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September 2004 - Posts

POP Forums v7.5.0 beta 1 posted
As a fix to some of the existing issues, I've posted an update to POP Forums. You can get it here. Some of the changes:

Engine changes from v7.0.x to v7.5.0

  • New text parsing engine
  • Removed PopForums.Global class
  • Added PopForums.Module HttpModule class to replace global.asax functionality
  • Added PopForums.OnlineUsers class
  • Five methods from PopForums.Stats marked obsolete, replaced in OnlineUsers
  • New online user engine
  • Added OnlineUsers table
  • Added "PopForumsSessionLength" to config settings, indicating number of minutes in a user session as tracked by OnlineUsers
  • Added new PopForums.Forum.GetTopics() overload to get paged results
  • RichText control displays in Windows 2000
  • Old PopForums.TextParser methods marked obsolete, new ones added

UI changes v7.1.0 to v7.5.0

  • Fixed member post paging
  • Online user stats now draw from PopForums.OnlineUsers
  • Added RequiredFieldValidator to PrivateMessage.ascx to check for a subject
  • PM reply doesn't add endless string of "re:"
  • Removed global.asax entirely
  • Fixed PagerLinks.cs to correctly display tool tips
  • Added PagedPagerLinks.cs to display paged results from new PopForums.Forum.GetTopics() overload
  • Made the member mailer text box in the admin bigger

A new, v8 release is still planned for some time in the first quarter of next year.

Posted: Sep 30 2004, 12:11 AM by Jeff | with no comments
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I've had it with the www.asp.net forum
Seriously, it's not worth the frustration sitting there trying to make a post over and over again. How can Microsoft allow a site that important not function correctly?
Posted: Sep 29 2004, 07:43 PM by Jeff | with 8 comment(s)
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I sure hate regular expressions
Call me names or whatever. I hate regular expressions. I can't put my finger on what exactly it is that keeps me from mastering these.

I decided that the text parser for POP Forums v8 should be retro-fitted into the v7.5 point release I'm working on because it sucks and I can't wait (v8 is a Whidbey product). I would like to try and produce something remotely resembling XHTML-compliant junk coming out of it. So far so good. The last stab I took at it was back in early 2003, before I really understood unit testing. What a difference that makes in terms of writing the code and debugging (latching on to Nunit, in this case).

Still, I can't stand regex. Just when I get one thing right, I break something else. This is one of the reasons I will never be one of the really brilliant academic type code monkeys.
Posted: Sep 29 2004, 02:36 PM by Jeff | with 2 comment(s)
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The Home Theater PC complete
I don't remember now how I found Beyond TV, but for all of the times I was missing the two TV shows I actually watch, I figured there has to be a better way than the VCR. I had seen Windows Media Center and wasn't that impressed, or interested in tying into the platform. BTV controls DirecTV receivers by a serial connection, has free program listing and it has a great hardware MPEG encoder bundle. TiVo shmeevo, I say.

So I took the plunge and built my own box. The most ridiculous thing I bought was the case. The aluminum Ahanix D5 looked the nicest to me. Yeah, it's a rip-off for $200, but I couldn't find a better looking one in black that didn't have a stupid door on the front. What the hell is with the doors on the front of HTPC cases? Last I checked, none of my other stereo components had doors on them. It's a nice case, with two issues. The first is the cheap punch-out slot covers on the back. That's lame, and for $200 I would have expected better. The second is that the drive cage is nearly flush to the front, meaning you don't get enough wiggle room to align your DVD drive so that the button makes contact and the replacement drawer face is in the right place. I had to shave the sides of the existing face off so it could slide ever so slightly further into the cage. One other minor complaint is that the little display has to connect via the parallel port, and the software for it sucks. It's a minor complaint because I wasn't really that concerned about using it in the first place.

I got a really spiffy A-bit (NF7-S) motherboard with Nvidia's nForce chipset and an optical SPDIF audio output. Sitting in it is a mobile Athlon XP 2400+. I opted for the mobile because it runs a little cooler and is easily over-clocked. The rest of the stuff is pretty standard, including a wireless card. The hard drive was a steal at CompUSA... 250 gig Maxtor for $130. The DVD burner is a $68 NEC that does dual-layer discs. It all fits no problem. A $17 infrared keyboard/mouse has been a home run.

The heatsink had to be quiet, and work efficiently, so I settled on this beautiful unit from Thermaltake. It's HUGE! It really dominates the inside of the case. Sure enough though, it runs at a fairly cool 45 degrees most of the time, and that's with the CPU slightly over-clocked.

The software is awesome. Beyond TV is a really great product. The guys at Snapstream really put a lot of love into their products (and they're all about .NET too). I got their remote control as well, which works great with PowerDVD and to a certain degree, iTunes. Pausing live TV works as it should, and it "finds" the TV spots in recorded programs. The hardware MPEG card makes nice recordings from the DirecTV receiver. The really neat thing is that you can pull up the program guide on their site from any Web browser, and BTV periodically checks the site to see if you've ordered any recordings. That's cool.

I replaced my CD player, DVD player and VCR with this one box. The remote and BTV make it possible to never need the keyboard when you're using TV functions. I only need it for iTunes. Bottom line, I have a media center I can always upgrade.
Posted: Sep 28 2004, 04:27 PM by Jeff | with 1 comment(s)
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Why do .NET community projects suck?
"Suck" is too strong of a word, but who cares. I probably have your attention. :)

It seems that every time I want to post something to ASP.NET or to this blog, I get some kind of errors. The frustration of using this stuff is one thing, but the bigger problem is that we kind of expect these forums and blogs to be examples of "how to do stuff" on our beloved platform.

