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World of Warcraft On my drive home today (being my last day at work. I’m now fully independent.), I was listening to the show “All Things Considered” on NPR. Much to my surprise there was a reviewer named Robert Holt who was describing his experience with World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role playing game.

If you’re not in the know (and I assume most of my readers are), an MMORPG is basically Dungeons & Dragons, but online in full color 3-D with surround sound. Holt describes an adventure in which he and four other real people are deep within the bowels of a thieves den, looking to nab the leader.

What struck me about this review is hearing it on NPR. As a kid, Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D for short) was a guilty pleasure. Guilty because I knew how stigmatizing it would be for people in some of the circles I ran with to find out I played. This was during the years where I was a bit of a closet geek.

It didn’t help when you heard from church types that playing the game would cause you to worship Satan, drink goats blood, and give you a “Go Straight To Hell, Do Not Pass Go” card.

Strangely enough, I’ve never killed anyone as a human sacrifice as a result of dabbling in the game. In fact, I felt that I learned good planning skills, improved my vocabulary, and learned how to tell a story as a result.

So now that RPGs have gone mainstream, I guess I can dust off my old D&D books, my oddly shaped dice, my back issues of Dungeon magazine, and display such items proudly. Until my wife gets tired of the clutter it would cause and kindly asks me to place them elsewhere. :)

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Looks like Google is responding to some critics who say Google takes all and doesn’t give back to the open source community. They’ve just launched Google Code, Google’s place for Open Source software.

From their FAQ:

What is code.google.com?\ Code.google.com is our site for external developers interested in Google-related development. Its where well publish free source code and lists of our API services. \ \ Who are the people behind code.google.com?\ A lot of people worked together to both prepare source code for release and prepare code.google.com for launch and ongoing maintenance. We really care about free and open source software (F/OSS) at Google, and this site is one aspect of that affection.

Via Google Blog - Live.

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Tiny Charms No, this post will make no mention of Paris Hilton. Promise. (Fully realizing that if I had mentioned her, it would attract an undesirable crowd via Google).

I don’t personally have a T-Mobile, but a former coworker of mine recently had a game he developed published on the T-Mobile stack. The royalties he receives from just one game is an eye opener. He can’t retire (nor quit his day job) just yet, but it sure is a nice source of extra income. His entire lineup so far can be seen at his site.

It’s almost enough to get me more involved in programming for mobile devices. It’s like the early days of programming on my Commodore. On many phones, you have roughly the same constraints. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Commodor 64 emulator on a cell phone.

Apart from my limited contribution to RSS Bandit, I tend to be a server-side developer. My last project was to expose my company’s platform to mobile devices over HTTP. I didn’t spend much time in the client end of it at all.

humor blogging meta-blogging comments edit

In the 1998 movie, The Big Hit, the protagonists kidnap the daughter of an extremely wealthy Japanese businessman. When they call to deliver the ransom notice, they turn to Gump who employs a brand name Trace Buster to prevent police from tracing the call.

Unbeknownst to Gump, the father has a Trace-Buster-Buster at his disposal. This in turn triggers Gump to use his Trace-Buster-Buster-Buster in an ever escalating battle to evade detection.

I just love that scene.

But I’m not here to talk about movies. I’ve recently noticed a post or two critical of the practice of blogging about blogging i.e. Metablogging.

I couldn’t help but to think of the Trace-Buster-Buster-Buster… The irony of dismissing blogging about blogging is that in doing so, you’re blogging about blogging about blogging. And in highlighting this, I’m blogging about blogging about blogging about … well you get the picture. I’ve become a Meta-Meta-Meta-Meta blogger.

Not that I’m taking sides here. If you find blogging about blogging boring, so be it. It is quite easy to avoid it. But I doubt it will simply die off. Unless of course blogging itself dies off.

I recently walked through the hallowed shelves of the local Borders book store in Santa Monica with my wife and noticed an entire shelf of books on writing. The thought that we might see the end of writing about writing never occured to me.

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TRS 80 My first couple computers (TRS 80 and Commodore 128) led very solitairy lives. Though they had the constant company of a human companion, they lacked the familiar company of their own kind. I wonder if they longed for a form of communication that didn’t require a fur-less primate jabbing his fingers at a keyboard.

Commodore 128 To foster computer to computer community, I purchased my first Modem for my third computer, an Amiga 500. Not content to slap on just any modem, I shelled out the big bucks (in 1 dollar bills from tips bagging groceries) for a 1200 baud modem. That’s a full four times faster than the laggard 300 baud modem my loser friends were using at the time.

