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Zeros and Ones



Ramblings and musings from altFusion staff about our experiences and any other general stuff that we like.



Last Build Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 17:59:13 +0000

 



Over Engineering

Sun, 14 Feb 2010 13:26:00 +0000

I recently came across an article entitled "The Complicators Gloves" which demonstrates how easy it is to fall into the trap of over engineering a solution. It reminded of a story I was told last year whilst visiting the Kennedy Space Centre about how NASA required a pen that would write in space in the 1960's. They spent millions of dollars developing many prototypes and the requisite technology to push ink in a zero gravity environment. After several years they finally had a functioning pen.

The Russians when faced with a similar problem used a pencil.

The space pen story is untrue by the way but both of these stories demonstrate how when presented with a particular set of requirements, software engineers can make unnecessary assumptions that over complicate a solution and ultimately lead to a failed project.

It's a lesson we take seriously at altFusion. In four years we've never failed to deliver a project, and we do this by sticking to an age old rule. KISS.



We expanded during the recession. Now we have the confidence to help steer the future.

Wed, 03 Feb 2010 13:45:00 +0000

Now the world looks to be coming through the recession, we at altFusion are looking to strengthen our brand to become one of the leading developers of new technologies. We want to be at the forefront of building new and innovative online and offline systems.

The sign that we expanded (doubled in size) as a company right in the middle of the recession shows that our customers must like what we do and think we are value for money.
Now we have a good regular base of design houses and IT companies that call upon us for our knowledge and skill set, we want to utilise that cushion, and dictate some of the future of Information Technology.

We have a multitude of top secret good ideas and we are used to hearing others say they have the next "Facebook" of the X industry, and would we like a share in their possible profits once they are rich by developing it for free?
Well we have the next "altFusion" of the software industry, and when we get our revenue to a level where we can fund a couple of our developers outside of the bread and butter work, you will start to see some of it.

Regards,

The experts.




altFusion has a new website.

Fri, 22 Jan 2010 10:55:00 +0000

All of us at altFusion are proud to announce that our new website has been launched. When altFusion started out we initially put up a website that, it can be argued was only suitable for search engine spiders, and wasn’t interesting to look at from a human point of view. The initial intention was to have something that gave us web presence and experiment with different search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques. It allowed us to understand and play with different online tools, but it became apparent that nobody wanted to look around it. You can shoe horn in as many effects and technical tricks on a web page as you like, but the resulting content may not be something that will draw attention. Realising that the internet is after all, supposed to be a tool that makes life easier and more interesting for humans, not search engines, we came to a point where we needed to update our website.

Since David and Lindsay made the leap from freelancers to company directors, they have learnt a lot about running an IT solutions business. One thing in particular was knowing what does and doesn’t work on a graphical user interface such as a website, but also recognising that a good software engineer doesn’t automatically make a good graphics designer. Luckily for us we have come into contact with some excellent graphic designers who solved that problem for us. Originally we contracted out to Victoria who did a sterling job on the original template ideas, and now we have Darren as a more permanent member on board our team. He is a fantastic designer with an excellent eye for a clean layout, and possesses the skills to turn any idea into a slick looking well presented interface.

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everybody on the altFusion team who have all had their input to the new website. Please take some time to have a glance over it. Leave us a comment if you like, letting us know what you think. If you wanted to compare it to some of the earlier iterations of our website then you can check them out on the Wayback machine here.

Please take a glance over the new website here.

The altFusion team.


Media Files:
http://www.altfusion.co.uk/




Android v iPhone - Which is better?

