XDC 2019 Session List

The session list for the 2019 Xojo Developers Conference (XDC) was released today at https://www.xojo.com/xdc/sessions/.  Take a look at this interesting list.

I’ve been attending Xojo developer conferences for twelve plus years (don’t remember what my first XDC was – maybe 2004?).  Each one is unique and the topics are usually interesting but do tend to be repetitive from year to year at times.  The session topics for XDC 2019 seem to be more unique than past years.

Obviously Geoff will do his keynote address and talk about what they’ve done in the past year, what they’re currently working, and what’s coming up (sometime) in the future.  There is a session each for Android, Web 2.0, API 2.0, beyond Linux, everything MS Windows, and more by the Xojo staff.

What’s left is an intriguing list of sessions that will be tough to figure out what I want to attend and which ones I can wait to see recorded (assuming they’re recorded again).  I can’t remember an XDC I’ve looked forward to more.

Carol is doing a session on Database Topics for Programmers and I’m doing one called “Xojo Mistakes We All Regret Later”.  My alternative title is “Thankfully time travel doesn’t exist otherwise my future self will no doubt come back to murder me for these stupid programming mistakes I’ve done.”

If you’ve never been to an XDC I highly recommend it.  You will get to meet some of the best Xojo developers on the planet, talk Xojo non-stop for 3 (or more) days on end, talk to Xojo staff, and have fun.  Of course that last point is mostly because of the first three.  You won’t find a bigger concentration of Xojo developers on the planet!

I hope to see you all in Miami in the first week of May.  What sessions are you excited about?

What Topics Do You Want Covered?

One of the joys of doing a blog for close to eleven years is that I feel like I’ve talked about a lot of topics and people ‘know me’ fairly well.  I always get a thrill when people tell me they’ve read this blog.  That is so cool and I thank you for your valuable time!

As many of you know I do a quick review of every Xojo release.  I often do a blurbs about updates to our own products.  Occasionally I even rant about things (you should see the posts where I never hit the Publish button!).

When I had a column in Xojo Developer magazine this blog was a convenient place to discuss the ideas from the column.  But writing a reoccurring column is tough.  Keeping a blog going for eleven years seems to be even harder.  I’ve been writing fewer and fewer posts and I’d like to change that trend.

At one point I thought about taking a topic in the Xojo Forums and talking about it in-depth  here.  We’ve been busy doing consulting work so I spend far less time on the forums than I used to but it might be an interesting way to generate new posts.

So, my fellow Xojo developers, what topics would you like to see me tackle?  Topics can include my opinions on the future of Xojo, how’s the 3rd party market doing, why did we choose <x> or <y> over <z>, or anything in between.  I’ll let you be in the drivers seat for while.

Some ground rules:

  • If you’re rude to me, my staff, or Xojo staff I’ll just delete the comment, ban you, and move on.
  • Keep it simple – this is a blog and not a magazine.  Though that doesn’t mean I can’t do a multi-part blog post.
  • I reserve judgement to make more rules as I think of them.  😉

So what topics do you have?

Xojo 2018 R3

The latest version of Xojo hit the internet this week.  Release 3 has a number of important new features, some changes, and the usual assortment of big and small bug fixes.  So let’s get to the highlights!

The flashiest new thing in Xojo is that it natively supports macOS 10.14 Mojave.  This means that the entire IDE (as well as all of the peripheral apps like Feedback, Linqua, and the Remote Debug Stub) draws properly when the user has Dark Mode enabled in Mojave.  

Perhaps it’s my older eyes the IDE seems very ‘light’ in color in Light Mode – meaning that there’s a lot of white and grey and the contrast isn’t nearly as prominent as it was in R2 and earlier.  Where some buttons have a slight 3D effect the buttons in R3 are flat with no grey background.  Funny enough, I think the contrast of the IDE in Dark Mode is better.

2018 R2

2018 R3

As a long-time Mac user I’m not entirely sold on Dark Mode.  Some of that is change and that I’m just not used to it yet.  In some respects I feel like I’m reverting to my college PC where light text on a black screen was the norm.  I guess the more things change the more they stay the same.

A new property, SupportsDarkMode was added to the Build Properties section to build apps with Dark Mode enabled.  To help developers the application class has a new event named AppearanceChanged to let them know when the OS has switched between light and dark modes.  

Labels, TextFields, and TextAreas running on Mojave will now use the automatic system colors to get the correct appearance on light and dark modes when text is test to opaque black (0, 0, 0, 255) and backgrounds set to opaque white (255, 255, 255, 255).  In a similar fashion, FillColor, TextColor, and FrameColor now map to proper light/dark system colors.