Amiga 500 It didn’t take long before I was a member of every bulletin board on the island (Guam). Then again, it doesn’t take long to join two or three boards. Surprisingly, Guam actually had more BBS systems running out of people’s homes than you’d think. I was a co-sysop of one board for a short while.

When signing up for a BBS (Bulletin Board System) membership, it was essential to choose a good handle. Now you might mistakenly associate a handle and a login as the same thing. But you’d be way off base. Way off base. A handle was much more significant than a measly login. It was your identity in the interconnected ASCII based world of the BBS. A well chosen handle was a reflection of your personality, or lack thereof.

Maverick Think Top Gun. He didn’t go by the moniker “TomC1962” he was freakin’ Maverick! How lame would a trucker feel if she was known as Ellie32. No way man. For those long lonely rides on the freeway, a trucker needs a handle with character and panache. Something that generates r-e-s-p-e-c-t. When you get on the CB, you’re talking to “Storm Chaser” and “Rusty Nail”, not some lame ass “JohnD” or “JaneD” (no disrespect if that really is your handle).

F-16 So back in those days I went by the handle “Dragon”, assuming it was available. I felt it was a good reflection of my east-meets-west heritage and love for LOTR. Of course every geek boy with a modem was after that handle, so I started going by “Falcon”, in reference to my favorite fighter jet, the F-16. I couldn’t be content with the handle “Dragon_Int64.MaxValue”

Nowadays, this concept of the “blogosphere” evokes some of the same feelings that the early days of the BBS craze (if you could call it that) did. Part of that feeling is rooted in the use of handles by some bloggers I know. For example, you might say Dare’s handle is “Carnage4Life”. Eric Porter dons a cape and parse tree and becomes the Human Compiler. Robert Scoble sprinkles his link juice (rel=”please do follow”) across the blogosphere because he is… (cue dramatic music) The Scobleizer.

And my handle? Well it should be obvious that it is “Haacked”. It’s basically a play on my last name, “Haack” (pronounced “hack”). So if I post as Haacked in your blog’s comments, it’s not to hide my identity. It’s merely a nod to a bygone era in online history. Just a small way to add a little flavor to an otherwise boring world of bits and bytes. It’s not my goal to hide the fact that my real name is … *transmission ended*

log4net logging aspnet comments edit

UPDATE: I wrote a post with notes on getting this to work with ASP.NET 2.0.

Looking around, I noticed a lot of people struggling with getting Log4Net to work with their web applications (ASP.NET 1.1). I’m not going to spend a lot of time digging into Log4Net here, as you can do a Google search for that. But I will give you a quick and dirty guide to quickly getting it set up for a website. Bar of soap not included.

Using a Separate Config File

Although you can put your Log4Net configuration settings within the web.config file, I prefer to use a separate configuration file. Log4Net is a bit of an elitist. It won’t dare put a FileSystemWatcher on web.config nor App.config. However, if you tell it to use its own config file, it will gladly monitor that log file and update its settings on the fly when the file changes.

Specifying the Log4Net Config File

If you use a separate config file, a quick and easy (and dirty) way to have your application find it is to place the config file in the webroot and add the following attribute to your AssemblyInfo.cs file.

[assembly: log4net.Config.XmlConfigurator( 
ConfigFile="Log4Net.config",Watch=true )]

Declaring the Logger {.clear}

At the top of each class that I plan to use logging in, I declare a logger like so:

private static readonly ILog Log = LogManager.GetLogger( 
MethodBase.GetCurrentMethod().DeclaringType);

The reason I place a logger in each class is to scope it to that class. If you read the log4Net docs, you’ll see what I mean by this.

Using the Logger

Once you’ve declared the logger, you can call one its logging methods. Each method is named for the logging level. For example:

Log.Debug("This is a DEBUG level message.  
Typically your most VERBOSE level.");

Now whether that message shows up in your logs depends on how you’ve configured your appenders and the logging level you’ve set. Don’t understand what that means? Read the Log4Net introduction.

Sample Web Solution

In order to make all this discussion very concrete, I’ve gone ahead and did all your homework for you by creating a simple ASP.NET 1.1 web solution (Log4NetSampleSolution.zip ) using Visual Studio.NET 2003. After unzipping this solution, you should be able to build it and then view the default.aspx web page. This page will log a few very interesting messages of varying levels to three appenders.

Of special note is the use of the RollingFileAppender as seen in this snippet.

