Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

Britpack Podcast Number 3 Now Live!

The third edition of the collective podcast that is the Britpack is now available, and is quite excellent. Well of course it is. I'm in it.

Download it now over here on britcaster.com.

The britpack as themed podcast is comprised of four minute segments by podcasters hailing from the UK. Today's theme is "My personal heroes and zeros".

Enjoy!

Meltdown Recap and Satellite Radio

My presentation at Meltdown seemed to go over really well. Pretty well attended and lots of questions. I was surprised that most of the questions were to do with Flight Simulator itself rather than DirectX 10...

Another cool thing was that I was given an XM satellite radio (the Delphi one) as a thank you/commemorative gift. So that's now installed in the Jeep and working well. I have to say that I'm very impressed with satellite radio so far, especially as XM carries the BBC World Service.

Too Hot

It's just too hot here. We're hiding inside with the air-conditioning on full blast.

Channel 9 At Meltdown

Beth Goza from Channel 9 is here and interviewing people from the DirectX team about gaming and the 10th anniversary of DirectX. As I was there at the beginning of it all, Beth asked if I would do an interview too! So, we went off to a meeting room and David Weller interviewed me about the old days of DirectX while Beth ran the camcorder.

Cool! My second Channel 9 interview!

It Was One Year Ago…

I'm currently at the Meltdown conference (where I'll be speaking later today) and realised that it was at last year's Meltdown, during a break, that I installed MovableType and migrated from blog from Blogger. That was the point that I started blogging regularly (I'd been blogging on and off since late 2001).

Happy blogging birthday to me...

Presenting At Meltdown

Even though I'm on vacation, I'll be at the DirectX team's Meltdown event this Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday I'll be giving a presentation on the work we're doing to prepare for DirectX 10:

Flight Simulator: Preparing for DirectX 10
Speaker: Steve Lacey

Flight Simulator is a graphics intensive application with a vast amount of pre-existing content. We model the world. In this talk, we'll look at the title with respect to features that will be enhanced by DirectX 10 and new features that will be enabled. We will also look at the processes we are currently undertaking to smooth the transition process.

If you're going to be there, please come and say hi!

Purple Cow

I started reading "Purple Cow" by Seth Godin about an hour ago, it was a freebie from Gnomedex, and, well wow. If you're in a startup, you're a developer, in a marketing department, or in any way interested in the success of your product then you need to read this book now.

Seth uses the term "ideaviruses", where I would use the term "meme". But he then gets to use "sneezers" as those who thread the ideas where I don't have a corollary.

Robert is a sneezer - in fact I think he must have the largest "ideavirus" producing appendage going...

More when I finish this wonderful book.

Synchronicity

A while ago, I posted about my time at Magnetic Scrolls, a UK adventure games company that I worked for in the late 80's.

Well, a few weeks ago I received some email from Ken Gordon, one of the owners of the company, saying that he'd be in Seattle and would I like to meet up! Sure!

So yesterday he came round to my house and we chatted for ages. I hadn't seen him in probably 15 years. It was like it had only been a few weeks. So we caught up, went for a tour of the Microsoft campus and then he was off back to Seattle to meet his wife.

Then today I get some email from Rob Steggles, one of the writers at the company who found me because I name-checked him on my blog a while ago.

Talk about synchronicity.

Radio Controlled Aircraft

Yesterday, Julian and I went out for a bit of a drive around as he wouldn't take his normal nap. We did the usual trip to Best Buy (picked up a copy of the latest Harry Potter...) and then I thought we could take a drive through Marymoor Park - I though there would be a Cricket match on, and indeed there was. Sadly, that was when he decided to sleep.

I watched the match for a while, and when he woke up we headed over to the RC Aircraft airfield. He loved it! We saw some great aircraft being flown and he got to "Oooh" and "Ahhh".

Model RC at Marymoor

Highly recommended outing for the kidlets.

Reason - A Killer TabletPC Application

Reason (be sure to watch the trailer to get a feel for the product) is a phenomenal music composition application that I've been using for quite a few years. The other day I received an email from the developers, PropellerHeads in Sweden, saying that a new upgrade was available.

