Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ben: SpriteKit Has Problems

  It has been a while since I really blogged about what my inner geek has been doing.  For those of you that are non-technical, this might be the one you skip.
  Our latest game uses a different way of displaying the graphics, sounds, and any type of movement, actions, etc..  The framework, SpriteKit, was provided by Apple a few years ago.  It has evolved since then into a decent way to build a 2-Dimension type game.  They have taken care of a lot of the tedious underpinnings of animation, image sharing, and working with your game objects (nodes).   They also added nice things like Path-finding (how do I get this guy from here to there following this route), gravity (the rain IS falling), body contact methods, etc..
  I like the product, but lately I ungraded my device to the latest operating system (iOS 9.2) and am now seeing cryptic messages popup everytime an image is used.  Even worse, on certain devices, like  the iphone 5, the images are getting warped or stretched.  Kind of ugly, even if you ignore all the warning messages.   I ran quite a few tests using the device simulators with various iOS versions and it seems to be related to 9.2.  There are bugs logged against this problem and I am sure it will get worked out in the future, but it does scare the developers with SpriteKit apps being developed or already in the store.
"Whats up with your App images all wonky?"
  It seems to be related to the image and the background transparency as the image gets stretched more with this kind of element.  I can't be sure, but it seems this way.  Hopefully, this problem will get enough focus to be patched out fairly quickly or there are going to be some disappointed developers and users this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ben: I don't mind washing dishes

  I normally keep my posts related to software development side, but felt this confession just had to be posted.  I don't mind washing the dishes for our house.  Heck, any house.  Somewhere in my childhood I took over washing the dishes and the 'chore' has not bothered me for a long time.  It is simple to do, you can see the results immediately and it leaves a sense of satisfaction.  (Like spell-check)
  Now I am not knocking all of you who don't like washing the dishes.  It is just that from the feedback I hear from most people (my kids) it is a chore to be avoided.  Not so much for me.

Why is this?

  I suspect that I like the idea of taking on a known task for a limited time and seeing the task completed to everyone's satisfaction.  Not so much like programming, which you will always feel the need to change for approval.  Not dishes.  No Sir.  They are done.  Everyone who comes into the kitchen will not find one dirty dish.  In fact, they would have to get themselves a new clean dish to use before eating anything...

  Maybe dishes are more like programming than I first assumed.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Fun Part of Development

Particle Effect Trail
  We are putting some of the final touches on our latest game and it is very satisfying to add in each of the final pieces.   The pages are pretty locked down so all we have left is help dialogs, final game sounds, animation effects for playing/winning the game, and some User settings for the eventual upgrades, etc.
  The nice thing about these finishing touches is that the infrastructure is in place and it is much easier to tweak a special effect, color or sound to show the overall effect to any potential testers.  Everyone wants to see how it would look as implemented, despite how well I draw or describe the desired change.  I have even taken the step of building a page just for tweaking the various colors and styles without having to open the code and rebuild.  I just changes some settings on the Option screen and run it by the family to see their reaction to the visual changes shown in the game.   Gather feedback, examine the possibilities, tweak the options again and repeat.  Much easier when you have the change possibilities baked right into the App.
   The goal is to complete the game this month, but I would have liked to finish it this week.  It is not going to happen this week, but with the Thanksgiving holidays coming up, it will be a good time to get some final feedback from my extended family.  Hopefully, this will determine the final product changes next week.   Until then I get to use this half-week to add in extra animations, sounds and potential effects.   Hopefully, these changes will make the 'cut', but we shall see.
    Until then, it is always fun to play with sounds and animation!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Can moving icons be far away?

  During the testing of Apps for the i(Whatever) devices, I do look at the icons a lot.  The App icon, the little image of the screen of your iPad, is one your best advertisements to your user.  Once the App is installed on your device, that App icon will be your way of seeing and using the program.  It helps to have a good looking App icon that does not get lost in the mix of other App icons.
  Of course we have to create our own icons and most of our artwork, but it doesn't hurt to look at how the other guy is doing it.  Good contrast, recognizable images that match the function of the App, interesting art work, there are a lot of great examples out there.  Some can really catch your eye or just work real well.  Others, not so much.  I notice that even Apple will switch around their classic App icons when the mood fits them or a new Operating System demands it.  (Looking at you OS X)
  So the App icon is important.  Everyone wants a recogizable icon that catches your attention.

