Wednesday, May 30, 2007

C#, .NET, Visual Studio 2005 Express

Last year I taught as a tutor in Alan Crispin's courses "Computer-Based Applications" and "Computer-Based Graphics", which were my first introduction to C#. All these years before I had used C / C++ for all my software development activities: starting in 1990 with the conversion of road tracking software from Pascal to C, then developing new components with ANSI C for a transputer-based cluster. In 1996 I switched to Microsoft's Visual Studio and familiarized myself with C++ and the Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC). Quite a useful API for programming under Windows - I enjoyed creating ActiveX controls, and wrote a set of classes which allowed me to quickly develop software projects. I stayed up to date with updates for the Visual Studio (VS), but when the Visual Studio .NET came out in 2002, with a further update in 2003, I was not very impressed. Code development seemed much slower and more cumbersome in the .NET version, and I remained faithful to the old Visual Studio 6.0 and its latest service pack #6.

Here at Leeds Met we have site licenses for VS.NET 2003, and due to the requirements for the course I had to make the switch. But then, new versions came out, and Microsoft offered on their website Visual Studio 2005 Express editions, free of charge. After I had installed the Visual Studio Express for C# and also the .NET Framework. The latter one comes in varios versions: 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 3.0. In order to stay compatible, I installed them all, starting with the oldest version. There are also service packs available - which I installed too.

Working with Visual Studio Express is actually very nice: the IDE supports many tasks, provides quick help. Variable names are automatically completed, methods / properties of classes can be completed automatically. Since I did not know much of the internals of C# and the .NET framework, I often used the built-in help, accessing MSDN either locally or online.

The .NET framework is quite powerful. A really big step forward over MFC. When writing with MFC, I had to write a lot of code to get a simple task done. With .NET, often just a few lines do the trick.

I am now in the process of rewriting most of my previous work / classes / modules into C# and .NET. I think that this framework will stay around for a while - its potential has probably not yet been exploited to its fullest by the software developer community. Excellent classes, with lots of encapsulated functionality. In most cases I just need a small fraction of that functionality - but it is good to know that it is there.

And interesting is that the whole software development kit is free. No need yet for me to purchase a full version of Visual Studio - the Express edition works just fine. Maybe I will eventually find a weak point, but currently I will stay with that platform. Many thanks to MS for making this software available!

Big applause to Microsoft also for their support of XML - this is going to have a big impact in the Open Source community.

My current software development project: a tool for Geo-Tagging JPG images.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

LeedsMet INN Undergraduate Showcase

Yesterday (23.May) and today the annual Undergraduate Showcase takes place here at Leeds Met at the Headingley Campus. This is the event when level-3 graduate students present the results of their last year project.

As usual, there was a nice buffet in the James Graham Building.

The Vibra-Chair project: a chair which translates acoustic input into haptic vibrations.

The group which created an interactive tour guide through our Innovation North facilities.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bio-Diesel - good or bad?

As I am considering buying a new car - not sure that the Granada will pass the next MOT test, and I will have the choice of investing in it or selling it -, I am playing with the thought of getting a Diesel this time. The main reason is fuel economy: gas (petrol) is very expensive in the UK, as everywhere in Europe, compared to the US. With a Diesel I could probably safe half of the fuel costs.

My family always had a Diesel, back in 1970-1990. But I never liked it: the slow acceleration, the stinky smell of the exhaust. And then there was always the dilemma of the question, if the Diesel is more or less environmentally friendly than a Petrol car. Diesel puts out less NOx, does not need a catalytic converter - so in the 1980s it was considered to be better. But then came the discussion about toxic cancerogeneous particles, and suddenly the Diesel fared less well.

So when I bought cars, I never had a Diesel. Nowadays however, many problems of the Diesel have been solved: acceleration is much better (for example, TDI engines are quite agile), and there are particle filters in many Diesel vehicles. Remains the fuel consumption advantage, which reduces cost - and CO2 output. But Diesel still stinks... no matter how many particle filters are put in, the Diesel smell of the exhausts are just not very pleasant - one can really feel how the cancer gets stimulated into growth.

Still, the consumption and CO2 advantage are very good reasons to buy a Diesel. In addition, I recently came upon an article about conversion of Diesel engines to run on vegetable oil. Now this sounded really interesting, and I was already on the lookout for a good pre-owned Diesel car.

But then I found the other side of the coin, as discussed in this article by Lester Brown (actually I found the article on Spiegel Online from 27. March 2007 (not sure why Lester simply chose to translate his old article instead of making a new one, with newer data). The quintessence: bio-fuel leads to a competition of human vs. machines, food vs. fuel. The large conversion programs (bio-diesel, also ethanol) create a large demand for oil-producing crops - hereby increasing the price. And somehow this is not right, to grow plants which are used to feed machines instead of humans, as long as there is still a large hunger problem in the world.

So, now I have to decide what to do... maybe just get a small petrol car which also is fuel-efficient.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Our Queen in the US

Sometimes I forget that I now live in a kingdom - a United Kingdom. But in the past few days, watching the news brings this fact very intensly into conscience: the Queen visits the US. The former colony. Now that I live in the UK, she is actually also my queen. Strange, all my life before I had lived in democracies (yes, Germany is one too, nowadays), and now I am ruled by someone who inherited her power instead of getting elected. Well, ok, yes, there is a parliament too. But still, one cannot avoid realising the fact that we here in the UK live in a monarchy.

President Bush gave a state dinner, a "white tie affair", which is the highest degree of formal dinner possible. Newspapers and TV news discuss questions of etiqette... with a seriousness which borders on ridiculousness. I do not mind all that gossip about the royal family, but these efforts of the "high society" to suck up to the Royals appears quite annoying. The press today comments about Bush's fauxpass of joking and winking to the Queen. So what? Who says what one should say or not say to the Queen? Why does it matter how she is to be addressed? Why is this of any importance? She is just a human, like anyone else. I would pay my respect, but I would not give a damn on how the official etiquette would require this. Here in the UK, the reporting class of the media show their true hypocritical nature... they are obviously fascinated of that relict from past centuries, of that institution which other countries have gotten away with long time ago (see French revolution where a few heads were chopped off).

Nothing topped the exchange of two reporters - obviously both British - on CNN International yesterday evening, when one reported from Washington, from the "white tie dinner", himself being dressed in this ridiculous white tie outfit. His colleague in the studio jokingly asked him if he was just "dressed up and having no where to go". The guy obviously took it seriously, and hit back with a "you would not know how to dress for these occasions - you just know your T-shirt outfit". Then he went on to report about other things regarding that dinner. A few minutes later, when it was again the studio reporter's turn to talk, he said "I do not like you getting this personal to me - I also know how to wear a suit" (or similar, I am just paraphrasing here). Now this seems to me just indicative how "spoilt" and snobbish these upper-class reporters are. To me I would say it with pride that I know how to wear a T-shirt, and I would be actually embarrased to fall into the trap of conformism, of complying with those style rules. But hey, this is how they do things over here on the island.