Monday, December 22, 2008

Adventures with Interactive Fiction

Wikipedia defines Interactive Fiction as "software simulating environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment."

I played Adventure, the Colossal Cave and numerous Scott Adams adventures. I looked at currently available systems used to create interactive fiction. There are a variety of mature systems that allow easy creation of complex adventures. I read through the user manuals and much of the technical documentation on several different systems. Then I read the IF Authoring System Developer's Guide by Peer Schaefer. I then decided to try and create my own adventure system. Peer Schaefer recommended, "So, you want to write an Interactive Fiction authoring system? Ok, here's my advice: don't do it." That is interesting advice. Peer Schaefer mentioned two authoring systems that used XML as their base: AAS and Aiee. I have a tremendous amount of experience with XML. It appears both AAS and Aiee are abandoned. No one has done any work with either since 2004. I contacted one of the authors. The authors of AAS never released the source code. It appears that the original source code for AAS may be lost. I tried to contact the author of Aiee. I received no response.

Of the two, AAS and Aiee, AAS had better documentation. AAS also has a development environment. I tried creating a game with AAS. I immediately ran into problems. AAS did not fully implement all the documented functionality. For example, the test to see if a container is open does not work. Fortunately there are eleven AAS games available. After reading through the XML sources I was able to figure a work around. I used AAS to create an entry into the One Room Game Competition 2008.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Technology Professionals Networking Group (TPNG) Meeting

I attended the Technology Professionals Networking Group (TPNG) meeting tonight. The speaker was Kimberle Levin, president and CEO of Teknuko. Ms. Levin talked about “schmoozing”. It was an interesting and lively presentation. She mentioned that little things matter a lot. For example, at a networking opportunity you should have your name tag on the right. When you shake hands with someone their eyes will follow up your arm to your name tag. I admit, I never thought of that or ever heard anyone mention why you would wear your name tag on one side or the other. Ms. Levin gave several examples from her personal life how “schmoozing” and networking worked to her advantage. She gave some interesting examples of how to correctly shake someone’s hand, and how not to shake someone’s hand. All in all, it was a fascinating presentation. I hope to go through the slides to her presentation in detail.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Philadelphia-Area Software Process Improvement Network Meeting

I attended the Philadelphia-Area SPIN (Software Process Improvement Network) meeting tonight. The topic was: “How can we measure the value of IT?” Michael Harris from David Consulting Group ( made the presentation. The phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” implies that what one person things is beautiful another may not. Value is similar. This leads to a similar phrase, “value is in the eye of the beholder”. A developer may value the beauty of a well crafted program. But unless the program generates revenue for the company, management may not see the value or beauty in the program. Mr. Harris brought up an interesting point: value has a time component. For example, if an information technology organization delivers a project that is late by only ten percent, the market value of the project may actually be fifty percent less. I like the analogy of going to a restaurant. I value restaurants that quickly seat and serve you. If a restaurant takes ninety minutes to bring me a meal, no matter how good the meal is, I will not go back to that restaurant. The meal decreased in value the longer it takes to prepare it. The same is true with software development. If you take too long to create the software the market may have found a different solution. The decreasing value over time is the reason for many innovations in information technology. For example, we want a new computer because it is faster than the old one. The value of the computer has decreased because a faster model now exists. I believe our current financial crisis is based on the false premise that homes should increase in value over time. Why should a home increase in value? The plumbing does not get better over time. The furnace and water heaters do not improve with age. Businesses depreciate the cost of buildings and equipment over time because they are worth less as they age. Getting back to the topic of the meeting, Mr. Harris described a variety of standard financial methods that anyone in management in IT should know and understand. Mr. Harris stated the best method was Real Option Valuation. I need to dig a bit deeper into this methodology. I added a book to my wish list: “20/20 Foresight: Crafting Strategy in an Uncertain World” by Hugh Courtney.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Parable of the Two Programmers

David G. Wiseman created list of Stories for a Computer Audience Computer Audience. This archive contains many of the (in)famous stories about computers from over the years. One of my favorites is The Parable of the Two Programmers. I you have never read this story, it is a must read.

Philadelphia Technology Executives Networking Group (TENG)

I attended a meeting of the Philadelphia Technology Executives Networking Group (TENG). This was a great opportunity to meet other technology executives. It was a small get together of about twelve at a local restaurant. TENG helps those “in transition” find new positions. One of the interesting topics discussed tonight was personality testing. Today, I took an assessment test for a position I applied for. The test had several parts including a personality test. Several other people at the TENG meeting have taken similar tests. Everyone at the meeting who had been required to take a personality test for a job didn’t get the job. This was a small sample, only a couple of people. One person mentioned they had a first, second, and third interview before taking the personality test. The hiring company did not offer a job after three interviews. Was the result of the personality test the reason? Companies never answer that question. The discussion about why personality test could be necessary was interesting. I can see how they could help, I just wonder about the cost effectiveness of personality testing. I hope I buck the trend and get offered the job.

Entrepreneurs' Forum of Greater Philadelphia Meeting

I attended Entrepreneurs' Forum of Greater Philadelphia Meeting last night. The topic was The Road Ahead, Surviving and Thriving in Today's Economy. This is the second time I have attended an Entrepreneurs' Forum meeting. The meeting is a great place to meet and network with others with an interest in entrepreneurship. I met several interesting people including someone from the marketing department of a local radio station. The meeting focused on the affects of the market on entrepreneurship. One of the panelists mentioned a book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm, by Verne Harnish. I remember years ago someone mentioning the Rockefeller Habits. The copyright of the book is 2002. I added it to my wish list on Amazon. One of the panelists mentioned the importance of focusing on strategy and not on tactics. In military terms strategy is the big picture. Tactics focus on the current circumstances and situation. In today’s economy, a successful organization must keep their focus on the big picture. The current economic situation requires attention but we must not lose the focus on the objectives. Tracking is imperative. How can you know if your marketing is effective without tracking the success? If you make a change to your website how did that affect your page views? You need to test the results to see if they meet expectation. Few can afford the luxury of making a significant change in their marketing with having a reason. Predictive modeling should help estimate the effect of a change. To close the loop you need to compare the actual results with the predictions. If your results don’t match with the predictions can you make a tweak to help improve the results? You must base your decisions on real data and metrics, not on gut feel. An organization needs a high return on marketing activities. If you spent a thousand dollars on marketing to win a thousand dollars in new sales the marketing was a failure. Marketing dollars should have at least a tenfold return on investment. Right now, Internet marketing is the greatest value for the money. Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin is another book mentioned by the panel. Organizations must become remarkable to succeed. You must generate buzz and stand out from the crowd.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Google Friend Connect

I received acceptance for my website to use Google Friend Connect. I applied in May. Just received approval today. Back in May, I was excited by the idea of adding Google Friend Connect. Google took a long time to approve my site. Seven months later I had all but forgot about it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Trying out Blogging

This is my first blog post. Nothing intereseting yet.