At that point it hit me, Reason should be an astounding Tablet application, and here's why.

Reason on the TabletPC

Reason mimics in a very graphical sense and rack of equipment. You add items to the rack like sequencers, mixers, synths, samplers, effects units, etc... and hook them together just like you would in the studio - by switching to the back of the panel and connecting them all together using cables. And the cables sway to and fro as you move them.

Reason on the TabletPC

It's all very tactile. All the knobs and switches move; the buttons all work, and it sounds astounding - you typically do everything with the mouse. With the Tablet of course, you do everything with the stylus and it really starts to feel like you're using your hand.

And if that's not enough, here's the kicker. Racks are tall, switch to tablet mode and way more of the screen is covered by the rack.

It's a wonderful thing...

So there you go Robert, another area in which the Tablet could start to make dramatic in-roads.

Vacations Slow You Down

Shortly before embarking on this maxi-vacation I'm calling a sabbatical, I thought that I'd be blogging way more. Instead, I seem to be blogging way about the same, maybe even a little bit less. Let's see what I've been up to this week (short pause while I bring up Mind Manager, which, by the way, if an incredible application - doubly so on the Tablet)...

So, it's mostly futzing around with the new Tablet PC with a couple of trips to the office to install software (working for MS definitely has advantages...); practicing golf at the range and on the practice greens, slurping wifi (and coffee) at Starbucks; installing an NVidia 7800 and setting it up so that it can drive my shiny new 50" plasma, looking into getting our roof fixed or replaced; mucking around with DHTML and javascript and getting all AJAXy on a few web ideas; producing a podcast; mucking around with music (Reason, Cubase and Guitar Port); Band practice; a couple of meetings at work.

Not bad.

I think it'll probably continue like that until the new little'un shows up at the end of August.

New item on the todo list: think of something profound to blog about. That, or hit the golf course Monday around lunchtime.

A Brit Abroad - July 13, 2005

Again, another month has passed, but this time I'm on vacation, so hopefully this will become a tad more regular. Maybe. Anyhow, welcome all you iTunes users!

Today we talk about the events in London, Gnomedex, show notes as OPML, golf and fail miserably to talk about anything related to life differences between the US and the UK (sorry Paul, next time. I promise - I'll have the wife do it).

Today's music is by the band I'm a member of, Spank.

For this show, I've encoded at a higher bitrate, mainly because I've been jealous of the audio quality of the other podcasts I listen to that are encoded at a higher rate, but also because I'm not paying for the extended bandwidth as these are now hosted on libsyn... Please let me know if you have any issues with playback.

At exactly 32 minutes and weighing in at 22.1MB, It's A Brit Abroad!

Show Notes

00:00 Name and date check.
00:04 Father and son discuss podcasting.
01:13 Intro sweeper and music.
01:30 Introduction to the show.
02:30 London bombings comment.
04:32 Kev's moving to New Zealand!
06:51 Comments from Canada.
07:33 iTunes - bandwidth, UI and playlist issues.
13:34 The Britpack Number Two at Britcaster.com.
14:12 Gnomedex
17:00 Show notes as OPML.
22:58 Music from Spank - "Trance".
27:35 On sabbatical - playing golf and writing code.
29:58 Conclusion. Comments welcome.
32:00 End.

Enjoy!

Blogging From A Tablet

I'm sat in Starbucks (of course) inking this entry using my new tablet, the Tecra M4. I have to say, the character recognition is just astounding, it seems about 99-1. accurate - even with my awful chicken scratchings.

The 1400x1050 resolution is just great, and I'm now on a mission to find all the useful tablet utilities our there. I've been a big user of Password Safe for a while, and I've just discovered that it also makes for a very useful tablet tool. Because it acts as a wallet for passwords, and it never wants to actually display them, you just double click on the entry and it copies the password to the clipboard. Very useful for the tablet...

More as I figure it out...

Nerds Are Sexy Too

Just go and read Wil Wheaton now. He's one of the best writers in the "blogosphere" right now, and is (was) playing in the World Series Of Poker Championship in Vegas.