Fri, 30 Oct 2009 11:28:00 +0000

It looks like there is a healthy debate coming up on the mobile apps market and that is who should we be looking at developing for.I think I already know the answer and will put forward my argument because I want a healthy debate so I am well informed before buying my kit and jumping in.In an earlier posting on here I was looking about for an iPhone job. I had heard rumours that the USA developers were cleaning up and in some cases demanding $200 an hour because of the demand for apps writers.This obviously made me want to get an iPhone right away and a MacBook and get right into learning COCOA and XCode so I could claim some of this lucrative market.Firstly I wanted to find these people that are paying extortionate amounts for developing apps. What I actually found across the Apple developer communities is people who want to sell their ideas for you to run with and see if you can make something with it, or they all want to give you the idea, have you do all the work and write it and then split any profit with them 50/50.So it seems there are a lot of people that want to leverage the iPhone to make money from apps, but they don’t want to pay developers to do it, they all want rewards from just coming up with a concept. And while original concepts are worth paying for, most of these ideas are bound to be rehashes of current ideas.I also thought about my own ideas for what could be handy for an iPhone developer, I had loads, from auto handwritten Postcard services from when you are travelling, to help me solve the Rubik’s cube apps.It turns out that everything has been done before (that is why I can put some of my ideas up here because I know they have already been done).Everything from shopping lists that are linked into your supermarket account, thru to games that use the accelerometers to bounce a basketball.I heard recently that there are about 400 new Apps per day coming out on the iPhone so chances are whatever you want as the saying goes (there is an app for that).So I want to see what competition is out there.The main runners as I see it in the smart phone world are:iPhoneAndroidPalm PreWindows MobileI think personally I can dismiss Windows Mobile because even though they are trying to claw back some reputation for their ASP.NET compact framework, they are too far behind now to compete in this market and are better placed for touch screen panels and Pocket PCs and other areas.I can also dismiss the Palm Pre, because although I love the look and idea of it, I think the fact that they are now under an O2 exclusivity contract is going to stop them from ever getting to the stage to fully compete with the iPhone.So this leaves Android. Good old faithful Google...I guess I started writing this post because it has just been announced that Google has launched its free Sat Nav service this week. This is a sat nav service that not only can show Google Earth photographs, but can even go down to use the new Google Street View. It can also hook up with Google traffic watch, and basically does everything that a top end Tom Tom or Road King can do (on a device that costs less and can be used as a phone as well).I believe with one foul swoop they have probably just killed off the Sat Nav device business and firmly positioned themselves as the best and cheapest (free) service, so who can compete?I also believe that because Android is Open and the phones aren’t locked then I can take my Vodafone pay as you go SIM and plonk it straight into an android phone and it will work (unlike the iPhone with its locked device state).So what about the business models and their future?The best analogy I've heard is that Android is like Windows - runs on many different hardware set-ups whereas iPhone OS only runs on iPhone hardware. So it's the classic Windows vs MAC debate all over again. And the windows approach (lots of hardware support) is the proven winner over time. I don’t want to start a Mac / Microsoft debate on here, and I am not saying which is bet[...]



Many thanks to Victoria

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 10:46:00 +0000

Many moons ago Victoria Sills provided us with some designs for our web site. We liked them a lot since they were clean and concise which was exactly what we were looking for. She's a talented designer and artist - check out her work at http://www.outofcontext.co.uk



Launching our web site

Mon, 17 Aug 2009 13:55:00 +0000

Even though we've been doing this as a company for four years (and as freelancers for much longer), it always surprises me how long it takes to do internal jobs. Several months ago we intended to relaunch our web site, the designs for it had been done and it should have simply been a case of converting those into a proper site structure and adding some content.

Several months later and we're only just finishing it off! The reasons for this are varied but primarily come down to the fact that we always put customer work first and foremost. Naturally this is partly to do with it being paid work and paying our bills, but we've always felt that our clients success outweighs our own. If our clients are successful then we benefit from that in terms of extra work and name recognition. Despite being excellent web developers we've never had much of a web presence ourselves, we've always managed to get work via repeat business and personal recommendations from existing clients.

