First Steps

So, it’s February and I think I can say I’ve made an acceptable start to my New Year’s resolutions. In order, then!

  1. Filing.
    My aim is to scan and shred fifty documents each week. I have done 392 so far, compared to an expected 250. This is pretty impressive, though it helps that the first week (my calibration week) I spent a lot of time shredding, and got over 100 documents sorted. And each week, I’ve been over my target by a little bit ‘while I’m in the groove’, as it were. So that one’s going well.
  2. Dark Elves.
    I’ve prepared a rough plan of what lays ahead with this task, and even wrote up a nice long blog post for sometime later to put up. But as far as actual work towards it goes, none yet.
  3. Driving Licence.
    I’ve been a bit preoccupied looking for a job to organise driving lessons. I believe that when I have changed job, I might be able to have a lesson straight from work to home again – this will make a big difference to the range of instructors I can pick, since many do not work weekends.
  4. German.
    Still not in a position to fit this one into the schedule, at present.
  5. Star Trek cards.
    All the cards are alphabetised, and I’m nearly halfway through cataloguing them. From there, it’s only a short evening on eBay, and then it’s all over!
  6. Family Tree.
    The weekends have been a bit hectic for the past few weeks, but luckily this is one where a small investment of time, even over 12 months, can provide a wealth of knowledge. I’m planning to arrange at least one fact-finding mission by the end of February, which should take the majority of a day. One day every eight weeks would have the bulk of this work finished by July, so that seems like a good target.
  7. Wargame Tools.
    This is another project that has suffered with the employment search. Still, have been able to spend some time reviewing it recently, and am a short length of time away from making the first half of the program available for testing. This is probably useless without the second part, of course, but that shouldn’t take nearly as long as the first part!

So that’s where I stand now. On reflection, I’ve made little or no progress on five of these projects – the ones with the least definite plan of action! There’s a lesson in that, I’m sure. Still, two of the projects have a minimal time investment in total / remaining, and I’m firming up plans on the rest. So that’s definitely a good sign that I should be on top of everything soon!

Man of Resolve

I know these are probably supposed to be announced at the New Year, but I’ve been a busy bunny. I also couldn’t think of any good ones till after the deadline (when I realised that these goals I set myself were proper resolutions, with full action plan and everything!)

What I like about these resolutions is that most of them are ones that are totally finished – they can’t (easily) be undone, and have a definite, visible result. Plus, unlike the nebulous ‘lose weight’ or ‘get fit’ that are probably in the top 10 resolutions, the only way to fail at most of these is to not try. Much easier to motivate yourself when that’s your only barrier.

First of all, I plan to do something about my filing cabinet. It currently has every phone bill, bank statement, hospital letter, and so on and so forth that I’ve received over the years. I plan to scan all these into the computer (I’m a hoarder at heart) and then shred anything more than two years. That’ll clear a lot of space, and make the important bits (for example, recent stuff) easier to find. The plan for this one (after a feverish weekend of shredding) is to try and scan at least 50 documents a week. That ought to be something I can easily do on a weekend without cutting into other stuff too much.

I’m also going to paint all my Dark Elf models. Some of these are unpainted, some are unassembled, some even need some remodelling to make them usable! I don’t have a definite timeframe, but I plan to focus on assembling and getting models ready to paint first. This way, as soon as Spring comes around, I can spray the models and have them ready to paint at the earliest possible opportunity. Some of these models have been unpainted for 10 years! This might be one of the hardest to keep, because there are so many other things that are important to do when I’ve got a spare five minutes, it’ll keep getting pushed aside.

I don’t have a driving licence at the moment. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I’ve not had a lesson for over a month, and that was after a dry spell following my practical test and a house move. I’m going to try with a new instructor, although I am restricted (pretty much) to weekends or late evenings. I figure a lesson every two weeks to get me feeling happy about driving again, then a lesson every week between booking the test and taking it. I should be taking the test before June. And if I fail, to rebook immediately. I must be a driver by December. This one will be the hardest to keep, because I hate driving.

I want to learn a language, and I’ve picked German. My wife is half-German, which makes my son a quarter-German, and she doesn’t speak a word of it. Neither does Freddy, but he doesn’t speak a word at all at the moment. It would be nice to learn a language, and I have one of those CD course things to tap at when I get the time. Unfortunately, I feel this is something that needs a bit of regular time and dedication, so it will have to wait till at least one of the other resolutions is done and dusted before I can squeeze it in, or I’ll see how the time-management goes and whether there is a place for it. I will have to see how things transpire.

