SophSoft West

Now (also) coming to you from Los Angeles.

SophSoft, IncorporatedDigital GamecraftIt has been quite a while since I posted a Gamecraft update.  The last six months have been filled with “opportunity”, and the upshot of it is that I have relocated to Los Angeles, California.

Structurally, SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft still continue to operate from our Michigan office, and nothing substantial has changed in terms of client services or product development.  Practically, of course, having the company principal living a couple thousand miles away from the home office presents interesting challenges (some of which are still being resolved).  I am definitely in a period of adjustment, both personally and professionally.

So, what am I doing in California?

I am out here to pursue a great opportunity in the burgeoning field of augmented reality, bringing my years of experience in game development, coupled with my abilities in quality assurance and robust programming, to bear on a young industry that is just beginning to show its enormous potential.  That, however, is a topic (well, several) for another post.

For the moment, though, I am still transitioning from living in the Midwest to residing in the second largest city in the United States, and now that my West Coast office is up and (mostly) functioning, we are looking to resolve the remaining logistical and technical challenges inherent in running a business with offices in two different states.

Please stay tuned!

Where the Macgic Happens

A cozy Mac OS X and iOS development corner

I thought I should give readers a little glimpse behind the curtain here at Digital Gamecraft, so here is a picture of my personal Apple technology desk on one of those unusual days during which a full complement of devices have gathered.  Usually, most of the mobile devices live in other places, but they occasionally come together for an ultra-local technology conference.  (In this case, they were all anxiously anticipating new provisioning profiles after the previous batch had expired.)
This desk in the corner of the office is used for the bulk of primary development and debugging for Mac OS X and iOS products.

Here you see a simple key to the components of this image.  First, the parts labeled in red are the development components:

  1. MacBook Pro (“late 2007”), 17-inch 2.4GHz, running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) through Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), and soon the developer preview of 10.8 (Mountain Lion), with the help of an external FireWire hard drive, mostly hidden from view by the next item.
  2. iPad (original) 16G running iOS 3.2, the minimum iPad platform supported by our products.
  3. iPod touch (2nd generation) 8G, running iOS 4.2.1, sans (unsupported) multitasking.
  4. iPhone 4 with 32G, running iOS 4.2.6, with multitasking, GPS, camera, and (most importantly) a Retina display.
  5. iPad 2 (Wi-Fi + 3G) with 64G, running iOS 4.3.5, named “Rabbit”.
  6. Mac Mini PPC running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), the minimum Mac OS X platform supported by our software.
  7. Mag Innovision widescreen monitor with dual inputs, running natively at 1680 x 1050, acting as an external display for both Mac systems.
  8. Microsoft Mouse attached via Apple keyboard.  After a year of trying to keep this desk Apple-only, I had to surrender to the fact that Microsoft is just far better at making mouses.
  9. Herman Miller Aeron chair, brand new, also known as my horizontal trans-workstation transport device (for quickly moving between this workspace and my Windows workspace).  After breaking chairs every 2-3 years, the 12-year warranty actually made this purchase seem much more reasonable.

The components labeled in green in the key are fundamental to productivity, though not directly part of the development process:

  1. Head, the head head.  Head is responsible for employee morale, and keeping his minions in line.  (“I am so important that my minions have minions.”)
  2. Minions.  These (4) heads each have individual names, and they keep things lively by moving around the desk, often at night, very unlike their larger relatives.  You’ve heard of “talking heads”?  These are not those.
  3. Pioneer stereo receiver, practically an antique, from the days where radio was broadcast through the air.  This magic box plays news from NPR as well as classic rock and blues (and, previously, jazz), and special shows are regularly recorded digitally for later/repeat listening.  [Not shown: separate cassette player/recorder and turntable components.]

That is a small look at one corner of my office, which serves as an important piece of our development effort.  With this range of equipment, we can develop and test products for the last 4 major versions of Mac OS X, on both Intel and PPC hardware, as well as on versions of iOS since the iPad was introduced, with at least one device with each technology.  (Of course, things change again on Friday with the availability of “The new iPad” and its large 2048×1536 Retina display.)

Note that the view just to the left of this picture is out a window into a small courtyard where birds and squirrels (black, brown, and red), as well as our cats, frolic during the day.  At night, you can hear the raccoons and opossums wandering through and, alas, smell the occasional skunk.

Perhaps, if you are all good girls and boys, I may later show you the desk at which I am currently writing this…

40 Years of Earth Day (Observed)

Earth Day celebrated its 40th Anniversary on Thursday.

In honor of Earth Day, which was first held on April 22, 1970, I thought that it would be fitting to note that the manner in which we (much of our industry) do business is one of the most ecologically responsible methods of commerce.

Everybody in our company currently works from a home office, which means that the commute involves no burning of fossil fuels.  Additionally, only one location needs to be heated (or cooled, on those rare occasions in Michigan), so less natural gas (or LP, fuel oil, or electricity, as appropriate) is used.  As important to us, though, is that we are not contributing to the gratuitous development sprawl that was taking place here entirely unabated, even by massive oversupply, until the financial crisis finally slowed it down just a bit.

