am quite aware of documentation on the original datafiles, thanks to the early work of Ultima Online hackers like Heptazane/Alazane, Cironian and others.

This project is one I've written twice before, first in Lua to learn that language (for eventual use in Metaplace, mainly), and also to learn Google's Go language. An asset grabber requires you to learn file access, and random access at that, as well as binary data manipulation, low-level data structures, buffer management, data merging and image generation, all the while working/fighting with the language's underlying type system. Lua was NOT the language for such a project, so it was very educational in making it work; Go was better suited, but the project greatly highlighted Go's strong type system, especially when coming from Lua.

The reason why I choose to write this project, yet again, is because I plan to take it a little further than I have in the past. Previously, it ended up as a cobble of command-line tools for stripping out specific sprites, animations and map data. Since I'm taking on this whole Windows programming thing, I think it's about time I get out of my command-line world and start making pretty graphics and windows and such, something that I haven't done for a long time, and even then, with trepidation under Java. Learning the Windows way of doing things is long overdue, so beyond just an extractor, I plan to make it a viewer as well, akin to the InsideUO tool written by Alazane.

And, of course, the end result -- the purloined UO assets -- are really good placeholders when developing a rudimentary client for MMORF; in fact, if you've read that project's blog, you'll know that UO is a large inspiration for me, and one of the targets that MMORF aims for: the ability to replicate that environment. That will include handling a map like UO's, and thus pulling out that map data -- for test purposes only! -- will be necessary.

As part of this C# education, I also plan on taking a look at the XNA development environment, which seems even to me to be odd, given that I own a PS2, Wii, PS3 and PC, but no Xbox/Xbox360 nor a Zune. Of course, there are also runtimes for Windows, and XNA looks to be a good platform for pretty rapid development of some pretty indepth graphical clients. Of course, many will wonder why I don't use Unity instead, and I'm not really sure, except that perhaps it's getting TOO much attention lately, and I'd hate to jump aboard only because everyone else is. Then again, it might be so popular because it IS the better way to go. We'll see.

None of my previous incarnations of the UO asset grabber ever made it beyond my own harddrive, so here's for hoping that this iteration becomes something useable enough that I might actually post the code somewhere.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I haven't spent any time looking at Google Wave in the last few months, not as a user or as a developer. This is not because of a lack of interest, but a lack of time, and as a recent conversation on Twitter has reminded me, I really need to focus my attention to few projects, so there's a chance that any of them get done.

With Metaplace gone, a big sink in my free time vanished, yet I find it hard to put my finger on what has filled the void. My desire, however, is to make some progress on my MMORF project, so in theory, that's where I'll be posting - more often than here, at any rate.

This blog, as the name suggests, will still be a good place for me to dump my thoughts that aren't related to that project. And, since I know I won't be able to stop myself from having wandering thoughts, this blog will still likely see activity.