Sell all my Star Trek cards. This is a fairly simple one, don’t think it needs that much explaining.

My Dad and I have been working on a family tree for a few years now. My involvement has been… less than involved, to be honest. But I’ve always taken an interest. I decided just before Christmas that it’d be nice to get Dad’s information (which mostly covers my Grandmother’s family) and put it into a new family tree, for Freddy. It’ll be nice for him to have a lot of the hard work done if he, or his children, ever decide to do some research into it. And as amazing as our earliest date of 1812 is, think how incredible that would be in 30-50 years time! To that end, I’m arranging to meet up with my mother’s parents, and my in-law’s parents, and glean as much information as possible. This should be easily completed by June. Apparently, my wife’s aunt has already done some research into her family, so that might be the best place to start – to save duplicating effort.

Finally, I want to get the first version of my Wargame Tools on this website to test. Given the amount of progress I’ve made since September, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to believe that it could be being tested around places by this September. I’m only aiming at a rough, unpolished version, however. The final one, with lights, colours, bells, whistles and knobs on could take a while longer. But we’ll see how it goes. I already know there’s a couple of limitations with the data structure I’ve designed as it relates to a perfect representation of the Warhammer system, specifically the Bretonnian army, but I’d want to wait and see what changes come with the 7th edition version of that army book before I start making massive modifications.

In summary, then:

  • Organise the filing cabinet
  • Paint all my Dark Elves
  • Get a driving licence
  • Learn German
  • Sell all my Star Trek cards
  • Work on the family tree
  • Get Wargame Tools released as an alpha test

Windows 7 Cheats and GodModes

According to http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-10426627-56.html, there are a whole range of special codes you can add to a folder name in Windows 7 to make a shortcut to a particular function. I’ve tried out the ones listed in the article, and here’s what they do:

{00C6D95F-329C-409a-81D7-C46C66EA7F33} – Set default location for devices such as GPS
{0142e4d0-fb7a-11dc-ba4a-000ffe7ab428} – Goes to control panel page for biometric devices, such as fingerprint readers
{025A5937-A6BE-4686-A844-36FE4BEC8B6D} – Goes to control panel for power plans (I do use this quite often, actually)
{05d7b0f4-2121-4eff-bf6b-ed3f69b894d9} – Settings for notification icons/area on the taskbar
{1206F5F1-0569-412C-8FEC-3204630DFB70} – Control panel page for Windows/Certificate/Generic credentials store
{15eae92e-f17a-4431-9f28-805e482dafd4} – Install a program from the network
{17cd9488-1228-4b2f-88ce-4298e93e0966} – Change default programs
{1D2680C9-0E2A-469d-B787-065558BC7D43} – Opens what appears to be the GAC
{1FA9085F-25A2-489B-85D4-86326EEDCD87} – Manage wireless networks
{208D2C60-3AEA-1069-A2D7-08002B30309D} – Opens network for your Domain (browse computers in your domain)
{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D} – Opens My Computer
{2227A280-3AEA-1069-A2DE-08002B30309D} – Opens faxes and printers
{241D7C96-F8BF-4F85-B01F-E2B043341A4B} – Control Panel for ‘Connect to desktops and programs at your workplace’ – something for RDC and RemoteApp
{4026492F-2F69-46B8-B9BF-5654FC07E423} – Windows Firewall settings
{62D8ED13-C9D0-4CE8-A914-47DD628FB1B0} – This is just an empty, normal folder on my PC (Win7 Ultimate, x64)
{78F3955E-3B90-4184-BD14-5397C15F1EFC} – Rate and improve your computer’s performance

I only wish that the undocumented bits of Windows 7 were documented somewhere!

2009

A whole bunch of my friends do this meme every year, and I admit I usually wait till they’ve all done it before I do mine. I don’t have a specific day I try to post it on, but I think now I have my own official ‘blog’ (with advance publish options) I’ll see if I can get it at least the same day two years in a row!

Did you enjoy this year?
Overall, yes. It’s had it’s ups and downs.

What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
I dialled 999, I rode in an ambulance, I spoke to a solicitor, I raised £200 for charity, I failed a driving test, I bought property, I put up a shelf.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Nope. I don’t think I went swimming once. As of this writing, I’ve not decided on any new resolutions.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
A few friends did! Willow, Sophie and Lily were all born this year.

Did anyone close to you die?
Nope! Another year safely passed.