Here he recounts a trip to a vegas bar:

On my way to find a lounge, I stopped by my regular bar to get an Anchor Steam. (In Vegas, hitting the same bar three days in a row officially qualifies you as a regular.) The bartender was someone I hadn't seen before today: an absolutely beautiful girl in her mid-twenties, jet black hair pulled back into a ponytail, gold eyes and olive skin. Freckles dusted across her shoulders matched the ones across her nose.

I approached, and saw her reading my "Shrödinger's Cat Is Dead" shirt.

"What does that mean?" She said.

"It's a very nerdy physics joke," I said.

"So it's not being cruel to animals?" She said.

"Well, there's a lot of Uncertainty about that," I said.

She frowned. "What?"

"That was also a very nerdy physics joke," I said, and explained Shrödinger's Cat to her.

" . . . so until you observe the results, the cat is both dead and alive," I said. "Which, I'm sure, is just thrilling to you."

She reached into the cooler and pulled a beer out of the bottom. Chunks of ice clung to the sides, and she wiped them off. As she opened it, she said, "Actually, I was listening to you because I think nerds are incredibly sexy." She bit down on her lower lip.

Gulp.

I'm sure I blushed, and said, "Well, on behalf of nerds everywhere, I'd like to thank you for that."

"You're welcome," she said, as she set my bottle on the bar. I paid her and got the hell out of there before my wit and charm started writing checks my body couldn't cash.

Moving on . . .

Wil, actor and former alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die target, writes with openness, clarity and incredible style.

I've been subscribed for ages. You should too.

The World Cup Starts

The last world cup was phenomenal. Football was in the media here all the time, and the USA team even made the front cover of the USA Today. The bars were packed watching the action. To a football fan transplanted to the USA it was a dream come true.

Until the USA national team was knocked out.

Then it disappeared from the media. Handily, most of my American friends here are big football fans, to we continued to watch the games in the wee hours of the morning.

Steve and Julian

Today, it kicked off again (at least for me). The USA v Canada World Cup qualifying game was held today at Qwest Field in Seattle and we had free tickets. So Darwin, his daughter Gabriella, Nabila, Julian and I went to watch the match.

And a fine match it was too. Qwest Field is a great stadium and as a bonus the weather was superb.

Stadium

I've dumped the rest of the photos I took over on flickr, and for those of you in the UK paying attention - yes, you can drink beer at a football match in the USA ;-)

Time For A Break

Here's a excerpt from some email I sent to the team earlier this week:

One of the wonderful things about Microsoft is that if you hang around for a while, it sneaks a surprise on you. A while ago I was given the opportunity to take a sabbatical, but up until this point schedules haven't aligned to enable me to take it, now they have. So starting next Monday I'll be playing way too much golf, getting around to doing all those chores around the house that I've been paying people too much money to do for me and doing some recreational coding.

I'll also be getting the nursery ready in anticipation of the arrival of our daughter.

I'll be oof from July 11th, though September 23rd. The aim is to rest up, but Jasmine should be arriving at the end of August, probably with the aim of annoying her brother mercilessly, so when I return I'll probably need another break ;-)

I'll not traveling, so should you need to contact me, feel free to call or just email me. I'll be checking email (almost) daily. That said, if you have any burning issues, you'll need to find me before the end of the week.

Cheers,

Steve

Ahh, vacation. And eleven weeks of it too. This is a great company.

That said, I'll actually probably spend most of it in front of my machine at home working on cool new stuff for FlightSim, but without the daily distractions of the work.

As my wonderful wife says: "You're too much of a forehead". I like that.

In other news, I got to order my new laptop today. I settled on the Toshiba Tecra M4 because it's a tablet and the GPU supports shader model 3.0.

That means I get to code in the Triple J Cafe. Oh, and it should please Scoble...

IFC Blackpool

For those of you attending the International Flight Simulation Conference today in Blackpool, I think you're in for a treat. Carl Edlund our development manager is presenting and his presentation should (ok, will) have a lot of cool content.

The stuff you might be waiting for.

A Brit Abroad

Sometimes you wish you were home.