<appender name="RollingLogFileAppender"    
        type="log4net.Appender.RollingFileAppender">

    <file value="..\Logs\\CurrentLog" />
    <appendToFile value="true" />
    <datePattern value="yyyyMMdd" />

    <rollingStyle value="Date" />
    <filter type="log4net.Filter.LevelRangeFilter">
        <acceptOnMatch value="true" />

        <levelMin value="INFO" />
        <levelMax value="FATAL" />
    </filter>

    <layout type="log4net.Layout.PatternLayout">
        <conversionPattern 
        value="%-5p %d %5rms %-22.22c{1} %-18.18M - %m%n" />
    </layout>

</appender>

Note that the file value (with backslashes escaped) points to ..\Logs\CurrentLog. This specifies that Log4Net will log to a file in a directory named Logs parallel to the webroot. You need to give the ASPNET user write permission to this directory, which is why it is generally a good idea to leave it out of the webroot. Not to mention the potential for an IIS misconfiguration that allows the average Joe to snoop through your logs.

comments edit

My friend Walter points out some common sense advice about how not to get fired for the content of your blog. Of course this issue has been beaten to a pulp in the larger blogosphere, but one thing he mentioned caught my attention.

Of course most employers will probably never find any particular employees blog, and if they did they probably would not be offended.

You’d be surprised how easy it is for an employer to find your blog without even meaning to. Unless you restrict your content to something quite unrelated to any of your company’s interest, your content is almost certainly going to have posts that are related to your field. That’s when Google kicks in. The large majority of my referrals come from Google searches. Often from people searching for information on a particular technical problem I just happened to write about.

That’s why the solution is to hide your identity and lie lie lie!

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Currently, the only plug-in model supported by RSS Bandit is the IBlogExtension interface. This is a very limited interface that allows developers to write a plug-in that adds a menu option to allow the user to manipulate a single feed item.

The ability to interact with the application from such a plug-in is very limited as the interface doesn’t define an interface to the application other than a handle. (For info on how to write an IBlogExtension plug-in, see this article.)

So last night I was thinking about an email that a user sent me. He wants to know how to add an intelligent module for filtering and classifying RSS feeds to RSS Bandit. This is for his thesis project.

Since that might not be a necessary feature for RSS Bandit at this point, I suggested that he implement it in a private build. RSS Bandit is open source and he can easily obtain the source code. But it occurred to me that there are hundreds of feature requests like this that have the potential to be great solutions in the future, but would be best implemented as a plug-in in the near term.

So as I sat there thinking about it, Torsten goes ahead and implements a prototype for it. Mind you, I hadn’t talked to Torsten nor Dare about this yet, but I’m sure it’s something we’ve all been thinking about. Especially as the number of feature requests continues to accumulate.

So what areas of extensibility might we want to support? Well there’s the callback on feed item download that Torsten implemented. That alone is quite useful. I can imagine building a plug-in that would score items based on how likely I’d want to see it or not. Thus it could sort items based on importance in a special feed. This would help with the increasingly large number of feeds I’m subscribed to.

Dare mentioned (and he’ll write more on this) the idea to support new data sources and formats. For example, it’d be interesting to build NNTP support as a plug-in.

I’d also like to build the ability to provide an interface for plug-in data storage. For example, suppose you build a plug-in that keeps statistics of your RSS feeds. You might want that stored with your settings so that when you synchronize RSS Bandit, your plug-in settings are synchronized as well.

]

Thinking far out there, perhaps adding the ability to support IE toolbars might be an option as I think some users actually use RSS Bandit as their primary browser.

The important thing is to design a nice interface to expose the RSS Bandit application to the plug-ins. In tandem we need to prioritize these extensibility options by looking at current feature requests and thinking about how many of them could be implemented as plug-ins.

comments edit

Evolution of DevelopmentJet Brains released a free upgrade to their ReSharper product. Let me tell you, using this product feels like walking on land after a long stint trying to walk under water.

Recently, I was trying to write some code on a coworker’s computer and kept hitting funky key combinations that had no meaning on his machine since he didn’t have this installed. I had to actually type out a bunch of code that just spills out when using this add-in. It felt so stone age.

Just to be complete, I know many are fans of CodeRush for Visual Studio. I liked it enough, but the lack of Refactoring support was a problem for me, which is why I chose ReSharper.

comments edit

Via Dare’s blog, I found this interesting post on Random Number Generation on Michael Brundage’s website. My undergrad thesis was on the topic of pseudorandom number generation so I thought I’d take the two classes he provided for a quick spin.

Unfortunately, the C# samples did not compile as is. In his post he discusses how the C++ samples are optimized. I figured I might be able to use them to guide changes to the C# port and could post the results here. Please note that I have not tested them yet and need to verify that my changes were correct. Enjoy and let me know if I got anything wrong.

