Geek Smithology

February 28, 2009


Filed under: Announce,Craft of Dev,Ruby by Nathan @ 11:34 pm

chess Shortly after I left Service Intelligence all those years ago, a small panel convened at a Tim Horton’s to discuss the future. Well, actually, it was me, The Ront and Foo and since we seemed to like working together we figured we’d write a game of some kind. After not a whole lot of thought we figured we’d go ahead and write a chess game in Java. We didn’t really get anywhere with that, though. Then it happened.

I remember it like it was yesterday. But really, it was right after No Fluff Just Stuff 2005. My eyes were opened and it was decided right then and there that the chess game would written in Ruby. Sure it’s not the most “performant” language for chess calculations, but I wanted to learn Ruby and it’s always better to have a real project to work toward.

We decided to call it “pawnzilla”, for all the reasons you can imagine someone might want to call a chess engine pawnzilla. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster – we went through a horrible OO implementation, transition to 64-bit love and bitboards, and a fairly recent switch from sourceforge to GitHub, but after three and a half years (maybe a couple person months total effort – it’s tough to get time to work on this stuff!) I finally realized a dream, and played a game against my own chess engine.

It was pretty anticlimactic. All of the time so far has been spent working on a complete rules engine (this turns out to be quite a difficult proposition!), so the AI is pretty stupid. So stupid that the game lasted only 7 moves. But still, after all this time, it was great to watch pawnzilla make moves and actually “understand” that the game was over.

I think that we’ve implemented some pretty cool ideas in pawnzilla (including our domain specific approach to testing) and now that there is finally something to see, I hope to start blogging about some of those ideas. The next big goal is to develop the AI into something that doesn’t suck and hook it up to the free internet chess server so that it can get rated. So far it’s been a hell of a ride, and even though it took so long, it’s nice to get to such a significant milestone in my own labour of love.

If you’d like to see it, pawnzilla is licensed under the Apache 2.0 license and you can check it out over on github. And if anyone out there wants to play with a pure-ruby chess engine (should be a lot of fun just to work on different AI strategies now that the rules engine is in place) drop me a line and I’ll be happy to talk about it.

So cheers to pawnzilla.

November 4, 2008

So there was an election…

Filed under: Announce by Nathan @ 11:01 pm

I just wanted to throw out a quick congratulations to Barack Obama, who has delivered us from Bush in what I would refer to as a landslide (currently 338 – 156, McCain has conceded), and also, to all of my fellow North Americans down south:

Thank you.

And, uh, sorry about that whole Stephen Harper thing, we’ll try and get it right next time.

October 12, 2008

Another Blog Update

Filed under: Announce by Nathan @ 9:27 pm

The spam I was getting had reached sickening levels. I could delete all the spam, and then literally watch new ones come in. Now don’t get me wrong, I love \1agra as much as the next guy, but it was pretty tough to sort out the one or two real comments in the 28,000 messages I had awaiting me.

So I got my hands dirty and went to town with SQL, trying to delete posts based on heinously weak heuristics I made up on the spot (for example, if the content of a post was only a single link with rel=”nofollow” I deleted it. That said, if you’ve left a comment and I didn’t approve it, I apologize.

As for the future, I’ve installed the lovely reCAPTCHA for my comments which will hopefully stop at least the stupider spam bots (I think my favorite one that actually left “Jakarta Commons HTTP Client” as the user-agent. So very weak!) So while it will be a tiny bit more of a pain to comment, the chances of them getting accepted and making it through are increased by untold orders of magnitude. I believe you can get the CAPTCHA words read to you if you like that sort of thing (I know I get my Mac to read my posts back to me.[1])

I also went ahead an upgraded to the latest version of WordPress (have to say the post authoring section is vastly improved) so that it will stop bothering me about it.

So there we have it – hopefully there will be less spam, and hopefully there will be more comments. Because what the world needs now is love, sweet love.

It’s the only thing there’s just too little of.

[1] What, doesn’t everyone?

