MBS Xojo Developer Conference 2017

Xojo isn’t having their annual conference as they’ve decided to switch back to spring events. Since they last did one in October of 2016 they are not doing one in 2017. It makes me sad that I won’t see my friends until 2018. Thankfully, Monkeybread Software is holding a Xojo conference in Berlin on May 4th and May 5th, 2017 to tide me over..

This two day conference, held in the heart of Berlin, Germany, will boast the biggest Xojo get together of the year. Several people from Xojo Inc will be attending and Geoff Perlman will deliver the keynote address where I’m sure we’ll hear about many of the upcoming features of Xojo.

We will be there too. Carol will be giving a Database Design Mistakes session that she was hoping to give at XDC 2016 but had to cancel due to a grandson showing up. I will be giving a Reporting in Xojo talk showing off Shorts and some of the new features we’ll have added to the product by then.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I love these conferences. It’s where we can learn some new things about Xojo, and, more importantly, make friendships that can last a lifetime. I can tell you, from experience, that meeting the people you’ve ‘talked’ to on the forums is a magical experience.

Carol and I have never been to Berlin so we will do some sightseeing. We haven’t set our flights yet but we’ll be happy to try and coordinate with our Xojo friends. Let us know what sorts of things you’re doing and dates.

See you in Berlin, May 4th and 5th. To register for the conference, please go to http://www.monkeybreadsoftware.de/xojo/events/register.shtml

May your 2017 be better than 2016.

The Xojo Community is Awesome

Have I told you how much I love the Xojo community?  I’ve been part of it for fifteen years and I’ve met hundreds of Xojo developers at developers conferences and probably exchanged emails with thousands more.  I am amazed at how much this community helps each other and I wish there was a way to promote that as a key feature of the product.  It’s a big deal.  Really!

If you’re just starting out using Xojo know that there are a bunch of people, myself included, that are willing to help out, if we can, on your journey.  Programming is hard.  Well, I don’t think it’s hard because I’ve been doing it for so long, but it is complex at times and that makes it hard.  Just ask your question in the Xojo forums and you’ll almost always get an answer within hours.

Even Xojo pros, such as myself, have need of help.  Xojo covers Mac, Windows, Linux desktop, console, and web apps.  It does iOS apps for iPhone and iPad.  It now does Raspberry Pi for heavens sake!  It works with dozens of different databases.  There is simply no way any one person is going to know everything there is to know about Xojo.  It just can’t happen.  So yes, I go to the forums, all the time, and ask for help.

Just the other day I asked for some help with WooCommerce.  Not Xojo related, really, but certainly related to a project we’re working on for a client.  Within a few hours I had half a dozen developers private message me saying they might be able to help.  Subsequent contact narrowed that list down a bit but the point is that I have probably shaved off several days worth of work simply by asking for advice.

I am biased towards Xojo, naturally, as it’s been my primary development language for fifteen years.  I think I’d be hard pressed to find such a friendly community.  I call many on the forums my friends even though I’ve never physically met them.  The few that I’ve met in person have lived up to their forum reputations and are really friends for life.

So maybe this is my belated Thanksgiving post.  I am thankful that so many years ago I jumped both feet first into the tool.  I asked questions – many of the silly and redundant.  I became more proficient and then made another jump to start blogging about it, making products for other developers, and training the next generation of developers.

So if you are in need of a cross-platform development tool I highly recommend Xojo.  It ain’t perfect but no development tool is.  If you jump in I think you’ll love the community.  I know I do.

What say you fellow Xojo developers?

Happy 50th Birthday Star Trek!

Today is the 5enterprise-movie-facebook-timeline-cover-photo0th anniversary of Star Trek.  For many people it inspired us to be better people and get involved in technology.  I think I can say with some relative certainty that I would not be who I am today if I had not watched Star Trek.

I am too young to remember when Star Trek originally ran but it was a staple of syndication by the time I was a youngster growing up in rural America.  This was a time before satellite television and we had only four channels (the horror!).  Star Trek was on every Sunday afternoon and it quickly became a must-watch show in our family.
One of my fondest memories was going to my grandmothers house and watching Star Trek with my cousin.  She was the only family member that had a color television and she was content to let us watch “that show” as long as we relinquished control before the Lawrence Welk Show came on.  Good times, let me tell you.