When the bad shit really hits the fan, part of you says "I'm glad I'm not there", but the other part wants to be there - a part of the collective consciousness that you grew up in, to offer help or support in any way you can.

Yesterday felt rather like deja vu. My experience of the events unfolded just like 911 - I was in bed and Nabila had been up for a while and came to tell me that I should turn the TV on. Here we go again.

Looking at the pictures of Russell Square (which was my daily tube station whilst at college) and Kings Cross (where I narrowly avoided being a statistic in the 1987 fire) brought a severe lump to my throat and need to communicate with people who I knew would be using the system and those stations. I called my friend Kev and spoke to him - all my old friends are OK. Nabila spoke to her sister. Everyone was wondering how they were going to get home. My sister was thankfully on a business trip to Italy.

At work, many of the Brits here could not contact loved ones as the cellular network in London had been shut down as a security matter.

Many, many people - coworkers, friends expressed their sympathy and for that I thank them all.

London has been through this before, with WW2, with the IRA. London is probably the most security conscious city in the world. You can have all the inane security you want - all the shoe checks, sniffer dogs and no garbage bins on the Underground. But at the end of the day someone determined to kill will find a cowardly way.

Do I know what the answer is? Of course not. But I do know that while some people in this country seem to think that giving up all liberties, freedoms and rights is the only way to be safe, they're wrong.

Terrorism is the tool of the unjust. A last resort 'fuck you'. An attack on the common man.

It's not war, it's slaughter.

London Bombings

Not much I can add to the vast coverage going on right now. The BBC appear to have the best coverage. It really hits home when you see things like this. I spent a number of years with Russell Square as the main tube station I used when I was a student.

I just got off the phone with my friend (and best man at my wedding), Kev Delonge. He works in the city and told me the nothing is moving - the bars are doing brisk business... My sister-in-law is sat on a park bench wondering how to get home...

For coverage from the blogosphere, you can follow technorati, and pictures are starting to appear on flickr.

London Wins Olympic Bid

So, London has won the bid to host the Olympics in 2012. I predict utter mayhem ;-)

I'd love to have seen Jacques Chirac's face when that was announced. Now he'll have to eat some food cooked in England. Mind you, with London now having more total Michelin stars than Paris, he'll probably enjoy it.

The Old Days of Microsoft Evangelism

Via Scoble, I came across this post by Rick Segal. Yup, things were sure different ten years ago. I was in the DirectX team at that point. How many people remember the Judgment Day event for the release of the Games SDK (DirectX 1), where we had Bill playing the part of the protagonist in Doom, the haunted house ride where various rooms were put together by different partners - including a room designed by Gwar...

What about the Pax Romana event where we had game developers dress up in togas, served them meat on huge platters and had live lions in attendance, and the party hosted by DirectX evangelism in New Orleans for Siggraph '97? Now that was interesting...

And yes, the brainwash still exists. I remember it tasting awful, but I still have a few bottles kicking around. I wonder how ten years of aging have treated it.

Interestingly, ten years later at this year's Meltdown, I'm going to be giving a presentation. I've not given a public presentation since leaving the DirectX team in 1998, so this should be fun.

Mind you, they're a lot more organized these days. They want the presentations three weeks in advance. Back in the day, we would still be writing them up to the point we hit the stage...

iTunes UI Issue

Caveat: This is a bit nit-picky, but important nonetheless.

I've had a few people ask me how to listen to my podcasts in iTunes - when subscribed, they get the latest one, but they can't see how to get any more.

Here's the problem: iTunes on Windows looks like a Mac application, and some of the standard Mac widgets aren't recognized by Windows users.

Once you've subscribed to a podcast, you can go to the podcasts section in iTunes and see the ones that you've subscribed to. The problem is that, for a Windows user, it's not obvious that you have to click the grey triangle to expand it, or that it's expandable at all.

Discoverability and following standard concepts for the platform are features of good UI design. Windows users are used to seeing the plus and minus symbols for expandable lists, not triangle thingies that have no obvious meaning.