I've looked at the source of these two packages and I find them to be needlessly complex approaches to otherwise simple problems. An online forum in particular is at its core four database tables with simple relations (I realize there's more to it, but that's the core required to collect posts and display them).

Other platforms have some great stuff out there. They might be commercial, but you'd think that with Microsoft's backing it wouldn't be a big deal. vBulletin is an amazing product for PHP. What I really like most about it is that the most recent version took a very hard look at what we expect and do with a forum and came up with a much cleaner interface. I frequent a number of sites that use it and I love it. Even the original UBB written in Perl, arguably the original Web-based forum we all immitate today, was awesome, and generally just worked (and it was written by one guy).

Where is our UBB or vBulletin? People keep telling me it could be my forum if I kept improving it, but it doesn't have the features to make it popular. (Actually, it meets my needs 100%, which is part of the reason it's so hard to keep improving it.)

I guess the thing about the Microsoft Web jockey community is that it's still dominated by people from the corporate world. Corporate types think differently. On one hand they're generally a lot smarter than I am (though I suppose after working for enough public companies I'm supposed to be a corporate type), but on the other hand their approaches lack the guerilla instinct that the typical one-man band has (the Chris Sawyer's, Ted O'Neill's and even the John Carmack's of the world). Maybe there just aren't enough people out there as clever as the people on the .NET team itself.

Maybe the release of Whidbey will reveal new and fabulous things from the community.
Posted: Sep 28 2004, 11:42 AM by Jeff | with 7 comment(s)
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RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 demo... ouch!
Atari and Frontier Development released the demo or RCT3 yesterday, and what a mess it has been. It would appear by reading their forum that fully one-third of the people that tried to run it couldn't do to various errors. Ouch! It appears a lot of it is driver issues. It has been said somewhere that the demo is based on an aging beta. Not sure why you'd put something out there like that.

For me at least, the demo works pretty well, with only a handful of minor graphical glitches. I like the direction Frontier took the game, and it still sticks to Chris Sawyer's gameplay. My only disappointment, or I should say affirmation of my fears, is that the minimum requirements are entirely absurd. Playing the game generally gets me 15-22 fps, which is fine until you go into the "CoasterCam" mode where you get to ride your creations. For that to work well you no doubt need a Doom 3-capable video card.

Few games have ever been as important to me as this franchise, so I hope that the retail release in about a month gets the most thorough QA possible.
Posted: Sep 28 2004, 11:04 AM by Jeff | with no comments
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Taking the FireFox plunge
Well, I've decided it's time to take the plunge into using FireFox full time for awhile. I've used it on and off for the heck of it, and decided to jump on the bandwagon and use it all of the time.

I'm not an IE hater. I think IE is fine. I just figured I'd give FireFox more of a long-term shot so I could better compare. I honestly think the "browser wars" are more about hating Microsoft than one browser being particularly better than another. Browsers are like pencils to me. As long as they write, I don't care much which one I use.

Does anyone know where FireFox stores bookmarks? I've always had my favorites folder for IE set to backup, and would like to do the same with FireFox. I can't find it.
Posted: Sep 18 2004, 12:22 PM by Jeff | with 1 comment(s)
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The lust is gone for ASP.NET v2.0

For awhile there, it seemed that the world would stop if suddenly ASP.NET v2.0 didn't exist. It was all the rage on blogs and Internet articles. Since then, it seems that we've gone back to developing with the "old" v1.x because, well, there's work to be done today.

We're still many moons from the target release date of v2.0 beta 2, when we'll be able to use the stuff in production. We've seen delays apparently tied to Yukon, features removed and changes in store. For some reason this beta cycle seems longer than the first, but perhaps that's because we're all familiar with the platform this time around. Back in 2001, we were still content to be using ASP.old (*shudder*).

I've got stuff to do today, so it's back to the broken designer of VS 2003.

Posted: Sep 18 2004, 09:12 AM by Jeff | with 2 comment(s)
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Editorial reviews are in

I got the last group of editorial reviews for my book yesterday, and the good news is that better developers than myself like it. Sure, there's lots of tough criticism, lots to revise, but they all like the approach overall. That's a relief. I hope that the people that need to learn from the book like it as much. Reviewers on Amazon are not that kind! I'll be crushed if it doesn't sell that well.

So the book goes into production late next month, which puts it on the shelf somewhere around the second quarter of next year. Now I need to figure out how to make just a little more money doing my own thing so I can avoid having to get a crappy day job. I've been The Man-free for four months and never been happier!

Posted: Sep 18 2004, 09:05 AM by Jeff | with 1 comment(s)
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Was The Sims 2 written by amateurs?

Sometimes you encounter some pretty ridiculous things in commercial software. I bought The Sims 2 for Stephanie, something to distract her from grad school, and was horrified to see that it installs over 300 MB of save data to your My Documents folder, whether you like it or not. There is no option to do otherwise. This is a problem for us because we off-site backup our My Documents folders daily.

Honestly, who hard-codes a path into an application? That's like a newbie programming move, and this is a game with a gigantic budget. While the game is cool, there are other things I'm suspect about, like ridiculously long load times and really choppy graphics when the scene isn't that complex.

I hope that RCT3 performs well when it comes out next month. The first two were brilliant but they had the benefit of being written by one guy, with a cohesive vision and serious assembly language skills. I think RCT3 could be bigger than Sims 2 if Atari markets it right.

Posted: Sep 18 2004, 09:00 AM by Jeff | with 17 comment(s)
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