I recently attended the World Con convention in Kansas City.  This is one of the big science fiction and fantasy conventions of the year where the Hugo Award is given out.  Think of it as the Oscars for SF and Fantasy writers/readers.  I attended quite a few writers panels where panelists brought up Star Trek as being a major influence.  It was surprising to find that authors that I admired had the same influence as me.

Star Trek is part of the pop culture now.  Who doesn’t know what a Vulcan or Klingon is?  It’s what every show about space travel is compared to in some way.  The impact it has made on our culture is huge.
Star Trek is surprisingly liberal when you think about it.  It was where liberal ideas got presented to a conservative audience in a way that was palatable.  It made a huge difference in the lives of many people.  Black men and women saw Uhura on the command bridge doing real and important things and no one (on the show at least) cared that she was a woman or black.  As a kid I didn’t know it was a big deal that Kirk and Uhura kissed.

Star Trek and its subsequent followup shows talked about the politics, religious, and social issues of their era.  Of course you didn’t know it at the time – it was just entertaining – but like any good science fiction story it explored the grey areas of the day.  In my opinion, science fiction is the last remaining political and social commentary avenue available for modern era writers because it’s not about ‘us’ it’s about the future or some alien civilization.  It’s easier to see the injustice when it’s not about present day us.

There are other numerous examples of how Star Trek predicted the future, or perhaps helped change the future.  Automatic doors, cell phones, tablets, talking computers, and any number of other ‘futuristic’ technologies in Star Trek are now commonplace.  Imagine what the next fifty years will hold for us technology wise!

The other thing that I love about Star Trek is that it gives us hope for the future.  A future where we’ve learned to work together for the greater good for all species.  To not ignore our differences but to embrace the diversity of ideas that we all bring to the table.  To use technology for good things but also be wary of its abuses.

Happy Birthday, Star Trek.  Let’s hope the next 50 years are as fun, memorable, and thought-provoking!

To Be or NOT To Be

I’m probably getting into quasi-religious questions here, but I’ve been reading someone elses code in an OPC (Other Peoples Code) project and they use a lot of statements like this:

If Not aBooleanValue then
   
   //do something here

I find this harder to read and much prefer:

If aBooleanValue = false then
   
   //do something here

I understand why people want to use the former but to me it reads backwards.  I have to flip the value in my mind before the variable and then keep that in mind for the eventual comparison later.

And don’t get me going on people that do things like this:

If Not (SomeFunction > 0) then

//do something here

To me, that’s just being too lazy to correct your code.  What should be explicitly clear is now not so clear (granted, this is a super easy example but you get my point).  I like to code for explicitness which means it’s easier to read (by me or someone else) weeks, months, or years from now.

I’m lazy.  I freely admit this.  I prefer to see the test values explicitly called out.  So something like this:

If aBooleanOne = True and aBooleanTwo = False and aBooleanThree = True then
   
   //do something here

is better than:

If aBooleanOne and Not aBooleanTwo and aBooleanThree then
   
   //do something here

For every ‘rule’ of course there’s an exception.  For simple boolean comparisons where I am checking for true I tend to write:

if aBooleanValue then
   
   //do something here

The True check is explicit and there’s only one variable to compare.  As soon as I use a second variable I will change it to be more explicit.

It’s such a little thing but when reading code one seems much easier than the other.  Or perhaps it’s just my OCD shining through.

What do you think?  Am I being overly critical or do you have similar beliefs?

The Power of Meeting Face to Face

In Kansas City this past weekend I attended MidAmerican 2, or WorldCon.  WorldCon is a Science Fiction and Fantasy fans dream come true.  Thousands of people from around the world attended hundreds of sessions covering television shows, movies, author readings and signings, many sessions on how to write, and much more.   It is a long convention at five days that culminates with the Hugo Awards ceremony (think the Academy Awards for science fiction and fantasy).