  Why not have moving icons?

  I am wondering how long before the App device folks add the means for a developer to add multiple images to your icon?  The device knows when it is moved, so why not have the icons move a bit too? They already do this a bit with static images, but it seems pretty simple to add additional images to be 'flickered' through when a movement is detected.  More of the 'Harry Potter' portrait look to your icons when you move the device.  
   We already see a lot of moving GIF images on webpages.  These are just images lined up to display in sequence like a mini movie.  ( Or that flip-book corner page drawings we did as kids.  You didn't?  Well, it was before Atari. )  The 5-10 images are tiny and cycle through real fast to make the ball appear to bounch or the cookie to walk.

Now imagine how cool (and annoying) if some of your icons had some kind of animation effect when you moved your device.  Maybe the icon man runs a bit or the treasure chest gets a nice gold sheen flickered across it.  The knife chops the carrot.  The guitar chord vibrates a bit.  

That would catch some eyes.   I suspect Marketing is interested, at the very least.

Geek Note - As a developer, I already am creating multiple single images of the same icon for each release.  Every version seems to add/reduce the number of images depending on the iOS of the year.  I am not looking forward to adding even more images to the mix, but Marketing never listens to IT anyway....

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rebecca: Health Benefits

When Ben decided to start his own venture, I knew our mental health would improve.  The stress of balancing our home life with our careers was taking a toll…a toll on our contentment as well as the happiness of our family.

The unexpected benefit is the improvement in our physical health.  About 4 years ago, Ben’s doctor told him he had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and abnormal liver enzymes.  He had gained about 15 pounds above his ideal weight, and he felt out of shape. 

While he was still working at his corporate gig, he started running with an office colleague.  She got Ben started on a much needed exercise regimen (Thank you Aimee for kick starting the physical activity and for the Score Genie idea).  Since Ben started Zenerdgy, he has the time and flexibility to exercise 5-6 times/week.

Because Ben cares for the kids before and after school and handles many of the household duties, I have extra time to exercise.  Like most moms, I still carry the baby weight of two pregnancies. (Yes, both kids are older than 10, but I still call the extra weight “baby weight”.  It is easier to admit.)  The more consistent exercise helps my weight, reduces my stress, and improves my attitude.

To keep us both motivated, we compete.  We compete on who exercises the most in a month, who eats the healthiest, and who resists the most temptations (sweets, fatty foods, wine, and yes, beer). 

At Ben’s most recent yearly physical, Ben’s doctor shared that his cholesterol is normal and does not require medication.  Ben does take blood pressure medication, but his BP is great.  And it is the only medication he takes.  His liver enzymes have also normalized, and he has lost about 20 pounds. 

As for me, I still have some of the baby weight; but I feel great.  I love the friendly competition with Ben, and I love that we feel healthy.  When we play with the kiddos, they have to keep up with us. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Moonlighting on the Job

  After Rebecca's latest blog entry, I felt I should respond.  She is right on so many things, including our inability to finish up this latest project.  The normal excuses apply: the Summer with the kids did not help, and it has only really been about 9 months since we started this project, but truthfully, it just needs a bit more concentrated time from me.  I am planning to release the new game this month, but we still have a few items to complete.  (Things like sound selection, improving our word lists, User settings, etc...)  Still doable for this month.

  So whats the problem?

  I started tinkering with Apples latest programming language, Swift, again.  Apple releases updates to its development tools every year and this usually brings a lot of good features that everyone would like to try out.  (Ok, everyone who programs Apple devices.)  As the current project has stumbled, I have found myself drifting over to the new language to try out new concepts for later Apps and games.  Not long, usually in the evenings, but I do keep picking up the new Swift project and tinkering.  Probably to alleviate the frustration with the latest bug or roadblock in the real project.
  No pressure.  See if that concept works.  Get excited about the possibilities and wonder what else can the new stuff do?

  I am Moonlighting on my regular Zenerdgy job.

