September 2005 - Posts

Beta & CTP overload

Well I figured it was about time I took a quick look at Avalon (of WPF as it is supposed to be called). Its got 3D stuff in it so its of interest. So downloaded it and the install failed - stupid thing is trying to install beta 2 of the .Net framework. Doesn't really make sense since I already have the August CTP on this machine (as you all know if you were following along with the story from Monday). After a bit of searching I find that WinFX beta 1 only works with Visual Studio Beta 2. Oh look there's a rock and whats that right next to it? Oh its a little hard place.

I admit to being a little bit of a beta sadist, if I see the warning 'DO NOT INSTALL THIS ON AN IMPORTANT MACHINE' it just makes me a little more excited. Working at Microsoft for many years has this effect on you. I found most people there fall into 2 categories.

  1. I hate betas: These folks will do anything to get out of doing their dogfood duty. They will get their managers to send emails saying how important their job is. They will claim they don't have time, blah blah blah blah blah
  2. I love betas (and alphas [and pre alphas]): People like me who inevitably cause chaos by have at least 3 or 4 betas at a time and therefore making it impossible to isolate which is causing the bug. Of course you get screwed her because product groups don't see the need for good uninstallers until beta 2. Ghost is your friend here but remember to keep your document files on a different drive.

My favourite beta was IE4... I saw that one require machines to be reformatted.....

Back to the story, I need August CTP to make The ZBuffer work, I can't really run WinFX in virtual PC because its the accelerated 3D stuff I want to see and I bet that doesn't work in VPC. So I only really have one choice - pollute my laptop which was up until now a clean machine. But hey I was losing sleep over that.

While I'm at it I'm putting Vista on there too. I don't want to be the only guy at PDC that doesn't at least have a dual boot. Thanks to the magic of Partition Magic I managed to clear out a space for it and its installing as I speak. In fact maybe I will put WinFX on there - and hey why not Visual Studio beta 2 as well. I feel like I'm doing a science experiment.

Where's the floppy

Well Vista won't install on my laptop. Who knows why. It goes through all the motions, reboots and says it can't find some very important file. So I grab my partition magic recovery floppies to set the right partition back to my Windows XP install and that's when I remember I don't have a floppy drive for my laptop. I probably saved myself $5 or so when I bought it. Never mind - I can boot from a CD right? Partition Magic's web site says "you can't make a bootable CD, instead just boot from the install CD". Well that's fine and dandy if you live in 1995 and you still buy products on CD! I downloaded mine from your damn website.

So assuming they are wrong (its just a group of files after all), I copy them to a CD and try to boot. Hmmm, it seems CDs don't boot by themselves. You have to find some magic options in your CD burner. Of course those options have lots of choices to make about which emulation you want, none of which make sense so I choose one and it doesn't work. Eventually I find one that boots but I can't see any of the partition magic files on the CD. Eventually I discover that the bootable CD boots into a floppy emulation and creates an extra drive for the other files. I've now burned about 6 coasters. Of course I have a CD-RW somewhere but I'm too lazy to use it.

Then I discover that windows hid the files it considers to be system files so I hadn't even copied everything off the floppies. All in all not buying the floppy drive cost me about 2 hours and 8 blank CDs. Hmmmmmm. Oh and Partition Magic lied - it runs just fine from a bootable CD if you copy all the files.

No time to really try any winfx stuff out as the sun arrived and this meant time to work outside again.

Next week I will be at PDC so getting the laptop ready and packing over the weekend. There will be update on The ZBuffer, but probably not much here for a while.

Izzy Wizzy, ZMan's Bizzy

Well quite the weekend of coding, and it all started from an innocent email.

"Dear ZMan we are interested in advertising on The ZBuffer, can you let me know details"

Since I was recently evicted from google ads because of some 'suspicious clicks' this was of great interest to jobless ZMan. I don't know if anything will come of it but there's nothing like the thought of a little more money to motivate you. Unfortunately there was a pile of hurtin' about to land on me due to things I had been putting off for a while.