I am an aspiring science fiction writer (nothing published yet but I’m working on it!).  This convention was an excellent way to immerse myself with professional and amateur writers and learn.  There is something powerful about hearing people that have already “made it”.  Many of them still fight “Imposter Syndrome” and many have issues with the business of writing.  Writing is a solitary business and many are introverts and selling themselves is often nerve wracking.

Do these issues sound familiar?  They should.  In many ways, Xojo developers are much like writers in that they work in a vacuum with little feedback from others.  I know I personally struggle with Imposter Syndrome despite having done this gig for fifteen years and being ‘successful’ (whatever that means).  And much like writing, the only way to get better at Xojo programming is to do Xojo programming.

It seems a bit anachronistic to fly somewhere to meet with people.  After all, the internet makes this easier, right?  There is something powerful about being face-to-face with another person and being able to provide instant feedback.  We also tend to be much more polite in person than online and that’s a huge plus in my opinion.  I’ve met some wonderful people, in person, that online seem rude at best and sometimes simply belligerent.  The internet might make people more accessible but it seems to removal societal filters too, sadly.

In a month and a half Xojo is holding its annual Xojo Developers Conference (XDC) in Houston, Texas.  At XDC, Xojo developers from around the world will join together for three days of sessions covering practically every development topic you can think of.  And if you have a question that’s not covered you’ll be able to find someone to help you.  Besides the many amateurs and professionals attending you’ll have ample opportunities to talk to the Xojo engineers.

It’s not uncommon for businesses looking for a developer to attend XDC.  It gives them the unique opportunity to talk to many Xojo developers in a short amount of time.  We (BKeeney Software) typically speak to one or two prospective clients at XDC each year.  If you’re a consultant this conference should be on your ‘must attend’ list as it can pay for itself many times over if you land just one project.

Today is the last day to save $100 off the conference registration.  Sign up to learn and be inspired and to make some new friends.  See you in Houston!  http://www.xojo.com/store/#conference

 

Imposter Syndrome

Today I’m going to talk about the Imposter Syndrome.  That feeling that says everyone knows you’re faking it and they’re going to find out, at any minute, that you’re a fraud.  You’ll be cast down into the depths of despair in humiliation because EVERYONE WILL KNOW YOU SUCK!

I’ve experienced this feeling and I’ve had conversations with developers I greatly admire that struggle with this too.  This is both heartening because it means we’re not alone in this despair, but it’s also sad since that means there’s really not a point where you’ve ‘made it.’
Feeling like an imposter doesn’t go away as you gain experience but it’s not as big a deal.  With more experience you know the things you know and have hopefully gained enough knowledge and wisdom to know where to start looking for the things you don’t know.  Still, sometimes, you have to fake it.

Wait, fake it?  Yes.  Sometimes you have to be an imposter.  Let me use a poor analogy to explain it a bit more.

When you start a new video game you just start playing, right?  You know a few rules and as you progress you make mistakes.  You learn from them and at some point you level up.  This comes with a fancy cut scene showing your character victorious over the foe, gaining an object of some value, and gaining experience.  Your character is more wise and capable of doing more things.  You were up for the challenge and overcame the barriers to the next level.LevelUp

Being a consultant and software developer is no different than a video game.  You have to play the game to learn the rules.  The consequences of not learning the rules can be disastrous but hopefully you’ve done your research so those rules don’t kill you (metaphorically speaking, of course).

At some point you level up from time and experience doing consulting and programming projects.  Sadly, there is no amazing cut scene with dramatic music since we rarely, if ever, see the level up process.  It’s shame really because I’d really like to have dramatic music just play from nowhere and obtain some cool device from my endeavors.  But I digress.

For a Xojo consultant, like myself, it’s knowing parts of the framework really well and realizing that I don’t know some parts as well.  I do a ton of small example projects to learn those bits better.  It means creating my own tools to make my daily life easier.  Those tools involve ActiveRecord, and Shorts to name a few.  These were not developed overnight but over the period of a decade.

So the next time you feel the Imposter Syndrome hitting, recognize that it’s a natural part of the process.  You leveled up without noticing and that’s okay.  You can handle it.  It means you’re winning.

