Monthly Archives: December 2005

Return to Ultima (V, that is)

As I’ve said before, I’ve been a big fan of just about all the games that Origin produced (Ultima series, Ultima Underworld series, System Shock, Wing Commander series, etc.), and Ultima in particular has been a favorite. Ultima I was the first game that I really loved* on my old Apple ][+, and I think the first game I actually ever paid for was Ultima VI: The False Prophet for my PC. I even followed the series all the way through to the very bitter end of Ultima VIII: Pagan and Ultima IX: Ascension. So it’s really cool to see the Ultima V: Lazarus project finally come to fruition. Now that the holidays are winding down, I’m hoping to get to spend some quality time back in Britania!

I haven’t had a chance to play with it much yet, but I’m already very hopeful to see what the marriage of the Dungeon Siege engine and the Ultima V story might produce. I found Dungeon Siege the game to be very impressive technically in producing a seamless world feel (much better than something like Neverwinter Nights), but the game was underwhelming in the extreme — hack and slash, hack and slash. Now that we’ve got a real story line to put in the engine, I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s really capable of.

And, of course, the most amazing part is that it was entirely fan-produced. Entirely free. Just amazing.

(* Well, actually, the first game that I really loved might have been Deathmaze 2000, but I’m not sure…)

Will VB ever be standardized?

Someone recently sent me a question that comes up every now and again:

C# has been submitted and approved by the ECMA, will Visual Basic ever be submitted?

Well, never say never, but there are no current plans to submit Visual Basic to a standards body. The idea has certainly been discussed internally from time to time, but we’ve usually gotten stuck on several points:

  • By and large, the demand for this from developers has been very low, at least in terms of the people that we talk to in customer visits, trade shows, conferences, online, etc. Now, it’s always possible that there’s a latent demand out there for standardization of VB, and we’re always interested to hear people’s feedback on this, so let us know if this would make a big difference for you for some reason.
  • Having watched the C# team go through the process, it’s clear that standardizing a language through a standards body requires a significant amount of work. And a good chunk of that work has very little to do with the actual content of the standard and a lot to do with the general process overhead of publishing a standard. Given the previous bullet point, that makes us loath to dedicate resources to standardization that might be used productively elsewhere.
  • From a more philosophical (and personal) standpoint, there just seems to be something… I dunno, wrong about trying to standardize a variant of BASIC. I know that there was an ANSI standard BASIC many years ago (I have a copy of it up on my shelf), but I think that BASIC has probably been one of the most un-standard programming languages ever when you take into account the myriad of variants of the language over the past three and a half decades. I wouldn’t want us to jinx ourselves or anything…

OK, that last point isn’t really a reason why we haven’t approached standardization, but it is something I like to throw in to this conversation when it comes up. As I said, though, we’re always open to hearing what you have to say about this subject, so if you have a strong opinion, leave a comment or drop me a line through the comment form!

Latin as a prerequisite for programming?

I’m catching up on my blog reading and just plowed my way through Joel’s curmudgeonly “old guy” rant about The Perils of JavaSchools. I don’t have a lot to say about the central thesis of his rant — I’ve always been of two minds about the efficacy of the Darwinian theory of weeding the weak out through hazing-type classes — but there was an analogy that caught my eye:

Heck, in 1900, Latin and Greek were required subjects in college, not because they served any purpose, but because they were sort of considered an obvious requirement for educated people. In some sense my argument is no different that the argument made by the pro-Latin people (all four of them). “[Latin] trains your mind. Trains your memory. Unraveling a Latin sentence is an excellent exercise in thought, a real intellectual puzzle, and a good introduction to logical thinking,” writes Scott Barker. But I can’t find a single university that requires Latin any more. Are pointers and recursion the Latin and Greek of Computer Science?

I actually took four years of Latin in high school because I had had such a horrible experience trying to learn to speak French in middle school that I was desperate for any language that I didn’t have to listen to or speak. The joke ended up being on me, though, because when I took an Italian class in college, I realized that — difficulties with French aside — Latin was much, much harder to learn than most modern Romance languages. After all, in most of them a noun tends to have just two aspects: gender and/or number. In Latin, though, you have declensions in which the noun changes form based on its role in the sentence. Just that alone made Latin quite a challenge. And a pleasure, I might add, due to the fact that I had an excellent teacher.