[CLSCompliant(false)]

public class MersenneTwister

{

    private ulong _index;

    private ulong[] _buffer = new ulong[624];

 

    /// <summary>

    /// Creates a new <see cref=”MersenneTwister”/> instance.

    /// </summary>

    public MersenneTwister()

    {

        Random r = new Random();

        for (int i = 0; i < 624; i++)

            _buffer[i] = (ulong)r.Next();

        _index = 0;

    }

 

    /// <summary>

    /// Returns a random long integer.

    /// </summary>

    /// <returns></returns>

    public ulong Random()

    {

        if (_index == 624)

        {

            _index = 0;

            long i = 0;

            ulong s;

            for (; i < 624 - 397; i++)

            {

                s = (_buffer[i] & 0x80000000) | (_buffer[i+1] & 0x7FFFFFFF);

                _buffer[i] = _buffer[i + 397] \^ (s >> 1) \^ ((s & 1) * 0x9908B0DF);

            }

            for (; i < 623; i++)

            {

                s = (_buffer[i] & 0x80000000) | (_buffer[i+1] & 0x7FFFFFFF);

                _buffer[i] = _buffer[i - (624 - 397)] \^ (s >> 1) \^ ((s & 1) * 0x9908B0DF);

            }

 

            s = (_buffer[623] & 0x80000000) | (_buffer[0] & 0x7FFFFFFF);

            _buffer[623] = _buffer[396] \^ (s >> 1) \^ ((s & 1) * 0x9908B0DF);

        }

        return _buffer[_index++];

    }

}

[CLSCompliant(false)]

public sealed class R250Combined521

{

    private ulong r250_index;

    private ulong r521_index;

    private ulong[] r250_buffer = new ulong[250];

    private ulong[] r521_buffer = new ulong[521];

 

    /// <summary>

    /// Creates a new <see cref=”R250Combined521”/> instance.

    /// </summary>

    public R250Combined521()

    {

        Random r = new Random();

        ulong i = 521;

        ulong mask1 = 1;

        ulong mask2 = 0xFFFFFFFF;

 

        while (i– > 250)

        {

            r521_buffer[i] = (ulong)r.Next();

        }

        while (i– > 31)

        {

            r250_buffer[i] = (ulong)r.Next();

            r521_buffer[i] = (ulong)r.Next();

        }

 

        /*

        Establish linear independence of the bit columns

        by setting the diagonal bits and clearing all bits above

        */

        while (i– > 0)

        {

            r250_buffer[i] = (((uint)r.Next()) mask1) & mask2;
            r521_buffer[i] = (((uint)r.Next()) mask1) & mask2;

            mask2 = mask2 \^ mask1;

            //mask2 \^= mask1;

            mask1 >>= 1;

        }

        r250_buffer[0] = mask1;

        r521_buffer[0] = mask2;

        r250_index = 0;

        r521_index = 0;

    }

 

    /// <summary>

    /// Returns a random long integer.

    /// </summary>

    /// <returns></returns>

    public ulong random()

    {

        ulong i1 = r250_index;

        ulong i2 = r521_index;

 

        ulong j1 = i1 - (250-103);

        if (j1 < 0)

            j1 = i1 + 103;

        ulong j2 = i2 - (521-168);

        if (j2 < 0)

            j2 = i2 + 168;

 

        ulong r = (r250_buffer[j1] \^ r250_buffer[i1]);

        r250_buffer[i1] = r;

        ulong s = (r521_buffer[j2] \^ r521_buffer[i2]);

        r521_buffer[i2] = s;

 

        i1 = (i1 != 249) ? (i1 + 1) : 0;

        r250_index = i1;

        i2 = (i2 != 521) ? (i2 + 1) : 0;

        r521_index = i2;

 

        return r \^ s;

    }

}

comments edit

Yes folks, it’s true. After working a while in VS.NET, it suddenly stops and asks if I’d like to send an error report to Microsoft. Then it shuts down. Almost like clockwork. This creates a very good time for me to take a break, stretch, and meditate on how much work I just lost as I was just about to hit the save icon.

hosting sourcecontrol comments edit

For my personal coding projects at home, I’ve been using the free one-user version of SourceGear vault for my personal source control needs. As you know, having proper source control is #1 on The Joel Test.

But since I’m embarking on a project with Micah who lives in San Francisco, we need something better than to host on my little Shuttle system at home. We need hosting!