  In the IT world we need to stay at least current on our existing job's technology.  Hopefully, we keep an eye on the possible future developments that will affect our job too.  Study all the time, but don't let it get in the way of your current job.  Its a balance.  A balance that I need to tip in the current App's favor.
  Lately the work has really picked up. (Aside from me breaking my project for about 1.5 weeks.)  I like to think Rebecca getting us back to blogging helped.  Reading or writing the blog helps me to refocus on my regular job.

  The moonlight job will have to wait.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Rebecca: Inertia

Ben started working on a "simple" game idea about 7 or 8 months ago.  The concept really is simple; but as every software engineer knows, nothing is simple in the programming world (this is also becoming painfully clear to me).  We agonize over how many screens the game should have, how will people personalize the game, how many buttons should appear on a screen, how much direction should we give players, how should we monetize the game...and the list goes on and on.  

After almost a year, we are in a slump.  Ben was almost done with the game, but it had a "thousand" little things still to-do.  To make matters worse, Ben accidentally deleted some files.  If I recall correctly (he has explained this several times, but I am lost after files and trash), he deleted files he did not think he needed.  Since I really do not understand what happened, I try not to get upset that he deleted files.  But who deletes files?  He is a programmer...isn't there a safety switch. 

Ben is almost finished with the game.  He recovered much of the "lost" work, and he is making progress fixing the bugs.  We still have content to finish, and we need to finalize some graphics.  But it is so hard to finish.  I understand why great novels are left unpublished.  They are easy to start, but very hard to complete.  

The game is 80% done, and it is the last 20% that seems impossible. It is easy to get distracted by kids' activities, household projects, work, and holidays.  We have lost momentum.  

But Ben, yes you, must fight the inertia.  We must finish this game.  We need to publish this game before Christmas.  No more final push before the holidays.  Oh wait, dinner is burning...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

NBA Season is Upon Us

Yes.  I need a new picture.  Perhaps one with a basketball?  Well, the smile is right, because I am pretty happy about this being the first night of the NBA season.  Eh, technically the season started last night, but tonight I get to watch the San Antonio Spurs play its first game.  Which is the start of this years journey for this fan.

Go Spurs!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rebecca: Half of a Century

Ben just turned 50.  He is not vain, and I do not think he will mind that I publicly announced that he is a half-century old.  Wow, it seems old when you think about it in terms of centuries (he might mind that snarky remark).

Since one does not reach such momentous milestones everyday, I wanted to do something special.  I do not enjoy planning big bashes, so I removed a birthday bash from the “ways to celebrate” list.  Because of school and work schedules, I also removed a fabulous vacation to Hawaii or the Caribbean or some other exotic locale.  Note: Ben may be upset when he reads this post and thinks that the birthday bash and the exotic vacation were considered and nixed.

With few ideas and, honestly, a limited budget, Ben suggested a weekend in the city.  My mother-in-law, an awesome and amazing Nonna, agreed to watch the children.  I started the process (and it is a process to coordinate the family calendar with my work calendar with my MIL’s “enjoying retirement” calendar) of booking a weekend in the city.  Since we could not manage a weekend getaway, Ben and I settled for ONE night away…3 weeks after his birthday.  

Fortunately for the Bears Varsity Football team (not so fortunate for Ben), they had a great season, and they are going to championships (along with our daughter’s Varsity cheer squad).  The ONE romantic birthday night in the city no longer worked.  Ben threw up his hands and said forget about it…meaning his 50th birthday.

I was in quite a dilemma.  Ben is a great husband and a wonderful father.  He is working hard to make Zenerdgy work, and he is keeping the home fires burning.  What to do to make his 50th special…to make it memorable?

As readers of the blog know, Ben is a Spurs FANATIC.  He is an obnoxious fan that talks about the San Antonio Spurs through all the seasons.  He watches the draft and trades, he analyzes the pre-season, and he watches every game (some 2 or 3 times).  Thankfully, he provides the family with daily Spur updates. I learned one of Ben’s favorite players, David Robinson, turned 50 this year, and the “Admiral” wore #50 jersey. 

What better way to celebrate Ben’s 50th?  My special guy, who deserves a birthday bash and an exotic holiday and a night in the city, got an autographed David Robinson picture and a #50 David Robinson shirt.  Ben, we love you and hope you make it to the full century. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Rebecca: One Bag

Yesterday, I left for a week- long meeting in Atlanta.  While there were lots of things on my mind (will Ben remember that piano resumes this week, will our 10 year old remember to register for the TKD tournament in November, do we need milk, we do need toilet paper), my priority was to pack a full week’s wardrobe in a carry-on. 