What countries did you visit?
England? I don’t think I even got as far as Wales this year. I’ve been pretty immobile this year.

What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
My savings back! A driving licence would be nice, too.

What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
There are two dates for me – my birthday, when I was told we’d gotten the house and August 28th when we moved in.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Buying the house at an awesome price! Slightly smaller, I completed Super Mario Galaxy and got all stars as both Mario and Luigi (that’s 242 stars, in total).

What was your biggest failure?
Failing my driving test. Not that big a failure, but it’s the biggest one I have. It even has ‘fail’ right there in the description.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
LOTS of illness. Too much illness. Even the suspected swine flu. Freddy had more than me though, and that was terrifying.

Did you have to go to the hospital?
Only for Freddy. People talked about drips, and he had oxygen overnight. Things were a little scary.

What was the best thing you bought?
A three bedroom house. Oh yeah.

It’d better be the best thing I bought, it’s certainly the most expensive thing!

Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Mine! I’m terrific!

Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
No-one really, pretty much everyone around me has behaved themselves this year. Go team!

Where did most of your money go?
See several points above – the house. The deposit alone is more than I’ve spent on anything else, but it means I own just over 10% of a real, actual brick house. This is still a little shocking to me.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Freddy standing, singing, dancing, babbling, smiling, eating and learning to unwrap presents. Freddy coming out of hospital.

What song will always remind you of 2009?
I’m not sure there is a single song that reminds me of 2009 – all the songs I get stuck in my head at the moment are those that are played by plastic toys. Possibly Rage Against The Machine, for the Christmas controversy? I don’t know.

Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. Happier or sadder?

Much, much happier.
ii. richer or poorer?
Much, much poorer. Although property prices are on the rise, so my house is worth more than I spent on it! Hooray!

What do you wish you’d done more of?
I want to say driving, but it wouldn’t be truthful. I hate driving.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
I’m not sure. I think I did everything about right this year.

How did you spend Christmas?
At my parent’s house, with them, my Grandma and my sister, with Freddy opening presents. It was a lot of fun.

Where did you ring in 2009?
Well, I think we probably crashed into bed and were woken up throughout the night by Freddy. That was in the early ‘he has reflux’ stage, before we discovered it was caused by a milk intolerance.

What was your favourite TV programme?
We’ve been watching Babylon 5 on DVD, and as a new discovery Life on the BBC iPlayer.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Nope. I’m fairly content with the other humans on this planet.

What was the best book you read?
I didn’t read many new books this year. Possibly ‘All Quiet On the Western Front’ would get it, that was a very moving book.

What was your greatest musical discovery?
Being a media hermit as I am – no radio, no TV – I am quite isolated when it comes to new music. I don’t shop, so I can’t just pick something up to try it (and that’d be quite expensive anyway). I heard quite a bit of Mamas and Papas and ELO this year though, but neither I’d describe as ‘greatest musical discovery’.

What did you want and get?
All together now boys and girls – a house. And Freddy is well, we found the cause of his reflux.

What did you want and not get?
A driving licence. I’m very single minded.

How did you earn your keep?
I’m still a programmer. I’ve also sold off some of my old Warhammer 40,000 bits (Imperial Guard and Space Marines). Next year, maybe some of the fantasy models – Orcs and Goblins.

What was your favourite film of this year?
The only new films that I recall seeing are Star Trek and Surrogates – so Star Trek is the best one I saw in the cinema, certainly! Nothing else made an impact enough to remember.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was (looks at fingers) 25, and I had a Wetherspoons pub meal. Before the meal, I called an estate agent and put in a silly, low, let’s-open-negotiations offer on a house. During the meal, I was told that it was accepted. Then we went and got aniseed balls. For my birthday, I got a house and a bag of aniseed balls.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Getting more aniseed balls. And perhaps that driving licence. A slightly less offensive pay review would have been nice, too.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
’You’re lucky I’m not naked.’

What kept you sane?
That’s a pretty big assumption to make. Sleepless nights spent comforting a screaming child, lasting months on end? Sleepless nights listening to an asthmatic child struggling to breathe, despite the hospital keep discharging us? Not seeing my friends as much as I’d like? Feeling quite unappreciated at work, and working long hours to counterbalance time off looking after a sick child? Yeah, I think we’ll skip this question this year and try again next time.

What political issue stirred you the most?
The BNP being on Question Time stirred me enough to make a post on here about it. The Christmas number one stirred me enough to buy RATM.