After some preliminary research, I’m leaning towards a semi-dedicated server from WebHost4Life. The Basic plan includes 150 GB of bandwidth, 2000 MB of Space, 2GB of SQL Server 2000, ASP.NET 1.1, Sharepoint Team/Windows Services, and on and on. Plus, no setup fees, and it’s $79.35 a month. This is a LOT cheaper than an equivalent option at DataPipe. DataPipe offers 5 nine uptime, but I think the 3 nines will be adequate.

This server will host our source control (which requires SQL Server and .NET) as well as a staging site for our client. If you know of a better option, please leave a comment. I’ll let you know what we end up deciding.

comments edit

Today, my boss, the CTO, announced that I’m leaving the company to join the adult movie industry. Don’t worry, I’m actually not out to challenge the supremacy of John Holmes. That just happens to be the typical way he likes to announce the departure of employees. I’m just joining the seeming legion of developers who are going independent.

I actually gave notice two weeks ago, but I had promised not to say anything until my company had a chance to figure out how to deliver the news. Hence I didn’t mention it on my blog. Not that any of my coworkers read my blog (I think). But just in case, I wanted to be true to my word.

It’s funny how keeping a secret from your blog can affect how much you write on your blog. It’s as if I was worried that I’d start writing about how Test Driven Development will save your soul and suddenly blurt out, “oh by the way, I’m leaving my company. oops!”.

The first big contract I’m working on is with my friend Micah, one of the smartest software architects you’ll meet (and you’d find that out if he kept a damn blog. hint hint!). He’s fluent in both .NET and Java (where I’m lacking). We’re hoping to also work with my friend Kyle, one of the smartest people I know across the board. We’re positioning ourselves as Solution Architects, or as my former CEO put it, we’re “portable CTOs”. I’ll write up more about what that means later, but essentially it means we’ll help our clients implement the right solution, not just sell them a solution based on a religious preference for a particular platform or custom development when a product would do.

If you’re in need of a portable CTO, software architect, grunt developer on a project, send me an email. I’m also looking to get into process improvement consulting etc… That’s something I have a lot of experience with that I’d like to capitalize on. This includes helping teams get started with TDD, NUnit, Cruise Control, etc… I’m also available for code reviews etc… Sometimes you just need an extra pair of eyes.

In any case, I’m very excited and anxious about this big transition. Now I’m head deep in studying tax law and health insurance policies. Wish me luck and advice is appreciated.

comments edit

Don Park outlines an interesting potential solution to Google’s proposed Auto Link feature of its Toolbar. Essentially his solution is to allow content author’s to opt-in via tagging content for auto-linking.

The question I have about this is if you’re going to go to all the trouble to mark up your content in this way, why not just provide the link yourself? One benefit I do see is in the case of an ISBN number. As a content producer, I might link to Amazon. However, if my user has an account at BookPool, she might configure the auto-link toolbar to link ISBNs to that site instead.

Of course, in general, I might not want that since I’d prefer to get credit for links to Amazon. But that’s beside the point. If I opt in, it’s the potential to give users more control. This assumes that Google gives user that level of control.

Another question I have is if content authors start using this tag, what stops browsers from adding AutoLink to pages that opt-in? In effect, Don’s suggestion creates an extension to HTML and by being opt-in, anybody should be able to hook into that, not just Google.

I’m not sure Google would want to go that route. Microsoft had its hand slapped by attempting an auto-link. Google perhaps thinks it can squeeze by since it’s not a monopoly power on the desktop and it promises to “do no evil”. But by making AutoLink opt-in, that should in theory make it palatable for browsers such as IE and FireFox add that feature.

Ultimately, I think AutoLink would be a great feature if it was controlled by the users. A user could control links to addresses so that they go to his or her favorite mapping site and an ISBN would link to the user’s favorite bookseller.

comments edit

My friends are always looking out for me. Apparently Tre (aka Macktastic Tre Flava) realized that as an elevated player, I was in dire need of a pimp name. So he helpfully sent me a link to the Pimp Name Generator one of the many useful utilities on PlayerAppreciate.com.

So from now an, all you suckas can call me Big Playah P Rock. My lovely wife will heretofore be known as Golden Brown Akumi Slim. Respect!

comments edit

It’s really coming down out there. On the freeway today I started hydroplaning a bit. Be careful out there. I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog due to being very busy. I have some big personal news (no, we’re not pregnant) to announce, but I promised not to announce it till others announce it.

comments edit

I want an add-in to my instant messaging apps whereby if someone responds to a message by me with just the word “ok”, it doesn’t pop an instant message window if I’ve closed the window. Perhaps it can filter any messages with just the word “ok” and flash the system tray or something. Anything. Just don’t get in my way.