Since there are many OS colors available than what Xojo provides natively, you might want to look at CSTrueColors by Ulrich Bogun at https://drive.google.com/open?id=1vg-sN8_7mz18zeu9XoRWZaBc8Tm-_Enb.  

Currently Xojo does NOT support Windows dark mode but is looking into it.  A Xojo blog post suggests that Microsoft has released several API’s for dark mode and another one is due in the near future.

Incremental compiling for LLVM/64-bit targets now works.  The first run can still take some time but after that it should only compile changes.  This should significantly reduce cycle times on debugging 64-bit applications.

In Windows Xojo updated the text rendering so that it matches Win32 controls.  I’m just guessing but if Xojo ever moves away from Win32 controls the text rendering will have to change to match.  

Windows is now using the native Win32 Label control.  Overall drawing seems to be significantly faster with this change.

Among the changes is one that might affect a lot of legacy projects (we have a number of these) is that drawing directly to the Graphics property is no longer allowed.  To be explicitly clear about the change this does not affect, in any way, the graphics parameters passed into a canvas or window Paint event, nor does it affect getting the Graphics object from a Picture object.  This only affects the graphics *property* on Canvas and Windows classes.  The fact that it’s continued to work for all this time says that it was definitely time to retire this ‘feature’. 

There is also a list of 79 bug fixes.  Some Windows, Mac, and Linux framework issues fixed.  A couple of changes to MySQLCommunityServer and Postgres.  SQLite was updated.

Xojo 2018 Release 3 isn’t just about Mojave dark mode.  The 64-bit incremental compiling is a most welcome feature.  The speed increases in Windows drawing is also well worth the upgrade.  As always, please test your projects fully before releasing them into the wild.

What is your favorite new feature, change, or bug fix?  Anything causing you problems?  What are your thoughts on Dark Mode and the contrast of colors in the IDE?

Xojo 2018 Release 2

Xojo 2018 Release 2 is now available.  This release is heavy on fixes with some for the IDE, for Windows, Linux, and some new features for iOS.  

In iOS, the iOSTable now supports Pull-To-Refresh.  iOSTable now does a better job with variable height rows by setting the UseDynamicHeight property and lets the row height be determined by the content of the cell.  The inserting and removing of rows and sections is now animated if they are in the visible section of the table.  The IOSHTMLViewer is now using WKWebView instead of UIWebView.  A fix to the AutoLayout editor now tries to keep you from making constraints that could cause crashes.

Windows received a ton of love in this release but the biggest change is related to drawing.  Xojo 2018 R1 introduced a new way of drawing in Windows that effectively eliminated flicker but it also severely limited the speed of drawing.  R2 appears to have mostly fixed this issue by calling additional Paint events rather than caching pictures.  As always you should test the Windows versions of your apps to see if the drawing speed is acceptable for you.  Many of the old ways to eliminate flicker actually make drawing really slow now so test, test, test!

Besides the drawing issues there were plenty of other Windows changes as well.  Printing in no longer limited to 96 DPI.  BevelButton, HTMLViewer, Listbox, Xojo.IO.TextOutputStream/BinaryStream, Xojo.Net.HTTPSocket, Sliders, Object2D, OpenGLSurface, ContainerControls, and TabPanels were all touched in this release.

Linux and Raspberry Pi wasn’t ignored in this release either.  BevelButton, Listbox, HTMLViewer, and GroupBox received updates to fix various bugs.  Of note, the HTMLViewer on the Pi no longer hard crashes the application.

A change that could affect some people is that Graphics API now takes Doubles instead of Integers for better precision.  It probably won’t be a big deal for many developers but you will definitely want to try your drawing in non-HiDPI and HiDPI modes to see if anything has changed.  I did a quick test with Shorts, Formatted Text Control, and Tab Control and didn’t notice any drawing glitches so it’s possible that the average developer will be unaffected by it.  

Another graphics change is a new AntiAliasMode property that controls the quality level when drawing scaled pictures.  There are three modes:  Low, Default, and HighQuality.  Default Quality, I think, is simply what we have now.  The documentation (AntiAliasMode is missing from the built-in documentation but is online) is unclear as to how Default compares to Low and High Quality.  Testing should reveal this.  Also unclear from the documentation is how this affects speed but one can presume that High Quality will be a little slower but I have not tested this.

There are two new functions added to the SpecialFolder class.  The new Resources function returns the appropriate platform specific resources directory if it exists.  The new GetResource takes the passed in name and returns the file (if found).  Neither of these new functions are found in either the built-in or online documentation.

As always please review the Release Notes to see if anything affects you or interests you.