Occasionally, I have considered that the 15 year old van I drive could be replaced with a more fuel efficient vehicle, but I have not taken action yet because, first, it is already quite efficient overall because of its limited use and, second, despite much blather, current fuel consumption (MPG) ratings are ostensibly worse than when this van was built.  I sometimes go for days without driving, so it would take a long while to make up for the manufacturing cost of a new car, and when I do drive, this old 3.8 liter V-6 engine still gets within a few miles per gallon of most new “hybrid” vehicles I checked.  Sad.  (The expense of a new vehicle, weighed against the current lack of car payments, has also been a significant factor.)

The one area in which online software sales and virtual stores falls behind is in consumption of electricity, which can be seen to be elevated due to extensive use of computers, and especially the constant, 24 hour/day, operation of various servers.  In our case, for several years we voluntarily purchased, from our municipal provider, a couple of “blocks” of electricity generated from renewable sources, which was enough to cover all of our company computer usage (including servers) each month.  This was an investment in keeping and building these renewable sources of electricity, which has since been mandated for all public utilities in Michigan.

Of course, there is always more that one can do, so it is a good idea to take a little time every once in a while to consider ways to improve fuel efficiency, whether your goal is to save money or just save the planet.  (Our project for this summer involves insulating the floor under the front part of my office, which was never done at all by previous owners, including the idiots who built the addition.)

The Hubble Space Telescope is 20 years old today.

On April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit from the Space Shuttle Discovery.  Those readers who were alive and conscious at the time will remember the initial problem with the main mirror led to criticism and ridicule, but that problem was fixed, and that resulted in great leaps forward in the field of astronomy (and a million beautiful desktops).  Last year, the “last” fix has made the orbiting telescope more powerful than originally imagined, and it could continue its successful run for many years to come.  Like a piece of software, version 1.0 had its share of bugs and detractors, but it became really useful at version 2.0, and by version 3.0 has already outlasted and outperformed all predictions.

Happy Birthday, Hubble!

Relaxation FAIL

Or… Gregg and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

As usual, we have been quite busy with development around here, and everything seems to have stepped up the pace since the start of March. I thought that I was going to get a break last weekend, but ended having to correct a mistake (of my own making, to be fair), so I ended of working especially long hours on Sunday. In exchange, however, I decided to take yesterday [Tuesday, March 17] off to enjoy the particularly nice weather around here.

We have a secondary office and retreat at an “undisclosed location”, surrounded by woods and nature, away from the normal demands of a daily office. (We do, of course, have the modern computer amenities such as DSL and a wireless network, so I can go there to get work done away from interruptions.) This place also serves as a storage location for the company archives. Or, rather, it did

On a beautiful early Spring day, with bright sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, we arrived for some basic relaxation (and to drop off an offsite backup). Upon opening the front door, though, we were greeted with an unpleasant moisture in the air, followed quickly by the discovery of a plumbing failure that had completely flooded one bathroom, the hallway, and two adjacent rooms. One of those rooms held the archives.

Further inspection showed that many of the items on or near the floor, including a large portion of our collection of game development and programming books from the last 30 years, had been ruined. As we quickly moved to save the dry items and salvage as much of the wet stuff as possible, we discovered that the floor in the room had partially collapsed, causing a stack of books to fall into a wall, seriously damaging it as well. However, we just kept working until the rooms were mostly empty, and then I succumbed to the shock.

The overall damage is still being assessed, and the standing water is still not yet cleaned up. (Carpeting acts as a sponge and effective water conduit.) I can definitely say, for a fact, that some irreplaceable items were totally ruined, but also that some of the items ruined probably would have already been eBay fodder for a few bucks had I found the time. Thankfully, many boxes avoided the water entirely, but usually at the expense of whatever they were sitting on. Much of the paperwork still needs to be evaluated and either salvaged or discarded. All of the registration letters for PACMANIA were submerged. The PlayStation 2 development system survived by being perched on some furniture, but the Apple II (and color monitor) in original packaging were not so fortunate; I truly hope it was only the boxes that were destroyed.

The blog posting originally planned for today has been moved to Friday. For now, I sit in mourning.

A Brand New Day

The theme of this Inauguration Day is change for the better.

At this moment, President Barack Obama has just taken the oath of office to become the 44th President of the United States. This historical moment really ushers in 2009, so it is an appropriate first post for this year.

Note that the new President now officially works from a home office (the most famous one in the world), as I and many independent software developers do.

For my part, I have worked to change my priorities and schedule to further reduce the number of distractions and focus primarily on actual development tasks. I am now setting aside two days per week during which I only do development, barring emergencies. Of course, through today, there have been more minor emergencies than not, but I will persist nevertheless.

I am looking forward and aspiring to great things in the coming months and years.