...by Geoff Taylor
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     Windows Tools

Source code for all these tools is on GitHub.

ADO.NET ConnTest
A simple, free Windows program to test ADO.NET connection strings.

Lines of C#
Ever wanted to know how many lines of C# code are in a file or folder hierarchy?  This free Windows program will tell you.

Free tools to process XML files from the command line.


“I Enjoyed It. Sortof”
Score: 4/5

Kameron Hurley

I think I enjoyed this book. I’m not sure though. That’s maybe a little strange to say… I did like it, but I felt there was more to it that I just wasn’t getting, that there was a message or allegory in there that was just whizzing by over my head. Maybe there is. I still liked it and the rich world it envisages. Now I’ve found out it’s part of a trilogy I may hunt out the other books…

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 06 April 2014. No comments.

“Daft, Funny and Complicated”
Score: 4/5

David Wong

Yeah, I read this after reading its sequel. Ah well.

Even though I was out-of-sequence, I still found it funny and knowing what happens in the next book didn’t really spoil anything for me reading this one.

And the author does have a hilarious way of putting some things across. I did laugh out loud at bits of it!

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 06 April 2014. No comments.

A while ago mentioned he got IFTTT to email him the weather first thing every day. Seemed like a neat idea, but it made me wonder what other things it would be useful to know.

So I started pondering different 'hyperlocal' things that could be sent automatically. There are quite a few possibilities. Things like:

  • Are there any roadworks nearby?
  • Is NI Water going to be turning the water off?
  • Are there any local events on today I should know about?
  • Any crime reports for the area?

There are a lot of possibilities!

It's great that most of this information is already on web sites. Really. I don't want to sound churlish because getting it online is a huge step.

But it's a tiny, tiny step from there to making it usable by computers. If you want others to be able to propagate your information (and that's an interesting question itself), you need to provide it in a way that can be processed automatically.

The problems range from the daft (Carrickfergus Borough Council pays people to update the News area on its site, but there's no RSS feed) to the understandable (some sites don't have it because it's extra work+cost to get set up when the developer/designer creates the site) to the utterly obtuse (PSNI crime statistics are available in XML, but you have to manually go to the site, click a button to ask it to generate the XML, and have it give you a unique URL for this one download - try automating that!)

But another problem is just understanding the data in the XML format. RSS is a simple format, and opinions differ on how to represent something like two weeks of roadworks. Are there start date and end date tags describing this (from a different namespace)? Does the title say it (and is it in a way I can parse)? Is it 2 weeks from the pubDate? Or does the pubDate relate to the date of the announcement, not the date of the disruption? The problem is not that there's no way to describe it in the XML, the problem is that there are a variety of ways and no consistency. How is my wee program supposed to know which way a site has chosen?

All of which has me wondering if I should just leave it to Google to do...

Posted by 'geoff' on Monday, 31 March 2014. No comments.

I have no idea why, but it seems to be a Great Belfast Tradition to go to a concert and then talk all the way through it. Yes, people pay money to go into a room with great music and then don't bother listening to it. Not everyone, maybe only a fraction of concert-goers do this, but it's enough that it's a regular event at any concert I've been to in the last few years.

I'm assured this is peculiar to Belfast - even other places in Norn Iron don't do this. I don't like it - I'd rather hear the music I paid to hear rather than listen to some wazzuck talking.

Anyway, I went into Belfast to see The Sandrunners last Saturday night. My friend Dave is annoyingly talented and a founder of Sandrunners, and this was the launch of their first EP at a Belfast Nashville event. This was a Big Deal for him.

The show also had two bands on before Sandrunners - Lazy Flies and The White Mansions. I know someone in both of those bands too. So of course I went.

(It sounds like I'm really connected in the music scene here. I'm not. I just happen to know three guys who are talented enough to be in bands as well as work for a living. All three playing the one night is a rare treat.)

Doors opened at 8. It started at 8:30.

I was on my own (SWMBO wasn't feeling well) but I managed to snag a seat right at the back - away from any of the potential talkers there. The room was darkened, but it hadn't started yet (even though it was now 9:30), so I did a little counting.

There were about 25 rows of about 12-15 seats in each, and it was about 80% full when I counted. 80% of a 300-425 seat venue is good - Dave was worried about getting a hundred people for the room. The room had a large screen to show the performer for those who were too far away, which seemed like a nice idea but it was a surprisingly small screen.

Naturally, a few more people arrived and a talker amongst them decided I was someone who would like to have the upcoming music drowned out by his delightful voice.

Just as I was texting SWMBO all of this, a baldy Scottish bloke came on with a guitar and started singing.

Neither Dave nor any of the other folks performing were (to my knowledge) Scottish. Nor were they solo performers.

Still he was doing a very capable rendition of Dear God. At this point 3 thoughts occurred to me:

  1. He's doing very well for a solo warm-up act,
  2. He really is smaller on the screen than in real life, and
  3. Hang on, that's Midge Ure.

Like a plonker, I had gone to the venue room with the Belfast Nashville Festival posters outside it, thinking that there was only one performance in the place that night. Apparently there were more...

So, there I was in the back row of a Midge Ure concert, being splendidly entertained (he seemed very on form) desperately wanting to be somewhere else...

I enumerated the problems (I know these were the problems because I texted them to SWMBO):

  1. Can I leave without embarrassment?
  2. Should I?
  3. Where's Dave?
  4. What have I missed at Dave's?
  5. I'm quite comfy here.
  6. All the folks I came to see are somewhere else.
  7. And most of all, is it OK to throat-punch the talker on the way out.

I didn't punch anyone. (I'm not violent, honest.) But the talker was very annoying. I don't think Midge heard him, but too many in the audience did.