Documentation and examples are one of those things that no one likes to do.  But given the audience that Xojo caters to (the Citizen Developer) I am always amazed that things that are added to the framework often don’t have an example project.  I might be wrong (because I didn’t check every single example) but the new IOSTableRefresh and new animations don’t have an example project.  Nor is there anything for the new AntiAliasMode.  

The new SharedFolder.Resources and GetResource methods aren’t in any of the available documentation (other than release notes) but at least Resources is used in the SpecialFolderPaths project.  However, that example isn’t listed in the Release Notes as being changed.

The documentation not being available at release is simply unacceptable.  Each new feature should have an easy to find example project demonstrating its use (preferably available during the beta period too).  I also recommend having a folder for each version that has shortcuts to all of the examples that are new or modified for the current release.  Every release this list changes so the examples list doesn’t get loaded up with folders from old releases.  Regardless, I’m very disappointed the documentation in this release.  Xojo needs to do better.

Anything in this release that you’re happy, or unhappy, about?

Chrono-Optimism

At the XDC Keynote a few weeks ago Geoff Perlman said they’d no longer give target dates for new features.  Instead they’re going to say what’s a ‘priority’ and what’s ‘important’.  Software projects are often big and complex and it’s very hard to estimate the amount of work involved with a new feature.  “Happiness is all about having expectations met,” said Geoff and I think it’s fair to say that Xojo has typically been overly optimistic on when a feature is going to ship (much less when it’s going to be usable).  So instead they’re going to stop predicting when a feature will be released.

If you hear them say it’s ‘Important’, it’s something they’re seriously looking into.  It will be in the product in the not too distant future.  A ‘priority’ means it’s either in active development or will be shortly.  The Rapid Release Model is still in play which means we will still get releases three or four times a year.

In one sense I’m disappointed that they’re not going to give us any timeframe for new features.  I really want to know when Web 2.0 is going to ready for testing as we have a number of projects in development or about ready to start development that it would be really nice to know if it’s a 90 day, 120 day, or longer window.  Android is a nice to have feature, but since I’m not doing much mobile development it’s not that important to us, but I can see how for some it is a huge need.

In another sense I understand why they’re not going to give us target dates any more.  They’ve missed every projected release date that I can think of and I’m going back a lot of years.  It was about a year ago this week, in Berlin, that Geoff said that Android would be out by the end of 2017 when the reality is that we’ll be lucky if we see it by the end of 2018 (that’s just a guess on my part and having having been around a long time).  I would love to be wrong on that guess but it’s a new target that involves a ton of compiler, framework, and IDE work not to mention the need for Interops (a dependency) to work well.

Estimating a project is not a science.  You’re asking software developers to take a wild guess at how long a big feature is going to take.  When you make that initial guess you don’t know that replacing this small piece of code will affect this much larger piece of code over here.  Or cause this other piece to not work right thus forcing you to redo that other piece too.

In some respects creating a new project is considerably easier than replacing code.  In new projects you’re touching everything anyway but subconsciously you’re holding most, if not all, of the work in your mind and you shape it as you go.  Big, existing projects, or OPC (Other Peoples Code) projects, are considerably harder since not only do you have to read the code but also figure out the intent of the code and second guess what the original developer was attempting – not always an easy task.  I’ve never seen the code for the IDE but I’d imagine dozens of people have worked on it over the years with varying degrees of competency and coding styles.  So whatever work you do you have to read, interpret, change, and test to make sure it doesn’t break something somewhere else.  Tack on multiple environments and targets and it’s a herculean task.

I’ve spent the last four years working with my son’s FRC robotics team (team 1982) as the programming mentor.  They have six weeks to design and build a robot to a very demanding set of specifications before they crate it for competition.  These 120 pound robots are relatively complex and I’ve seen it time and time again where the kids have ‘Chrono-Optimism’ in what they believe they can get done in after-school meetings (some with mentors present and some without) and on Saturdays.  Granted, they spend a LOT of time working on the robot, but they’re just kids and most of them have never done anything like this before.  They don’t know what they don’t know and most years they’re scrambling just to get a working robot.

This year, the group of seniors really thought about what they wanted to do.  They knew it would be challenging, but they decided to change their build process and use a more modular hardware design which meant new gear boxes, wheels, framing, etc.  They also decided to build two robots which, for a team that’s never done that before, was …ambitious.  Then they decided that they wanted to go two regional tournaments.  Again, ambitious for a team that’s never done that.  From previous years they also learned something else:  they were attempting to design too much on the robot.  If there were three major tasks that a robot had to accomplish they couldn’t do all three with the resources and experience they had.  They couldn’t change the amount of time to build the robot so they changed the one thing they could – the scope of work – and made the robot simple and sturdy.