Who was the best new person you met?
I’ve met lots of new people in work, and they’re all pretty cool.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:
You can argue with doctors if they try and send you out of the hospital. As long as you argue politely.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
”Our house… in the middle of our street.”

.Net Nooks and Crannies

I really love Stack Overflow. It’s so cool to have a link to many, many great coding minds to help with the minutiae of my learning process, whether through asking a question myself or finding that someone else asked something similar months ago.

The last question I asked was about public properties that should be read-only (usually List<T> or somesuch thing), but allow the user to add an item still. The answer was to use a class called ‘ReadOnlyCollection<T>’. This is one of many, many classes that I’ve never heard of but would be incredibly useful if I had!

When I get to the end of the first run of Wargame Tools, I’ll definitely be refactoring it (especially since I plan to port the logic to an ASP.NET MVC 2.0 application and see how those work) and will be sure to blog about this class and how I find using it.

Apple Bites

Just a quick update today: Apple has gone up one point in my mind. One of my big problems with them has always been that iTunes, the ambassador to the Windows world, has only offered English (United States) as a language. Not just ‘English’ with a silent ‘whoops we thought this was English’ but ‘English (United States)’ as in ‘this is a specific language, and yours ain’t supported’.

Today, I installed iTunes just to get my iPod recognised (it comes off straight after, no fear!) and I realised that they finally had English (United Kingdom) offered on the installation.

Well done Apple, better late than never.

On a side note, I still dare some company to put English (England) on their languages list.

EDIT: That didn’t work. Now I have to uninstall all the additional junk Apple fills a computer with just for an MP3 player and software. MediaMonkey doesn’t do this. Nor does WinAmp. Still no solution.

Wargame Tools – a learning program

My name is Pete, and I am a wargamer. I am also a programmer. As a programmer and huge geek, I look for ways to apply programming knowledge to my other hobbies. So it only makes sense that I would try to apply it to wargaming.

Over the years, I’ve seen, used and abandoned various ‘army list’ programs. My favourite for the longest time was Army Builder but their licence restrictions are just a little bit harsh for me – apparently, a recent ‘minor’ upgrade means that anyone without an active licence (mine ran out years ago) must buy a new one, and the datafiles are not compatible with previous versions. It sounds more like a major version change than a minor one to me, but that’s their call at the end of the day.

So I’ve decided to build my own, as daunting a task as it may be, and see if I can bring something I work on in my spare time to the web as a useful addition to the choices around in the world today. At the same time (and extending the possible release by an indeterminate amount) I decided to use this as an excuse to learn WPF and apply some more object-oriented concepts to my code.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks, as Army Builder has always worked with and Army Roster discovered this year, is that it’s not nice to just give away the intellectual property of games manufacturers. So there is a need to give people the tools they need to make the data files, with which to build the actual army lists. It’s also pretty difficult to take what amounts to a domain-specific language that your datafile program writes and your army list program understands, and present an easy, graphical way for your user to interact with it without getting them too deep into the technical sides of it. It needs to be accessible for non-programmers.

So far, I’ve been working away on it slowly, and through evenings and weekends when I can snatch a few minutes. I’ve found WPF and XAML to be very, very interesting to work with but there’s a bit of a learning curve to get over if (like me) you’re coming from a Windows Forms background. I will be putting up anything interesting that I’ve learned, or link to samples that have helped me, whenever I find something useful.

Film Autopsy – Surrogates

surrogates

This film review is going to be heavy on spoilers. Move along if you’re not into that sort of thing. I will warn you to start with, I am a nit-picker of films. I will latch on to something and unravel it, and try and understand how the world of a film works. This often makes it look like I hate a film, or at least think too much. Sci-fi films set 10 minutes into the future are perfect for this – a lot of things can be assumed about the way the world works now with that one big difference.

To sum it up right here, I enjoyed this film. It’s a fun action flick, Bruce Willis is good as usual, and the style and appearance of everything in the film helps to sell the story. When people act as their surrogates, they are slightly off, but not entirely ‘uncanny valley’, if that’s even appropriate. The ‘cheaper models’ shown in the film are definitely sitting in the uncanny valley but everyone appears to have the equivalent of a Ferrari, as far as I could tell.

It does, however, suffer from a few rather wacky assumptions and simplifications. In no particular order:

Surrogate distribution
“Surrogate technology became cheap enough that 98% of the world’s population have surrogates.”
Really? 98%? Half the world can’t afford to feed itself, let alone buy a complex robotic device with two-way high speed permanently active (and highly reliable, since it’s their whole life being lived) broadband connection. By world, I think that they meant to say ‘Western world’ and quite possibly ‘USA’ only, since that’s all we see.