Now that we've been around for a few years we felt that we ought to establish a web site that represents us and who we are. Hopefully you'll go and look at it and like what you see!

http://www.altfusion.co.uk



Why good HTML is important HTML

Thu, 13 Aug 2009 13:07:00 +0000

Because there are many ways that a web page can be built up then it is important to ensure that what you are paying for is done to the highest possible standard. We are currently seeing a lot of people looking for HTML rewrites of their pages because of the following reasons:· When originally written it was made to look good in Internet Explorer 6 only, but the website no longer lines up correctly or looks like it was originally intended. This is because the newer browsers (like IE7, IE8, FireFox, Safari, and Google Chrome) use higher standards of HTML validation. So invalid code will now become far more obvious when people upgrade to the newer browsers. It used to be a case of Internet Explorer was the only widely used browser so other flavours didn’t need to be considered because the time taken to tailor the HTML for them was too expensive for the market share they owned.· Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) works best on a website that separates out its content from its styling using properly formatted
layouts referencing .css style sheets. Using this method it is then possible to tailor content to an SEO strategy and give the website the best ongoing chance of climbing up the search results. For this reason I wanted to take the opportunity to show how our engineers can take a design from Photoshop and use that to get a pixel perfect site template across all browsers that will validate for worldwide W3C (XHTML and CSS) standards correctly.For this case study we had a flat Photoshop template of an internal system for Age Concern supplied to us from a design agency. Following is the steps taken to ensure that the template is given the best possible start in the project life cycle. Step 1.Initial screens are tied down in Photoshop or Image Ready. The page has been designed and the left hand space has been reserved for the site navigation. The style of the navigation buttons is yet undecided so the design has come to us with that area blank. Step 2.We use photoshop to set up the guide slice lines. You can at this point get Photoshop to chop up the image and generate an HTML table from it which can be used but is not good practice. We use the pixel perfect positioning coordinates for the DIV positioning and slice and save off the image areas as JPEGs. Step 3.Using Visual Studio to edit the .aspx and .css pages. Put in the main DIV sections for the page (headers, icons and content). I personally set the DIV backgrounds to contrasting colours to show the line-ups of it and the text alignments it contains. Step 4.The screen is then displayed in Safari, Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8, Chrome, and FireFox. The style sheet is tweaked for the differences between them until they all match. As an example the first try of the above screen is shown below in Firefox and Internet Explorer 7. The way FireFox shows it:The way Internet Explorer 7 shows it: Step 5.The above 2 browsers show that there are major differences for instance the footer is in a different position. But the subtle differences like the gap between the maroon and dark blue sections in the header also need addressing before we have a template to move on with.Once they are all lined up the same, we can put in the imagery and place holders. We can also set up the text colour, size and font. Step 6.Reset the DIV areas back to white. When we get to this stage we can split up the page into an ASP.NET MasterPage, and enter the content placeholders that we are confident will work flawlessly across the browsers. This should also ensure that future browsers that conform to the W3C standards should not have problems with the site.[...]



Why a lot of large corporation software projects fail

Fri, 18 Jan 2008 15:51:00 +0000

I have worked with a lot of large corporations, and as a lot of others reading this might understand all too well, getting anything done always takes far longer than doing the same thing for a small business (SME)Usually the people who hold the purse strings don't talk to the people who want the system, and there are company procedures that have to be completed before a design is signed off as ready to implement. In fact I remember an old job where the pressure really came on (from the accounts department) to get the code written and delivered. Then once we spent all hours hitting the deadline, we found out that the IT department weren't ready for the system for another 4 months, and it sat on the shelf until they were ready. Aaah well, you have to laugh (or cry).Well a few years ago, I was working through another software house similar to mine, which in turn works for a very large corporation.Because my contact wasn't the major company then I can sit back and laugh at the procedure for getting this product to market. Don't get me wrong, I feel sorry for my customer because he is now going through what we have gone through before, and you can just see the frustration building up.I am not going to name customers or reference these on my website as a customer I have provided a solution for, so there is no need for you to try and find out who it is. The fact that I have my main customer as another SME shields me from the fact that the larger corporations can recognise me.Some large companies are fine (in case any of my repeat customers are reading this - it's not you heheh). But this project has the main paying customer (Company A), then another IT security company handles, well the security (Company B), and another large IT company handles the hosting, and server (Company C). We - well basically we do all the work.I wanted to just catalog the list of errors, because it may entertain some, and it may also show some, the pitfalls to avoiding these situations in future.So this is a system that has moved servers (decided by Company B and handled by Company C) and had an upgrade to server technologies, fully rewritten by me. Obviously being way down the chain, I cant get access to the server (there are many servers, ranging from development, to testing, to final server). We get an ftp to the development server, and there are some fancy replication things going on to get it to the other servers when signed off.So, major balls up number 1:The system gets written, and then goes to the development server and in turn the testing server, it goes through testing and some pages aren't accessing the database correctly. Instead of Company C seeing the blatant error message on the screen (Invalid database connection string) and sorting that out, the information gets passed down to my customer who then passes the problem to me. Except I cant get access to the server to find out the database user accounts.So I have to write a simple page with a textbox to enter a connection string, and then attempt to read a record from the database. I put that on the server, and allow Company C to enter connection strings, or set up database accounts until my test page says (Connection Successful).Then I can take that string and add it to the system. So what should of been a case of a network admin seeing the obvious error, changing the string and fixing it in ten minutes, this took a week to finally get fixed. But fair play to them, they managed to get the problem fixed and can tell their boss that they never compromised security doing so.Major Balls up number 2:The system finished testing and goes live. However the paying customer (Customer A) was never told about this, and now the public can use it, but the office admin hasn't been told about new procedures or account changes, and so get locked out of this very expensive system they have just paid for and don't kno[...]