The Universe works in mysterious ways and has ways of throwing a monkey wrench into the best of plans.  The last day of build season this year happened to be a day off so the plan was to have a twelve hour work day to finish the robot and test.  Instead, Kansas City had a snow storm which cancelled all school activities.  The robot was not mechanically complete and not functional programming-wise.  The kids were devastated.  But there is a silver lining to their story.

The robot was crated away and couldn’t be worked on for weeks, but the second robot allowed them to work on the programming and driver training.  The modular design allowed them to plan the work they needed to do at the tournament before it started.  The simplicity of the robot meant that the work could actually get done in a short amount of time before taking to the field.

To conclude this story (because I’m bragging now), the team won their first tournament which qualified them for World Championships.  They were the eight seed alliance captain in their second tournament.  At the world championships, they finished 42nd of 67 teams, but were picked as part of the 6th seed alliance.  They won in the quarter finals and ended up getting to the semi-finals where they were defeated by the alliance that went on to be third in the overall tournament (out of 400 teams).  All because they examined their past behavior and decided to change it.  They knew they were bad at estimating and changed their expectations.

I will give credit to Xojo for realizing that, like most of us, they are Chrono-Optimistic in their estimates, and decided to change how they communicate to their customers.  As Geoff said, part of their job is setting expectations and they’ve been really bad at it.  It’s clear that they said ‘estimate’ and we heard it as a ‘promise’ which is partially on us.  So now we have what’s a ‘Priority’ and what’s ‘Important’.  I don’t know if this will help them, or us, in the long run but it will be different and I’m willing to play along for now.

What do you think about this change?  Negative, positive, or neutral about it?

Updates

One of my goals for 2018 is to write more.  So here’s an update on stuff.

We hired a new developer who comes on board in a few weeks.  I’m really excited about his Xojo experience and what he brings to the company.

The planets and stars aligned and I will be going to XDC in Denver next month.  This makes me very happy as XDC is one of my favorite events!  I get to immerse myself in Xojo for a week and see all my friends and meet new ones.  I’m not presenting so that makes life a little easier too.

The week of XDC is going to be hectic as the weekend before as the FRC robotics team my son is on will be attending the World Championships in Houston.  Last weekend they won the Heartland Regional Tournament in Kansas City.  After a pretty disastrous first day where a lot of mechanical issues arose they had a solid last day, got picked by the 3rd seeded alliance, and eventually won the tournament (an alliance is composed of three teams) and advanced, automatically, to the championship tournament in Houston.

If you are geeky and interested in what these kids build, here is the final match where they won the tournament.  https://www.thebluealliance.com/match/2018mokc2_f1m2

The Sound of Silence

Hey folks!  I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m still alive and kicking.  2018 has started off busy and chaotic.

I’ve been on-site with a client for nearly three weeks since the first of the year with a project, that while fun, has been challenging.  It involves big touch screens, credit card terminals, talking to three serial devices over USB, and calling into a Windows DLL.  This is the second major project with this client.  The first one required using Xojo for iOS with an integrated barcode scanner.

My son is a senior in high school (and all that entails) and co-captain of the FIRST robotics team.  I spent a good chunk of my limited free time writing their scouting application not only for desktop (Mac and Win) but for iOS as well (using Xojo of course).  Nothing like doing a big(ish) project for free.  Oh yeah, I’m nominally the programming mentor though I’ve had to step back some (since being out of town so much).

If you want to learn more about FIRST robotics and the challenge for 2018 go look at https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/game-and-season  I can’t say enough good things about FIRST and what it’s teaching these kids.  I believe the future is bright when I see what these kids accomplish (mostly) by themselves.  For what it’s worth my son received a really nice scholarship to a good university because of his FIRST robotics involvement.

To add into this mix BKeeney Software has been shorthanded for a variety of reasons.  My workload tripled a few weeks ago and we’re actively looking for a new Xojo developer.  As if I needed more things to do.  🙂

Mostly because of senior year commitments only one staff member is going to XDC in Denver.  This saddens me, a lot, since I haven’t missed an XDC since 2004 (I think).  It also means it’s unlikely that we’ll make it to the MBS conference in Munich this Fall.

I’m looking forward to some much needed time off.  I hoping that once things settle down and a new developer (or two) is on board I can get back to writing more.  2018 is going to be a big year for Xojo with so many things coming on board (the new web framework, interops, 64-bit debugging FINALLY working in Windows, and Android to name a few).

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!

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.