Looking Back and Looking Ahead
Wow. It’s been almost 12 full months since I wrote on these pages. Partly this is down to laziness, and partly a result of having too many cool things to do. Since I do enjoy writing and describing interesting things here, I want to make a point of writing on a more regular basis.
So what was I doing during the last year?
Here is a list of things I hope to write about in future posts.
Writing iPhone applications
Since the start of 2011, I’ve been working full time at a small mobile software company in Ottawa. We build mobile applications for iOS primarily, and are edging our way into Android to follow the rise of that platform. Applications are generally a mix of website companion apps, utilities and games, with a nearly even split between developing for clients and ourselves.
Our latest title, Tanks of Fury (win a Samsung Galaxy Tab!), is a colourful shooter with excellent graphics, hilarious sound effects and intuitive game play. Built with the Cocos2D framework, it was a excellent learning experience for combining graphics, efficient development processes and sound effects with the iPhone platform.
Despite not having any Objective-C and iOS developer experience prior to starting work, I was delighted at how easily I was able to pick up the language. Since I’m always looking for new ways to learn more, I decided to write my own apps and put them into the store. I previously wrote about one, and have had a moderate usage of about 1000 users. Shortly after, I came up with an application that would have been useful for my engineering studies, called Equation Library. By compiling many common equations into a directory and allowing users to solve for individual variables, I hoped to make it easier to do boilerplate math equations (engineering has a lot of that). Despite rushing the app into the store, I was shocked to see about 18,000 downloads in the first 48 hours! Part of this is likely down to its free price, but part could be that other people see value in it. Like this blog, I’ve somewhat neglected that app since releasing it, and hope to have a new, more useful version out when I have some time.
Overclocking my PC
Since having a little extra cash to put towards electronics, I’ve really taken an interest in DIY computer builds and tweaking. In fact, I’m writing this post on the computer that was the subject of my last post, building a watercooled PC. Since that post, I’ve made some changes to the setup of the computer, including overclocking it to 4.0 GHz. Although not strictly necessary, overclocking is somewhat of a badge of honour among computer enthusiasts, and is now gaining mainstream attention thanks to Intel’s latest chipsets and improved cooling solutions. I decided to leverage the superior cooling power of my custom fluid loop and bring the chip to a nice round number. So far so good.
Additionally I did things like adding a second GTX470 video card, more RAM, an SD card reader and added a third Reserator. That last part exemplifies overkill, but the way I see it, I’m futureproofing! Replacing my single 25″ ASUS monitor with dual 28″ HannsG screens has really made the space easy to work in. Maybe some screenshots and photos of the screens in action will be in a future post. In the mean time, check out this related post from Jeff Atwood on the benefits of using multiple monitors.
Adding MythTV to the Ubuntu Server
As a perennial digital tinker, I like to investigate and experiment with all of the interesting software available to a computer on 24/7. One of the most complex, but also most rewarding, applications is MythTV, the open-source DVR. I mentioned previously how getting it set up was a real pain, and the good news is that I’ve sorted through that. Now I have a MythTV setup where I can browse listings, schedule recordings and see system status from within a simple browser, using MythWeb and watch videos on a separate computer running XBMC. Using a simple coat-hanger-based antenna, I get one good channel in perfect HD, and a number of others if the wind is right. If I moved up to a commercial antenna, I bet I could get more. Right now, though, it’s nice to just be able to watch live and local TV whenever the mood strikes.
Over the last few months, I’ve started doing some additional website work with my sister, who resides at www.creative-e.ca. Through various channels, we have 4 or 5 projects ongoing, which are visible in the above image. To take a look at one of the currently live websites, visit www.jessiebehan.com, and look for more links in coming posts.
Each website so far has been based on the WordPress platform, which has allowed me to become more efficient at building administration panels and custom themes. In fact, the more I’ve used it, the more I’ve come to appreciate its simplicity and adjustability. Hopefully I can apply this new knowledge of the WordPress API to updating my plugins in the very near future.
I’m a big fan of the GoPro camera. Not necessarily because I’m an adrenaline junkie, but more for the way it does a single job exceptionally well, and packs a lot of tech in a very small footprint. Once you recognize them, it becomes a game to point them out in regular TV shows, sporting events and online videos.
I bought the GoPro HD Hero camera in the summer of 2011, with the intention of using it for driving videos mounted to my windshield and for snowboarding. So far I’ve captured some cool time lapses while driving across Ontario and interesting pool footage. Recently, however, I was able to put it to a stiffer test, where I used it while snowboarding at Mt. Tremblant, QC. In fact, here’s a YouTube video my sister put together about it. Most of the video was recorded while the GoPro was mounted to a custom camera pole mount (read: wooden dowel with a cable loop) so I’d like to write a future post about how to make your own, along with a fishing line camera tether. Hopefully I don’t ever really need to test the tether, but it’s at least a bit of piece of mind.
3DConnexion SpacePilot PRO
This device brings me back to engineering. The present and future of product design and testing is done inside a computer, using design suites that handle full 3D representations and analysis. To work more efficiently, many engineers swear by left-handed 3D mice. Built by Logitech subsidiary 3DConnexion, the SpacePilotPRO includes the largest feature set of any similar mouse. I purchased it for developing my skills in CAD programs like SolidWorks, AutoDesk Inventor and even Google SketchUp. It also works in applications like Google Earth, which allows it to provide a unique interface for zooming in and out through space.
So far it has proven its worth while helping me learn about SolidWorks’ analysis components. The control knob provides fantastic 3D manipulation and the buttons are laid out smartly to provide instant access to any application more common features. It’s true that it takes some time getting used to, but it can provide a 20-30% productivity boost once integrated in the workflow.
So that’s what has happened in my last year, relating to technology. Look for more detailed posts in the coming weeks!