June 12, 2008

Well Done, Mozilla

Filed under: Announce,Craft of Dev by Nathan @ 9:59 pm

I just got around to installing Firefox 3 on my MacBook Pro, and while I find the new Firefox is completely hideous under Ubuntu, it is beautiful in OS X. It’s obvious that a lot of effort was put into making the GUI have the native look and feel. From a couple hours of light browsing everything is better – from the little things like buttons and checkboxes and text fields looking “right”, to the new look for the tabs, to the buttons, Firefox finally looks like it belongs on a Mac.

I’ve never been a fan of skinnable applications, I’d rather have everything be consistent (in an aesthetically pleasing way). So, great work on making Firefox look great out of the gate. And this doesn’t even include any of the new features:

– It only saves passwords after you’re authenticated – about damn time!
– Nicer download window
– Waaay better incremental search in the address bar
– like the new add-ons and plugins look and feel

And it’s noticeably faster for general browsing. I’ve tended to use Safari (gasp!) over the last few weeks, but Firefox has come back with a vengeance.

My only real complaint is that my All-in-One Gestures plugin isn’t compatible. When the hell are you going to make mouse gestures part of the core feature set, Mozilla? Opera did it years ago…

Update – All-in-One Gestures has been updated, so Firefox is back to it’s glory. That said, I’m doing this update from Safari…go figure. Oh, and I changed my heretical misspelling of MacBook because Popowich made fun of me.

April 1, 2008

Nate Lives!

Filed under: Announce by Nathan @ 7:46 pm

So the flurry of February has been followed by a most moribund month of March. The fact of the matter is that I’ve been pretty busy. I have left Online Business Systems and joined Solium Capital. My first day was today, and as first days go it was a good one. I’ve been thinking about leaving consulting for awhile, as despite a fair bit of effort there was never enough room for both generating billable hours and genuinely caring about software as a craft. I’m not saying I’ll never consult again, but next time will definitely be on my terms. Aside from getting a new gig, the family also took a relaxing Spring break trip to the coast (well, as relaxing as 24 hours in a car with a three and a five year old can be), so while I didn’t get a lot of posts written in March, I did get a lot done. Here’s to a more regular schedule as April gets going.

P.S. This is not an April Fool’s Day joke.

January 5, 2008

A word on Ratings

Filed under: Announce,Games,Sight,Sound,Taste by Nathan @ 9:14 pm

It would appear that if one wants to review things, there must be some sort of rating attached for quick judgment by a fickle readership. While I of course subscribe to the literary snob idea of writing the review as text and letting the reader make up his or her mind based on a careful reading and analysis, I realize that most people just skim a review for anything funny and/or inflammatory and skip to see what the score is.

So, without further ado, I reveal my rating system, which will heretofore be used to score anything and everything a review in the future. Please note that I review everything “as is” and “how I feel about it at the time.” There is rarely any conscious analysis and comparison against the greats of a particular genre or medium, or even against items of similar ilk.

five star

This means that I loved it. Go out and do whatever it takes to have the experience, even if it means watching Gigli.

four star

I liked it. Do whatever it takes, short of watching Gigli.

three star

It was “okay”. Check it out if the opportunity presents itself, but don’t go out of your way.

two star

I didn’t like it. It’s better than Gigli, but unless you love the genre or not having fun, don’t bother.

one star

I hated it. It probably is Gigli. If you have a dog-eared copy of The 120 Days of Sodom. on your shelf, this might be right up your alley. But don’t forget to pick a safeword…

March 20, 2006

Spring Arrives[1]

Filed under: Announce by Nathan @ 7:29 pm

Is it just me?
No, it can’t be.
Well there, you sly old fox…

Hope y’all got your Vernal Equinox cards out in time this year.

[1] You know, the season, not the Java web framework. (Get your mind out of the gutter!)

March 7, 2006

Eskimo Bill Says… (7 in a series)

Filed under: Announce,Eskimo Bill by Nathan @ 7:27 pm

…I have a blog.

At long last, Eskimo Bill joins the blogosphere. While y’all are looking into ways to become IT gods, he’ll tell you what it’s like to be a heretic. Under the Agile revolution there’s a subtle evolution — the development world is changing and the old school bureaucrats are going over the waterfall on a raft made of Gantt charts and status reports.

Welcome to the new world order, where the whole point of the development process is not to placate users by minimizing risk, but to help users kick ass by building the software they need.