Is it worth grabbing small website jobs any more?

Wed, 16 Jan 2008 11:09:00 +0000

We've been doing small business websites, which used to be bread and butter work, especially when we were sole traders. But recently we've been making the decision to throw back some of these jobs, and give more of an advice role in the customer producing their own websites.More often than not, the customer doesn't appreciate the work involved in doing something like set up a simple website, with contacts page, and allowing to change content on a few pages. Perhaps adding a gallery for uploading previous work.By the time we tie down branding and logo, ease of use, navigation, and guiding the users eyes around the pages. Then building the structure and the admin side CMS, and making it SEO friendly (W3 standards, and all the Google toys set up) your looking at minimum 3 days work so over a grand and creeping up to 6K.The customers response might be:"Ooooph I only want a 6 page website, I was thinking more along the lines of 3 or 400 sheets?"So is the market coming to an end for this sized customer?We used to always take work on, and thought as long as work was coming our way then we couldn't fail.However, this end of the market, the small business that wants an online presence, or has had a simple electronic business card type website for years and wants a little more now, is turning into a non profit minimum wage job. If another design house does manage to sell the solution at a higher price then they take the profit and pass the technical stuff to us. Either way we get squeezed to produce the mechanics. Looking to the future, it becomes hard to see how the business is going to boom. The customers are seeing more and more automatic tools for creating templated sites, and wonder why a tailoring company charges so much. They are right to feel this too, the tools out there to get yourself a web presence or online shop are now vast, and it might be better for customers to take a little time and do it themselves, or employ a student at a cheaper rate to set up the CMS packages for them.We are now actively turning them away and giving more of an advice service to get them to use tools such as Google Apps.We did ask, should we be developing more of a generic CMS system ourselves that allows us to quickly knock out a website for someone, but over the last 10 years I have known at least 2 other businesses that have wanted this. The theory is back 15 years ago when I was doing my Computer Science Degree, the new buzzword was Object Oriented Programming. It was this great new thing utilising Borland C++, and was the wave of the future. It was going to allow us to create objects and eventually these objects can all be pulled off of the shelf and plugged into each other making systems development easier.Well that never really went according to plan, the way the university envisaged it, although we do write code for reuse ability, chances are when we come to reuse it, there is some new way, or new technology we have to consider and so rewrite or even recreate the object.But like I say other companies have tried and failed at CMS systems, and when I see the successful ones (Kentico, Sharepoint, or Commonspot) then to accommodate for all of the individual things a customer might want, these have turned into a programming language in their own right that could easily have a training course purely for themselves, so have moved away from the easy off the shelf packages they first tried to be.So where is the money now at in IT?We are skilled, I can get a computer to do anything, so if I try and leave the minimum wage market of programming websites for other Small Businesses, then where can I go to grab the big bucks?Creating our own products of interest to a market and getting funding.Recently I was on a stand at the Thames Gateway Forum (ExCel centre), and competing with Gordon Brown and Ken Livingston's speeches to get my p[...]