  1. Before I could make any changes I had to get the code running on my local machine. TheZBuffer is running on ASP.Net 2.0 and the hosting company recently updated to one of the CTP releases. This means I have to update my local box - thank goodness for MSDN universal (which I purchased in my final moments at Microsoft at the employee price).
  2. For some strange reason the August CTP cannot connect to my SQL 2000 server machine here. I can connect through Query Analyzer and Enterprise Manager, but ASP.Net just times out every time. Doesn't happen up on the hosted site though. I made sure I had all the service packs loaded, I asked on the MSDN forums (nobody cares - thanks a lot) and eventually gave up and installed it locally (thanks MSDN universal) where it works perfectly.
  3. Between Beta 2 and June CTP something changed with the way the DataGrid and DetailsView controls do updates. I can insert new records OK but updates just silently failed. I had spent the last 6 weeks doing updates directly in SQL and its a PITA. I couldn't fix the code because of 1. and 2. so now those were fixed I decided to solve this problem first. Yeah right! After 2 hours of dicking around with the code I had something partially working but I could tell I was heading further and further in the wrong direction. So I ate a block of Cadburys (the real stuff from England, not the crap they sell over here) and rewrote the page from scratch in under an hour. While I was at it, I added a bunch of features I've been putting off since January.
  4. Now that was all fixed up I could do what I started out - adding the ads. If you go for a visit you can see the ads in place with some rotations between some fake ads, some amazon affiliate links and some self promotion. I added information about advertising and some stats and replied back to the original email. Now we wait and see. I've offered cheaper rates to Indie Game developers and free ads for relevant non profit site - if that applies to you then get me a banner. If there is anyone out there who knows more about ad rates and T&C and can comment on mine I would love to hear from you.
  5. Of course now my dev environment is up and running again it was time to add in a few new features.
    • The search engines use the web page title as their title to display. Everyone of my pages was 'The ZBuffer: News and Resources for Managed DirectX' which makes it hard to tell them apart. So I fixed the individual articles so their titles get pushed up to the page title. I couldn't find an easy way to do that since the relevant value is buried inside some ASP.Net dataset but I hacked something together. e.g. http://www.thezbuffer.com/articles/185.aspx
    • I restricted the home page to 30 days of news some time ago because I had read that search engines hate big home pages. Unfortunately this meant some entries were lost forever. So I added in monthly archives.

Oh and in the yard - I sawed a hole in the deck! Pictures later.

The end of laziness (or the start of better excuses)

Well today was the ZChicks last Thursday off :-( Her job allows her a fairly easy summer schedule which is one of the reasons I decided to leave Microsoft in July rather than hang on a few more months and grab a little more in the stock options department. For 8 years now I've had to go to work everyday while she takes it easy - until this year. So what did we do today to celebrate - 2 more hours digging the garden in preparation for the next wonder of the world - The even GREATER wall of ZMan, and you can watch the progress here.

Next week she is back on full time hours which means 2 things.

  1. I think I'm expected to do more housework (oh there's a good excuse, "honey, I didn't write a million dollar game today because you said I had to do laundry")
  2. My easy summer is also over.

The idea was to take July off, take August fairly easy and then in September pretend that this is my full time job.

I've not got quite as far with the preparation as I hoped but I'm pretty happy with life right now. Its been very nice taking things easy and not having corporate politics and reviews to worry about. Though oddly enough I not only got a review at Microsoft, I actually get some compensation out of it. Obviously a pay rise and stock grants would be irrelevant, but Microsoft also has a annual bonus which is performance related and considered back pay for the work you did that year. Provided you were an employee on the last day of June (I quit July 7th) then you are eligible. So I'm expecting a check in the next few weeks. Always nice to get a little extra when you are living on potato peelings! (British Humor alert!!!!)

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