Guitar Gear Goodness

Talking about guitar playing fun, I've recently gone all minimalist, with just a distortion pedal and a volume pedal at my feet (ok, I guess the CyberTwin isn't exactly minimal in function...) But I think that I just cannot live without this:

Wow. If you're a guitar player, and have a sense of humour, go and check out their website now!

Via Gizmodo.

Another Wonderful Gig

I just returned home from another wonderful gig. This time, myself and my band compadres CJ, Ebo and Tom played a party at our friend Deb's house.

Every year Deb and her college pals get together for the 4th July weekend, and this year it was at Deb's place. I remember the last time Deb hosted - back in 2000. Nabila and I had just met and I was renting a room in Deb's place. It was great to see all of Deb's college friends again.

As usual, the gig was a blast. We played some new stuff, including the very new "Are We There Yet?". That song came together very quickly and I'm incredibly happy with it. A sort of blues/funk/soul vibe. Lotsa people dancing.

We recently decided that we wouldn't play gigs where the house didn't provide a PA - we have one, but it's such a pain to move around and also difficult to run the sound board while your playing... We make an exception to the rule for friend's parties...

There you have it. Another fine day. If you want to hear some of our music, head on over to the band website and download some MP3s.

Libsyn To The Rescue

In my continuing saga of bandwidth documentation, today I hit 50GB - that's over 4500 downloads. If this continues, I will be out of bandwidth by the middle of next week and will start to incur charges.

So I've moved all the podcasts over to libsyn.

You shouldn't notice anything though, as I just made a minor modification to the webserver configuration in order to redirect the requests for the podcasts over there. I've tested it with IE, Firefox, iTunes, Katana and iPodder and everything seems to be working fine. For me this means that I now have to check stats in two places...

If you notice any problems, please let me know.

Follow Your Dream

A good friend of mine and Microsoft guy is leaving the collective to follow his dream. That of becoming a game developer. The ZMan currently works as an enterprise software developer but has recently been working on increasing his skill set in the games development space - as evidenced by his Managed DirectX website and by writing articles for MSDN.

Now he's leaving the company to take a year off and develop his skills.

That takes some gonads.

My parents tell a tale of the child who said he would be a millionaire by the time he was 18 if they bought him a computer so he could write video games. Well I got the computer but the million never happened.

...

Now 20 years later its time to try again. My last day of full time employment as an enterprise application developer with a salary, health and retirement benefits will be July 8th. Shortly afterwards my new job as self employed game developer, living off the savings and paying for everything myself will begin and you can read all about it here.

You can follow his story as it unfolds over on his new blog: The ZMan's Diary.

iTunes Smart Playlists and Podcasts

This is a deal breaker for me. As far as I can tell, there is no way to reference podcasts downloaded using iTunes in smart playlists. Podcasts and any playlist functionality are completely separate.

This means that I can't listen to podcasts in the car.

The iPod interface for the BMW requires that you have playlists named "BMW1 xxx", "BMW2 xxx", etc... These then become CD 1, CD 2 for the purposes of accessing the playlists from the head unit in the car. As I can't get the podcasts into the playlists, I can't listen to them in the car.

The implementation of podcasting in iTunes really was not thought out well at all...

Ah well, never mind. I'm still using my own podcatching software, Katana, and that works just fine. As do all the other podcatchers.

But I can't believe Apple would miss supporting key functionality (playlists) with new functionality. This smacks of a rushed design.

Sites For Dads

DadTalk is a great site for the Dad's out there. Such a wealth of interesting looking articles - I can see some serious reading in my not-too-distant future.

The sites linked to from there also look deserving of deep read.

Searched, browsed, subscribed!

Via Julie Leung (who gave a great presentation at Gnomedex).

Podcast Downloads Continue To Climb

Regarding my post about the massive spike in traffic to my website a couple of days ago, the numbers are going in an interesting direction. Yesterday I had 25GB of downloads. That equates to around 2000 podcast downloads. In one day. Wow.

If the traffic continues like this I'm going to hit my bandwidth limit for the month in 10 days...

It's been posited that the initial spike three days ago would die down after people installed iTunes 4.9 and subscribed, but I'm just seeing it increasing.

Not that I'm complaining of course, I love the attention...

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.