Implicit Instance is Evil

Xojo has had Implicit Instances of Windows and WebPages from the very beginning and I was so happy when they gave us the option of using it or not.  I can tell you from experience debugging newbie apps that Implicit Instance is evil because it often leads to subtle and hard to find errors.

The implicit instance lets us do some very simple things like:

window1.show

Window1 is shown.  No big deal.  For simple apps this is no problem and fast and easy.  That simplicity comes with some perils because window1 loads whenever any control or property on that window is checked.

For example, a lot of developers will do something  like this:

window1.close //close the window

if window1 <> nil then
   
   //Window is open.  WTF!  I just closed it!
   
end

The problem is that simply by doing this comparison, window1 is loaded into memory and depending on the other window settings it may become visible.  It drives developer crazy.

Setting ImplicitInstance = false forces the developer to make a new instance of Window1 if they want to use it:

dim w as new Window1

w.show

I think this is the preferable approach because it’s safer.  It will never give you Window1 by accident.  In fact, if you attempt to do this with window1.implicitinstace = false:

if window1 <> nil then
   
   //Do something.
   
end

The Xojo compiler will give you an error that says:  Expected a value of type class Window1.Window1, but found a static namespace reference to class Window1.Window1.  This is a roundabout way of saying you can’t call window1 directly since that’s the class name when in reality you need to be checking for an instance of the class. That class instance cannot be named Window1 (because that’s the class name).

So how would you check to see if a Window is already open?  That’s easy.  The Window and WindowCount methods are there for you to do just that.  Iterate through the window listing and when you use the ISA method to ask if it’s of type Window1.  If it is, then do something.

  for i as integer = 0 to WindowCount-1

if window(i) isa Window1 then
   
   //Do something with the Window1 instance.
   
   //You have to cast it as Window1 from the Window method
   
   dim w as window1
   
   w = Window1(window(i))
   
   w.someproperty = false //set a public property
   
   w.LoadNewData //call a public method
   
   w.show //brings the window to the front
   
end

next

A common thing to do is close all instances of a particular window.  Using the above code might fail if you have multiple instances of a window open.  Here is the code that closes all instances of a type of window.

  for i as integer = windowcount-1 downto 0

if window(i) isa Window1 then
   
   window(i).close
      
   end
   
next

In this case we must iterate backwards through the array.  Think about it if you are confused as to why.  Better yet, test it yourself.

Web apps have a similar property in the WebSession.PageCount and WebSession.PageAtIndex methods.

  for i as integer = 0 to session.PageCount-1

dim w as WebPage = Session.PageAtIndex(i)

if w is a WebPage1 then
   
   //do something with WebPage1
   
end

next

The drawback, if you can call it that, to having Implicit Instance = false is that as you call new windows or web pages you haven’t done anything to the old ones.  Depending upon your application this may cause long term memory issues especially as the app gets a collection of pages that are no longer used.   For short lived apps this usually isn’t a problem.

To solve this you can either iterate through the existing windows/pages to find the one you’re looking to reuse or simply close it as you open your new one.  Either way, I don’t think the burden is too high.

It is my not-so-humble opinion, that leaving ImplicitInstance = true is bad for you as a Xojo programmer.  Simply put, Implicit Instance is evil and you should avoid using it – especially in larger applications.

What say you my Xojo developers?    Do you like to turn Implicit Instance off or do you even care?

You Don’t Need to Be A Rock Star

I have been a Xojo consultant for nearly fourteen years.  It’s crazy to think it’s been that long and it’s sometimes hard to remember back to the early days of how I knew nothing and didn’t even realize that I knew nothing.

It also tickles me to no end that people consider me an ‘important’ person in the community.  Some might even consider me a ‘rock star’.  I claim no fame in the Xojo world other than I’ve stuck it out when many other developers have left the Xojo ecosystem.  Let’s just say that at times I feel like I’m the Last Man (consultant) Standing.

Can you become a Xojo consultant?  Absolutely!  There is nothing special about what I’ve done and you can do it too.  I have an electrical engineering degree so it’s not like I’m an idiot and it wasn’t until I met my wife who happened to be a software developer that I was given permission to change careers.