Don’t criticize what you can’t understand…
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend a hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Without further ado, proceed to Eskimo Bill Says… ‘Cause heaven knows, we could use more heretics.

January 16, 2006

#@$%&! WordPress Upgrade…

Filed under: Announce,Craft of Dev by Nathan @ 9:14 pm

If you read this blog through certain aggregators (Bloglines being one of them) you will have noticed the feed was down for a while before disappearing altogether (nice!) It’s because I updated to WordPress 2.0 (not worth the hassle, frankly) and certain aggregators (Bloglines being one of them) started getting some 404 action on the feeds.

Unfortunately, I found out a little too late, but c’est la vie, n’est pas? To resubscribe (or subscribe in the first place), please use the new official feed URL:

NOTE: For fellow WordPress bloggers who are upgrading to 2.0 and don’t want to turf their existing feeds, I found that you can redirect the old scripts to the new paths using Apache’s Rewrite module. Just add the following lines to your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^/wp-rss2.php$ [L]
RewriteRule ^/wp-rss.php$ [L]
RewriteRule ^/wp-atom.php$ [L]

OR, you could just create a Feedburner account, use Steve Smith’s most excellent plugin to redirect your traffic and be done with the whole mess (not to mention get some nice tracking features in the deal)

Apologies to any readers I lost because of this – hopefully you find your way back. To everyone else: the Magical Mystery Tour continues unabated!

December 11, 2005

The Themes, they are a Changin’

Filed under: Announce by Nathan @ 7:46 pm

Holy stark naked Natman, what’s up with the new look? Good question, with a fairly long answer.

First off, I didn’t find the old design to be very readable, therefore it wasn’t very user friendly. I did think it was pretty cool, but that only lasts for so long.

Second, I wanted to exercise some web usability tips I’ve picked up along the way, so my blog now features such niceties as links that behave like links, text that is both readable and flows better with the window size (I really wanted to go down to a one column layout, but I just couldn’t do it), and a loading time that is slightly more reasonable (I feel comfortable blaming my provider for that one, though)

Third, like most of the blogosphere, I read Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes by Jakob Nielson and was shamed into action. I think I’m (now) doing okay with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10. I’m not doing so well with 7, and I just can’t bring myself to care about 8. I’m not really trying to market or sell anything, and I’m truly doing this for myself, so I’m not gonna start up five blogs just because I have five things I want to talk about. If you only like my tech postings, then feel free to subscribe only to that category.

So, there is is. I imagine most of my readership is through an aggregator anyway, so all of this might not mean much, but I’d appreciate any feedback good, bad, or ugly as to what y’all think of the new digs. Minimalism is the key.

July 16, 2005

A New Look

Filed under: Announce by Nathan @ 7:16 pm

Eskimo Bill was giving me some sass about my unabashed use of the default template, so I figured I’d do something different. Since I don’t have the patience to fool about with CSS and the like, I pretty much downloaded the first thing I saw that I didn’t hate.

So while I don’t know if it’s better, it’s different. I like it.

July 8, 2005

First Post!

Filed under: Announce by Nathan @ 3:45 pm

Sooooo…I recently left my job Managing the software team at SI (this is to all my SI peeps – thanks for the support) to become a consultant for OBS. This has given me a little more time to think about the world and George Carlin’s place in it. I’ve been reading these so called “blogs” for about a year now, and I always thought I could land solidly in the middle of the quality scale if I really put my mind to it, but the fact is I’m a procrastinator bound by the ball-and-chain of Newton’s old friend inertia.

Then I found out that one of my ex-Calgary confreres (the inimitable Chris Scott) jumped on the wagon, so when I thought of a name one day on the train, I decided to take the plunge. I’m a wee bit cynical (and some even say I’m not very nice) so this is where I’ll host all my rants and raves on coding, movies, food, music, and the crazier happenings in the chess world (Spassky, you are CRAZY.)

Among other plans, I’ll be reviving the “mp3 of the week club” and teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony. Question of the week – is the Fantastic Four movie really so bad that even Jessica Alba isn’t hot enough to save it? Stay tuned.

Until then, shine on all you crazy diamonds – it’s gonna be a long strange trip. Well strange anyway…


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