Interestingly, though, I think that Latin actually has helped me a lot with my current job. After all, pretty much all you do in Latin class is translate Latin to English and back again on paper (unless you work in the Vatican). And, if you think about it, pretty much all compilers do is sit around day after day translating one language into another. So a lot of the same concepts and methodologies that I learned translating Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris… map fairly well into translating something like If x = 5 Then y = 10. Sure, there are lots of differences between human languages and computer languages, but at some level language is language. So I guess I’m one of those four pro-Latin people and maybe the only pro-Latin person who thinks that learning Latin might help you later when you learn computer programming…

(I should also add that the real payoff of Latin is the opportunity to translate some of the really great masters of Roman literature. Translating the Catiline orations by Cicero gives you a chance to see a really master politician and orator at work in the midst of a pretty gripping political thriller. And Virgil’s Aeneid — at least, the parts we made it through in a year — was just wonderful. While watching the otherwise wretched Troy, I was able to keep myself awake by speculating whether Aeneas would show up with his father on his back when Troy finally burned; the fact that he did was pretty much the only thing that I liked about that movie.)

The wheel turns on samples…

This is a bit of old news, but I did want to point out that we have heard the feedback about the relative dearth of VB samples in the past few releases and now MSDN and Microsoft as a whole has been consciously shifting their focus. Tom makes some interesting observations about the readability of the different languages for different types of developers and there’s some lively discussion in the comments, well worth checking out!

Free training on VB 2005…

On a happier note… Brad McCabe passed along some info about free training that MSDN is offering for VB 2005 and/or ASP.NET 2.0. To quote him:

With the holiday’s coming lots of people have some extra time on their hands, with this in mind MSDN and Microsoft Learning got to together to give you something to do, free training!

We were trying to figure out what course to give away and decided to let you pick.  That’s right pick one of 6 courses about Visual Basic 2005 or 9 courses about ASP.NET 2.0.  In addition, after you have completed your free online course you will receive 30% off the price of the next one.

You have to hurry, the free code is only good until January 4th, 2006.  You don’t have to take your free class by then, but you have to sign up and select your class before that day.  You have 90 days from the time you sign up to do the course, but with spare time this holiday season why not do it now?

Visit http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/learning/elearning_promo/ for all of the details and to get the free training code to sign up.

Not too shabby!

The trial is over…

You can read more about the details of the case in the Seattle Times, but, briefly, it was a trial for attempted first-degree murder. The first maybe two-thirds of the trial was not too hard to deal with, as it was sort of an extended episode of Law and Order crossed with CSI, which was quite interesting. However, the last third was quite difficult — between discussions of the impact of the shooting, the testimony of the defendant and the actual rendering of the verdict, there was a lot to process. Thankfully, the other people on the jury were just amazing, a very thoughtful, committed group of people, and the judge and bailiff were extremely supportive. I can’t say that I really enjoyed the experience, but it definitely gave me a much deeper appreciation as to how our justice system works and it’s something I’ll definitely remember for a long time. (And let me say, I have no idea how the people who serve on those really long trials for months and months do it. I have huge respect for them.)

After I’ve had a while to process, it might be interesting to post more thoughts about the jury and trial process. I doubt I’ll have a lot to say about the actual content of the trial itself, though. I think it’s been discussed in the media enough, and the verdicts do kind of speak for themselves. We’ll see, though.

Anyway, I’m definitely appreciating the holidays more this year…

More Japanese content…

In addition to my interview with the ITPro website, I’ve also got a personal webpage on MSDN Japan. It has links to things like an interview I did with Takashi Tsujigo, an evangelist from MSDN Japan, and an interview with @IT. I believe there are also going to be some webcasts up before long. Unfortunately, I don’t believe there are any English translations available for any of the content, although I don’t think I said anything secret that I haven’t said elsewhere… <g>