In retrospect that was the best thing that ever happened to me (besides meeting the love of my life).  I was an uninspiring engineer and I dreaded many of the tasks that I performed on a daily basis.  Software development, on the other hand, inspires me.  I wake up every day and (usually) can’ wait to start coding.  The fact that I get paid to do it is just icing on the cake.  To get paid to do what I love?  Sign me up!

If you know a little bit about Xojo you can become a consultant.  First, ask yourself WHY you want to be a consultant.  If it’s for the money don’t expect it to happen right away.  I think it was two or three years before we really made any money at it.  It took six years before I hired a second developer and ten years before a third and twelve before bringing my wife on as a software developer (she had always been doing those pesky taxes and payroll things that I hate doing).

So if you do become a consultant don’t expect to make money right away.  Or if you do, don’t expect the money to be consistent for a number of years.  Even now we fight with cash flow so it takes some discipline to ride out the really good times when cash flow is great and the not-so-good times when cash flow is poor.

The road to becoming a ‘name’ is not a quick one.  I spent many years in obscurity.  The first developer conference I went to I was a wall flower and barely talked to anyone.  By the third conference I co-hosted a session with another consultant because I didn’t feel like I was qualified enough to do it on my own.  Now I’m a regular presenter at the developer conferences.

One way to become a recognized name in the community is to teach others.  I’ve written a fair number of tutorials and example projects and I decided to doing video training and so far I’ve got about sixty-two hours of video available for streaming (and offline use now) with hundreds of individual videos and project files for new developers to learn from.

I think this is the part that makes people think that I’m a ‘rock star’.  I get people coming up to me all the time at conferences and engaging me in conversation and thanking me for some forum post, tutorial, or training video that made a difference for them.  It’s gratifying and sometimes a little scary (as an introvert) to have people do that.

Here’s my dirty little secret on those tutorials, example projects, and training videos.  Those are my way to learn something about Xojo and leveraging that experience for others.  Put another way:  The best way to learn something is to teach it to others.  If you are not doing something like this (maybe not for sale but for yourself) you should be.  That’s the only way you’re going to learn parts of Xojo you don’t know as well.  You really don’t want to learn new stuff on client projects (though it does happen occasionally).

As a consultant I don’t know everything.  There are still things that I’ve never touched in Xojo and things that I touch so rarely that I have to go relearn it.  Those small projects become invaluable review later on.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from becoming a Xojo consultant.  It’s not an easy road at times and it is sometimes frustrating and you put in long hours and you deal with bad clients and all the really bad things that come with consulting.  But the money can be good, it can be fun, it can be rewarding, and some clients you’ll be friends with for many years.  If you love, truly love, coding and enjoy the mysteries of it and putting the pieces of the puzzle together then maybe you, too, can become a rock star consultant.

Happy coding!

HBO Now Less Than Satisfying

It’s my day off.  This is a non-developer post so if you’re expecting Xojo related stuff come back later.

I admit that we’re not typical television viewers.  We just don’t watch live TV anymore.  What we’ve gotten in the habit of doing is watching TV series on Netflix through our Apple TV.  All the joys of TV without the annoying commercials and we can binge watch two or three episodes at time whenever we want.

We’ve gone through the entire Star Trek universe (some twice with our two boys being such disparate ages), Sherlock Holmes, FireFly, Babylon 5 (when it was available for streaming), Doctor Who, Torchwood, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Battlestar Galactica, and many other series that are forgettable.

The point is that we pick and choose what we want to watch.  Yes, we have cable but it’s the bare bones minimum package.  Our city is one of the lucky places to have Google Fiber and we plan on cutting the cord and getting rid of cable entirely (assuming they ever wire up our neighborhood).  We don’t watch live TV now so why should I keep paying for a service we don’t use?  That money adds up.

When Apple announced that HBO Now was coming to the Apple TV I was excited.  Having a free month was a great incentive so I signed up and so far I’ve managed to go through several seasons of Game of Thrones but I am not impressed with the app.  Let me rephrase it:  I HATE this app.

The HBO Now app crashes – a lot.  In the span of an hour episode today, in the middle of the afternoon, it crashed six times.  I don’t know if it’s HBO, AppleTV, my ISP, or a combination of all three but it sucks and I cannot recommend that you purchase the service.

