Archive for May, 2006

May
25

Jetpac screenshots

Ive made some new screenshots of the development version of Jetpac. I still need to update the Jetpac page, which Ill probably do this afternoon. Lets have a small walkthrough of what these shots show. The first demonstrates the new “multi-layered” game map. The platform with the metal bars sticking out shows the background and foreground planes quite well. The stars in the background are also composed of several layers. There is a “distant plane” and a “far distant plane”. The former scrolls at a slower rate to the other planes, and the latter does not scroll at all giving the impression of vast distance. This technique is known as parallax scrolling.
jetpac screenshotjetpac screenshot

The second picture shows the partially complete rocket and the new lunar surface. The level is much larger than the size of the view port and the player can fly around with the screen “camera” following him. This makes locating the parts of the rocket and the fuel more difficult. It does however mean that there is a level to explore rather than having everything right infront of you from the start.I’ll save the rest of the description for the Jetpac page. Bye for now.

May
23

A quick update

Ok, here’s the news. I spent quite a long time playing with the CSS and the WordPress templates. Wonderful, I thought; the blog template just about matches with the rest of my site. Well, I loaded the page in Internet Explorer under VMWare only to be horrified at what I saw. It had butchered by design! Ive had to rework some parts just to make it look acceptable. Actually Im still having problems (which I suppose will be pretty clear if you’re browsing using IE right now). My logo with its beautiful PNG transparency, oh dear….. Ive not done much HTML/CSS coding for quite a long time and Im not used to the browser quirks yet. Ive decided that IE is sort of like a friend that you don’t really like, but you have to invite him along to all your social events because all your other friends like him.

Well, Im holding off including PHP browser detection, but the thought of sticking in a GIF logo instead of a PNG just to support IE makes me cringe. Also, the side bar is non existant in IE. One solution to all of this, although radical, is to stop IE from using the site at all and encourage users to “upgrade” (See Explorer Destroyer). Im not really sure how to feel about this. First of all I think its very funny, but on a more serious note, its extremely aggressive and is likely to annoy lots of innocent web surfers. I know Ive been frustrated with Microsoft products in the past, but is this really the answer? I know that there are lots of users, especially in corporate and educational environments that do not have a choice of browser. I think that it could even give some users negative associations with Firefox, especially as it can be misinterpreted as being officially supported by the Firefox developers.

There are 3 levels of “encouragement” available. The first displays a bar at the top of the page suggesting the user upgrades. The second shows a similar message but requires the user to click “Continue without Firefox” to then view the site. These could be effective, and aren’t too irritating. Its option number 3 that really makes this scheme interesting. The user cannot use the site at all when using Internet Explorer!
What ever happened to taking the high ground and advancing a product based on its merits rather than forcing users? If Microsoft started a scheme of their own, paying users to block their web content and paying them for each “convert”, what would happen then? Clearly this would be an anticompetative move and would not be tolerated. What is does mean however is that those of us who supported this scheme would have to keep our mouths shut and hold back from saying that “it’s not fair”.

May
20

Baby steps…. Web Applications

Ive always struggled with the idea of web applications and web services. Ive always resented them as being a trendy phase that would probably eventually pass by. Until recently Ive held this view point and never understood why. Its been a rather difficult thing to come to accept, but I feel that now, finally Im arriving at the acceptance stage.

Web browsers are like magazine browsing tools, (atleast they were) for viewing static content on the Internet. Now with people blogging and buying and selling over the Internet, its much more like a distributed application. It was this transition that always made me uncomfortable. We should write something specialised to do the job properly I thought, not try to fit this square peg into a round hole. Web browsers are arguably the most widely used applications on the users desktop (along side email) and yet they are so mixed up and ill defined. Their uses are almost infinite and they try to do everything for everybody. No wonder web browsers have such a bad reputation for being buggy and badly written.