At a break between songs, I made my way out of the room and tried to hunt down the Sandrunners. Turns out I wasn't even close - they were on a completely different floor.

The room was smaller (yes, the big room should have been a giveaway, and so should the late start), but it was so packed I had to stand. That was good - I was still chuffed for Dave that so many had turned up.

And the bands? They all rocked! I'm grateful I know so many talented people. Even if I did end up having to stand right next to the talkers.

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 09 March 2014. No comments.

“Nice Conspiracy Theory Thriller”
Score: 4/5

Stephen Hunter

I’d never read a ‘Bob Lee Swagger’ story before (apparently it's a series), but this is a decent, well-paced thriller. It’s set around the current time, but deals with the JFK assassination in 1963. It doesn’t aim to found a new conspiracy theory, instead it’s a fictional narrative that explains the core events in a thriller setting.

One really annoying thing about the book – about half-way through the book switches perspectives so that about half the chapters are memoirs written by someone else. The author does very well in making the styles of writing very different so there’s never any ambiguity over who wrote a given chapter. But deary me the style of writing for the memoirs is awful! Again, it’s deliberately awful, but it does make it hard to read.

Other than that, it’s an interesting enough book. I don’t know enough of the history to pick holes in it, but I’m certain others do.

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 09 March 2014. No comments.

‘Officework And Transdimensional Physics’
Score: 4/5

Rich Neville

Thoroughly enjoyed this. As well as the gags, there’s a subtlety here in what the characters don’t say. Not the we’re-not-mentioning-our-relationship kind of way, the elephant-in-the-room kind of way. Fun, and easy to read.

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 16 February 2014. No comments.

‘Not Bad OpenGL Introduction’
Score: 3/5

I’ve been playing around with OpenGL on my phone for a few weeks now. It all started with me wanting to do something simple…

I had this idea for a Live Wallpaper, and I figured it would be a fun distraction for a few hours over Christmas. The idea was pretty simple, but (as often happens) the naive, simplistic approach didn’t work.

Throughout all this I’ve been both impressed by just how powerful phones are, and depressed by how woeful some of the performance is. They’re incredibly fast, but canvas.drawText() is just not up to what I asked it to do. I was getting around 3 frames per second, and putting the processor under quite a load.

So, I wondered what the hardware acceleration in the handset could do to help. And that brought me to OpenGL.

I read some OpenGL pages and guides on the net, and got something sortof working, but I didn’t feel comfortable I knew what it was doing and it turned out that I needed at least OpenGL 2, because OpenGL 1 couldn’t do some of the texture work I needed. At this point I gave up on the net and bought a couple of books.

This book helped. It was similar in tone to some of the tutorials out there, but it went a bit deeper and a lot further. I learned stuff, and for that it was worth the money.

I do have some quibbles with it though. I don’t think I like the approach of copying-and-pasting projects followed by renaming things from chapter to chapter. It seems amateurish compared to the professional approach elsewhere in the book, and the fact that it used Eclipse when I was using IntelliJ was annoying.

Worse though was the way some of the code changes were described. In the chapter on textures I had some difficulty following along – the book would say do-this, then do-that and so on, but wouldn’t give a lot of explanation why. You ended up writing a method when you’d no clue about its purpose, and six pages later in a different class you’d find the call to it but again without much explanation. It felt like a Chinese Room – yes, I could follow along and make the changes, and at the end my code would be correct and would do what it was supposed to, but I had no understanding of what I had just done nor why it worked.

Some chapters left me feeling like that while others didn’t, so maybe the pacing wasn’t right for me, or maybe I was just useless at grasping some of the concepts.

Still, to get up to speed on an unfamiliar language and platform it was worth the money.

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 02 February 2014. No comments.

‘Much Wackiness, Some Plausible’
Score: 4/5

I enjoyed this. There are some wacky ideas out there with just a shred of evidence to make people think they are plausible, so it’s nice to see a more sceptical, scientific approach.

I particularly liked the chapter on oil, and how it may not come from organic matter (‘fossil fuel’ indeed…) It was certainly interesting to see the evidence laid out in that way. I still have no idea if it’s true or not, and I don’t think there’s been much change in the consensus since this book was released in 2002, but I did find it fascinating.

Posted by 'geoff' on Wednesday, 15 January 2014. No comments.

‘Near Future Making Stuff’
Score: 4/5

Adrian McEwen and Hakim Cassimally

This is a fun book that gives a pretty neat overview of the current state of making gadgetry. not the mass-produced gizmos, but the one-offs, the prototypes, the limited-release things – the new wave of connected devices that enhance everyday objects and blend in to the scenery, rather than sticking out like an iMac.

One example (which I love the idea of) is the Good Night Lamp, a lamp that switches on itself and its paired lamp, no matter where in the world the paired lamp is. I think that’s just a lovely idea for travellers and remote family.

The book doesn’t try to be exhaustive about any of the areas, but it does give enough of a flavour that you know some more questions to ask and how to go about finding some of the answers.

The Internet of Things has a big future ahead of it, and some of it is quite scary. I was glad to see a chapter on ethics in the book. I wish some companies out there would read it…

Posted by 'geoff' on Wednesday, 15 January 2014. No comments.

‘I Miss The Culture’
Score: 4/5

Iain M. Banks

I miss the Culture and it still makes me a bit sad knowing that he’ll never write any more of these. Ah well.

It’s a nice story, not as convoluted as some of his, with the nice flavour you get from a slightly strange culture that seems inexplicably different in some ways. (It’s explicably different in plenty of other ways too.)

I’ve only got one other unread Culture novel now, and I’m putting off reading it.

Posted by 'geoff' on Wednesday, 15 January 2014. No comments.

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