New Virtual Reality Headset

Thu, 13 Dec 2007 10:55:00 +0000

Well I always swore by the Z800 headset back when I was thinking of writing software, tools and games for the Virtual Reality market.

However a new bad boy has just come on the scene. The VR920 from eDimensional.


Now I have always liked ED because they are reasonably priced for some pretty top end geeky gadgets. I have had the shutter glasses for years now, and although I have had to wear them upside down because I use a projector (Image coming from behind me rather than in front of me). It still made games absolutely awesome. Plus with me writing games for the Wiimote for the PC, it made it possible to have a 3D wall with wiimote inputs making for some pretty realistic emmersive environments on my PC. There were limitations however that you could only see it when looking forward. Well the Z800 for £500 fixed that, and now so does this little gadget for around £200.

It contains pretty much the same stuff as the Z800 (Head tracking, dual visual displays allowing 1024x768 displays and supporting NVidia 3D Stereo drivers) plus earphones.

I do believe on top of this however, this one has also got a microphone to allow talking out as well.

I havent used it yet myself but I do fear that it suffers from one limitation of the Z800, it is wired. I see in the contents that it describes a 6 foot USB connection for it.

Now I totally understand why you need this, mainly because the power to run the screens, headtracking, microphone, and the sound would be too much for a battery pack, and would make the head gear heavy. But I do fear that you can turn round maybe 3 times before needing to turn back again (not helpful for the obsessive compulsives amoung us).

But yeah you would eventually gorrot yoruself if you kept turning one way and didnt untwist yorself at some point.


However I am eagerly awaiting a few reviews of this hardware, because like I say the shutter glasses were awesome, and with this being half price of anything else on the market, it could be the next step that pushes the PC far beyond the reach of a console capability wise, and brings us all that one step closer to full emmersion Virtual Reality.


I will keep you posted on any more news of this here.


Cheers,


Lindsay.



Webloogle

Mon, 10 Dec 2007 11:14:00 +0000

(image)



Mobile working

Thu, 08 Nov 2007 12:09:00 +0000

Well I am seeing more and more now about how mobile devices are taking off and people are talking about how easy it is to work while on the move.I have seen recent success stories, and other not so successfuly stories.This is at the front of my mind at the moment because I have just finished writing a project for Windows Mobile 2003 and Windows Mobile 5 Devices.I have always liked the Microsoft Compact Framework, right back from when I was working with Windows Mobile 2002, and leaps forward with some of the frameworks communications tools and GUI controls have made recent projects very impressive for the end users. The latest application I have written is to tie in with a Server application written by us so that it can go out in the field and gather data.It connects to the network either by a Cradle to PC connection, or a CF card with a SIM card connected to a networks GPRS, or with WiFi hotspots.Thinking about 2 of these 3 ways of connecting (GPRS and WiFi) I thought I would write a little something down about my experiences with working mobile a couple of years back and what are the differences now.2 years ago I went travelling with my girlfriend. We ripped the seats out of a Landrover 110 and fitted a double bed, fridge, power points and an auxhilliary battery, so I essentially had a mobile home / office that could off road to some beautiful spots for a few days at a time.Firstly we took it round the UK for a couple of months because there is always loads on your doorstep that you never appreciate, and back then people were getting into WiFi. A lot of houses had never even heard of encryption and WEP and WPA and it was quite easy to pull up on a roadside, link into a network and send work in and get the next assignment. Hotspots were a little more expensive in that I remember up in Glasgow I wanted to link into the BT hotspot at McDonalds. It was 10 pounds for 24 hours access which wasnt too bad, but when you moved around it was quite difficult to find parking within range of these spots. More often than not I was having to sit in cafes and public places and work which wasnt the plan, I wanted to be sitting on a beach working. I can remember one time up in the Highlands I had no WiFi hotspots nearby and had to rely on my GPRS to work with. Back then it cost £1 per MegaByte. I was working on a flash project which was a 7MB file, so cost £7 to download it, £7 to upload the new one, and I invariably then got comments from the customer to say "Oooh can you just tweak this or change this text". Simple changes, but always cost me another £7 to get the update to them. So back then GPRS was very expensive, and WiFi was too few and far between to be able to rely on it and keep customers happy that they can always get hold of you and get files to and from you.NOW however I still have my Landy kitted out, and were thinking of heading off again. Only 4 weeks this time, but it is a little too long to leave work totally, so I will be expecting to work on the road again.With setting up GPRS for my latest project I saw that the deals now are £1 per day (15 MB maximum content) which is fantastic because you can get GPRS coverage from the beach. I have also signed up for a new deal with BT where I allow part of my BT broadband to be used by anyone (public access) and in return when I travel around I should then have access to other peoples broadband that have made this same pledge. The scheme is young at the moment, but the final intention would obviously be to WiFi the whole of Britan so that you can get free access wherever you may be. These 2 things combined (GPRS cheaper price and BT WiFi sharing scheme) makes it extremely attractive to try and go travelling around now and carry on working. Perhaps I was a little premature in tryin[...]