It is the antithesis of the unix philosophy that has stood engineers in such good stead for so long. My problem is that Im looking at this whole situation from an engineers perspective and am missing the big picture. Web browsers are everywhere, whether you like them or now, and are here to stay. We don’t live in a perfect world and people want what is good enough to do what they need to do. If we were living in a perfect world we’d all be using exokernels and everyone would be programming GPL’d software in Ada 😉

Flash comes closer to my ideal solution to the web services problem, but apart from being propriety (although open alternatives exist ie, OpenLaslo), needs to be downloaded. This seems to be an enourmous barrier for what becomes accepted into the world of web services. If you needed to download a plugin to use ebay, it probably wouldn’t be the household name it is today. There is light at the end of the tunnel however; the technology works, just not perfectly. As the browser market advances with the W3C standards bringing up the rear we’re bound to get there someday.

May
20

The problem with blogging

I told a friend of mine (Victoria) about my idea for a blog. She knew what a blog was, but was rather dissaproving (atleast at first). We discussed the idea of blogging and the different ways in which it, and home pages in general are used.

The problem with blogs/home pages, she said, was that they can often become places for people to talk overly about themselves and that this usually isn’t very interesting. Its is just another outlet for people to show off. She also disliked the fact that a blog was sometimes a diary, or journal, which should more appropriately be kept private.

This is a problem that I can really relate to, having had a web page for a number of years. From the days when I was at school writing big headed programming tutorials, through to ego boosting rants about where Ive travelled to. Ok, I’ll accept that im guilty as many others are to these crimes.
Could we assume for a minute that the only difference between a good old fashioned home page and a trendy new flashy blog is one of implementation, the overall goals are somewhat similar. The real question is, what are those goals? These goals will certainly affect the content of a blog. As for myself Ill have to say that Ive started a blog mainly because many of my colleages have also started blogs and I thought, considering that I already have a web page that it should be updated. The new design may not win any awards, but its certainly no longer an embarassment. As for why I wanted to have a web page in the first place, I honestly can’t remember. It probably involved some level of showing off to my buddies.

So far, Ive identified the following uses for blogs/home pages, and for sure this list is incomplete and many subtle combinations may exist, but its a start. This also does not cover business web pages as these have clear goals and are obviously different.

  • A diary or journal – This is by its very definition a page about the author. One of the most heinous examples of self worship 😉
  • A CV or resume – For a photographer or artist this may contain examples and information about previous work. For an engineer this may be something more simple like a description of previous projects worked on.
  • Promotion of a project – I have created something that I wish to share with the world. This could be a story ive written, a computer program, or some artwork that Ive created.
  • Commentary/news – Publishing of news and commentary is somewhat similar to journalism. I would include personal opinions in this section.

None of these categories are safe from shameless self promotion, infact some (ie. CVs and resumes) are for the sole purpose of advertising your talents and experience. So its probably academic to discuss whether or not a blog is a tool for boosting the ego. The aim is to find the right balance so that the readers don’t find it irritating.

The differences between a blog and an ordinary home page now come into play.  If a reader reads my blog and finds it a temple of self-worship, he can quickly bring me down to earth by leaving a cutting comment behind to slowly deflate my ego.

May
19

New Blog

Hello, Ive decided to take a small break from hacking the CSS on my new site. As I write this the modified WordPress template Im trying to modify to look like the rest of my site is only partially supported. The front page looks reasonable, but click on anything and it looks horrible. Perhaps it would have been better to leave it as it was, as the default template looked rather nice. Nevermind, its past the point of no return now and I have the entire weekend to blow on this problem.

So, not only is it a new blog, its a whole new site. CSS this time, no dodgy HTML table hacks are used. I still need to move some photos to my page and make some project files available for download, and ofcourse sort out this can of worms that Ive opened by customising the WordPress template. Actually, its not that hard, Ive learn (finally) a little PHP and I used it to include the header and footer parts of the page from separate files. There is still so much to do and I really shouldn’t spend so much time infront of the computer.

Web page design is something Ive been interested in for a while and Ive always designed very simple pages.  Its a design philisophy that less is more and that the design should never hinder the main goal of the page, which is to communicate information.  Please visit the CSS Zen Garden if you’re interested in CSS design; it is an incredible source of inspiration.
Well, enjoy the site/blog, let me know what you think of the content/design. Bye for now.