Typically, when I travel, I am only gone for 2-3 days.  For these short trips, I pack a carry-on suitcase and my computer bag.  I really DO NOT like to check bags.  I am a little concerned my luggage may not make it to the final destination; but truthfully, I want to bolt out of the airport when I return home.  I do not want to stand around and wait for my bags to arrive at the luggage carousel.  After travelling, I just want to go home.

A week-long business meeting challenged my packing skills, but I boarded the plane with my carry-on and my computer bag.  I packed business wear, work-out clothes, and a causal outfit (jeans).   A few helpful hints for packing:
  • Wear black pants.  They go with everything, and I wear them more than once.  On Friday, no one will know that you wore the pants on Tuesday. 
  • Really consider the shoes. I packed a pair of black heels and a pair of sneakers.  I know we will have 2 casual evening events, so I packed a pair of black flats.  I usually pack 1 pair of shoes and wear my sneakers on the flight. It was a bonus that I had room for the black flats. 
  • Compromise on the toiletries.  I intentionally write compromise because most of us cannot fit our bathroom counter in a carry-on.   By airport rules, all the liquids and gels have to fit in a quart bag and contain less than 3 oz. (I am not sure of the volume restriction, but it is ridiculously small).  When possible, I use travel size toiletries.  I have finally found a travel-sized hair gel that I like.  I do not love it, but it works for travel.  For me, the hardest items to forgo are my face wash and face lotion.  Although it is over the volume limit, I stuff my face lotion in the quart bag.  Thankfully, TSA has not confiscated it.  For the face wash, I have not found a travel size or a substitute.  I swear I have 2-3 more wrinkles after the long trips. 
  • A little make-up goes a long way.  When travelling, I do not get fancy with the make-up.  I need it (my skin is over 40 years old), and I can’t attend professional meetings without it.  But I keep it simple.  One does not need different eye shadow or lipstick for each day. 
  • Use dry cleaner bags.  Dry cleaner bags work great for keeping clothes crisp and wrinkle-free.  I pack my pants, blouses, and blazers in dry cleaner bags.  I place one item of clothing in a bag, make sure there are no creases on the clothing, and carefully fold the garment.  Since the bags take a little extra space, I only pack the clothes that I do not want to wrinkle.  Work-out clothes, PJs, and under garments go in the bottom.

Please note that when I travel with the family, we are lucky if we only check 2 bags.  Not matter how hard I try, we usually have 2 large bags.  Suggestions?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rebecca: School, Activities, Schedules…Savings?

We are full swing into the 2015-16 school year, fall activities, and a packed schedule.  Long gone are the lazy days of summer, which honestly, are lazy only for the two kids in our lives.  With school and activities, the Bruhl household hums with activity from the crack of dawn until the moon has risen.  Ben and I strive to keep the schedule manageable; but every fall, we are bombarded by PTA meetings, football games, cheer practices, sparring classes, music lessons…

Ben and I feel very blessed to have healthy, active children, BUT (yes there is a BUT) the start of school strains our time and financial resources.  Since Ben works for himself, it allows us the flexibility to juggle this packed schedule.   On the down side, there is no guaranteed paycheck, and he does not get paid when taxiing adolescents all over town.  Knowing that Zenerdgy is not a guaranteed paycheck (like a corporate gig), we try to anticipate the extra expenses of September.  I am pretty good at budgeting for school clothes and supplies, but I was unprepared for the “nickel and dime” fees: $15 for PTA membership (times 2 because the kiddos go to different schools), $30 activity card (still not sure what the card covers), $15 choir shirt, $40 new TKD uniform, and on it goes.  Do not try to save money in September.   Prepare for the expected expenses and add a little to the budget for the unexpected ones. 

September is a great time for getting back on to a schedule.  It is much needed time for Ben to work uninterrupted for more than 4 hours (kids and I are out of the house).  It is a wonderful time to enjoy football games in the fall sunshine.  It is an ideal time to listen to an audiobook (entertainment while driving around town).  Just try not to sweat the bank account.