FBI Monitoring
It appears common knowledge in the film that the FBI watches through the eyes of every surrogate. Privacy advocates aren’t shown in the film, but I can imagine a vocal minority refusing to use surrogates (but also refusing to move to the primitive ‘low-tech’ reservations) simply because they don’t want the government – or anyone, for that matter – looking at whatever they look at, whenever they want to. I can’t say I’d be thrilled about it. I would also be fairly confident that the UK government would be a little wary of Americans watching what every British person is up to, and that’s a shadow of what the French would feel!

Military Applications
The moral and ethical problems of using disposable soldiers are quite huge – war would be won and lost on a financial basis. “Oh, we lost more surries? Best call up the factory.” There isn’t such a downside to declaring war, if all you need to do is send thousands of surrogates into your neighbour and shoot everything that moves. You don’t lose men, you only lose tax money – and since surrogates are so cheap, there’s not even a lot of that lost.

The other major military implication is that if surrogates are used to fight wars, why would they be exported from the country? Any of the more advanced models could be reverse-engineered to create the more basic (cheaper) military version, giving other countries equal footing on the military basis.

Are they Communist now?
The economic clue in the ‘cheap’ surrogates makes corporations seem less realistic. All surrogates are on the same network but not everybody in the world is on the same internet service. Likewise, if everyone can afford this extremely expensive piece of equipment (and the requisite maintenance, energy cost, etc) are iPhones treated like confetti? There’s obviously a demand for surrogates – a huge demand, since they apparently make things safer and solve society’s ills – so any capitalist corporation would sell for whatever they could get, especially in a market that seems devoid of competition.

In addition, inequality has been solved. Crime is much lower now everyone’s using surrogates. Surely, violence against surrogates will increase because the consequences are less severe? Early in the film, a surrogate is destroyed by a car and it’s written as ‘criminal damage’ (possibly vandalism, I don’t quite remember). A human would be classed as ‘hit-and-run’ or ‘attempted murder’. Perhaps that’s how crime is reduced… all crime is declassified.

Meatbags!
I don’t remember exactly, but I believe the film is set 15-25 years in the future. And people seem to have become allergic to people, some even go as far as to call the real humans ‘meatbags’. The anxiety of being out without your surrogate and the slightly concerned, off-kilter reaction from surrogates to humans is good, but people using surrogates calling others ‘meatbags’ I just don’t understand. I can grudgingly admit that violence against humans would happen just for being without a surrogate, because people will find any excuse to hurt each other, but the actual revulsion shown is… well, stupid. Sooner or later their meatbag is going to have to meet someone else’s meatbag and mix their meat together to have a family. Maybe they put a bag over each other’s heads and make tiny motor noises.

Space in the future
Families might even be getting smaller in the future – buying a new surrogate when your kid grows out of theirs? Wow. That’s going to suck. Plus, since no more unprotected sex (unless your surrogate is really basic), the birth rate will drop dramatically. With people not getting out of the house, obesity will rise… And of course the surrogate control beds. They’re enormous! We have, I think, a good sized house for three people. We could easily squeeze another child, maybe two in here. But in the world of surrogates, we would need to convert the loft into a surrogate room or else lose our dining room to put up two of those beds. Any kids will have to move out young so they can have a place to put their own surrogate bed. Houses will need to be a lot bigger, and I don’t know that their price will come down in line with surrogate prices.

Endgame
Taking these points into consideration, the end of the film makes things look very interesting. No surrogates connected to the FBI network… but every other country presumably still has theirs. Would military surrogates even be connected to the FBI? Perhaps. Are other countries military surrogates? Hell no! America is at war with someone, they’re almost definitely going to lose it now thanks to Bruce. Unfortunately, his brave new world of human connection doesn’t get past the fact that the world was apparently safer, with less crime, and there’s all this infrastructure set up to build, sell, modify and run surrogates just lying around… Plus the fact that the engineers know how to improve on the old system, and the dangerous terrorist leader leading the anti-surrogate movement is dead (and soon to be exposed as a surrogate himself). It’s not going to be too long before people slip back to their happy network beds and plug in again.

To summarise, the premise could have been a little more realistic or thought out (a lot of it just by cutting scenes showing military surrogates!) but it’s an interesting idea and a good plot overall.

On my own personal meter, I would watch this film again (probably with friends and beer) but I doubt I’ll actually get it on DVD.