Every time I start the HBO Now app I feel like I’m rolling a saving throw and must get a 20 or it crashes.  Apparently the die is weighted wrong because I can’t remember a time where I started it and it just played with no issues.

I find the UI to be awful.  I’m watching a series.  It doesn’t remember the series (even though I’ve added it to my watch list) and there’s no visual indicating if I’ve already watched an episode or not so you end up hunting through episodes.  GOT has kind of a long intro and if you try to fast forward, guess what happens?  You increase your risk of crashing.  Want to throw subtitles on (because accents can sometimes be hard to pick out), guess what?  That also increases the chance of a crash.

So tell me why I’m paying for a crappy UI and an app/service that crashes all the time?  I expect better and if they want my money HBO will have to get MUCH better and soon.  If Netflix and Apple can stream video consistently, without any issues, why can’t HBO?

[Updated to reflect that it was the HBO Now and NOT HBO Go app that was crashing]

XDC 2015 Recap

The Xojo Developers Conference is my favorite week of the year.  It’s where I go to renew friendships, make new ones, talk to potential clients, learn from other Xojo developers, and learn what Xojo is up to.  Along the way there’s usually a surprise or two and this year was no exception.

The first surprise from XDC was that all sessions were recorded.  All attendees will get access to the sessions.  Currently it’s unknown if they will be available to the general public for free, or for a fee.  During the wrap-up session several people gave an impassioned plea to make these available to everyone at no cost.  The argument is that their experience with other conferences showed attendance actually goes up after releasing session recordings.

Not really much of a surprise since they’ve been telling us this for over a year now, but 64 bit builds are coming in 2015 R3.  This is indeed welcome news in a  software world that’s quickly becoming 64 bit.  From what I gather from people way smarter than me (insert joke here) is that 64 bit won’t really change anything in our apps and won’t give us much, if any, enhancements, and will make some things slower.  As Geoff joked at the conference, let’s hope that 128 bit computing doesn’t come any time soon.

Drag and Drop for web applications is coming for R3 as well and I expect this to be a big deal.  There are just some times of applications that do well with a drag and drop environment.  Think graphical editors where you have an object that you select and move by dragging it.  The current web framework has drag events but they should absolutely not be used – ever – since they don’t really work like we expect.  Drag and Drop might very well be my favorite news from XDC.

Raspberry Pi apps built using Xojo.  I think this is a wonderful addition to the product.  Raspberry Pi is a hugely popular processor because of its price and it’s used in a lot of places.  Hobbyists and the DIY crowd really like it and I’ve seen more and more ‘professional’ level projects with them too.  Heck, my sons 3D printer is run by a Raspberry Pi.  The XDC crowd didn’t react much to it when they announced it but as the week went on it came up in conversation more and more.  What a great way to introduce Xojo to new developers!  Really, the only question that’s come up is how much will it cost?  We already know it will be part of the Pro license but what about those that don’t need all the other stuff?

One unexpected surprise was the mention of the long deprecated and removed SpriteSurface and SuperSpriteSurface.  It seems that more than a few people got their start in Xojo/REALbasic developing games using it.  SpriteSurface wasn’t a great class, in my opinion, but it was enough to get started and getting people exposed to the language.  Perhaps we’ll see a Son of SpriteSurface in the future?

One thing that I expected to hear more about but didn’t was Auto Layout.  Norman had a session on it but other than there wasn’t a mention of it anywhere.

This isn’t a surprise because I’ve been many XDC’s now, but the official evening events are usually a lot of fun.  This year there was a mystery dinner theater that most found entertaining but the river cruise to watch the bats come out at dusk was awesome.  What goes on after the official events is even better as clumps of developers go exploring and Austin is a great place for exploring.

I encourage you to go to an XDC.  It’s a very nice event where you’ll learn a lot not only from the sessions but from those attending as well.  No word on where next year’s XDC will be. The cities under consideration:  Seattle, San Antonio, Miami, New Orleans, and I believe San Diego.  If you have a preference, be sure to let Xojo know.

So that’s my recap of XDC 2015.  Did any of the news surprise you?  Anything you expected to hear more about but didn’t?