We are nearly 2 years old

Thu, 18 Oct 2007 13:08:00 +0000

Well its been nearly 2 years since us 2 freelancers decided to club together and start up our IT Software Solutions company and things have progressively got better and better.

We are still working on bread and butter websites and applications, as well as moving into some technologies that personally interest us.

We should be rewriting our website soon. One thing that we had the website for was to innitially give us some web presence and give me something to test Search Engine Optimisation with. Over the time we have done loads of work and great things for other people's websites but alas we have left ours looking like a drab home made list of qualifications and customers (which hasnt been updated either).
We have also gained some very artistic flash developers who have taught us a thing or two about making a website desireable to use.
From all of this knowledge and understanding where we want to go we now have ideas to make us a super duper dedicated management server system that will take care of all of our source control, and backups, as well as project management and client feedback systems, as well as hosting a nice user friendly pretty looking website.

Being a firm fan of ASP.NET it will work in that but I have also been working alot in flash and combining flash objects into my ASP.NET environments. I am now getting rather intrigued by all of the hype that is surrounding Silverfish by Microsoft and seeing exactly what that can do. I believe a website with some of that plugged in can look very slick while being able to offer some very technical tools. I wonder what our developers will think of trying to animate using Silverlight rather than Flash but that will be a hurdle I would rather cross sooner than later. The fact that you can breakpoint Silverlight and run it as a project in a web solution in Visual Studio makes it so much easier for a solution than trying to run web service calls or flash remoting from a flash application.

Hopefully the new site should be up and running before the end of the year to give us a solid platform to impress customers with as of 2008.



My dad said grow up stupid. So I did... Duuurr :)

Mon, 01 Oct 2007 08:58:00 +0000

Well we are growing at a good pace now, and I can see that there are some things you have to really make sure you keep a control of as a company before they get out of hand.

I guess you have to decide how large you want to get as a company and where your 5 year plan will take you.
Do you want an office with permanent employees?
Do you want to spend all your time on the golf course making the deals?
Do you want to remain a code monkey?

It started off that we, like most other small companies didn’t want to refuse any work, because why would you turn down business if it is coming in?
It then gets to the stage where you find out you are spending a good 50% of your time on the phone and in meetings procuring new work, and a lot of the remaining time project leading teams to carry out the work on jobs you have mapped out.
It then dawns on you that you are now spending less and less time doing the thing you love, using tools to solve problems. I love sitting down at a machine, and I have a language/technology to use to get a PC to do something by the end of the day. I treat it like a puzzle every day, and that is a love of my work and the reason that I can spend my working life sitting in front of a monitor. I am not a person that wants to be spending my time running an office and getting the deals.
There are some people who are brilliant at schmoozing, and I am happy to leave procurement to them. As long as we don’t get to the company situation where we have a salesman who doesn’t have a clue about the technology and undersells something that they blagged.
So now where do we go from here? We have to be careful in that me and my Business partner Dave both keep control of the work that comes in, and that we are the ones that sets up the skeleton structures, and plan and runs the teams to solve the systems. This means that we keep the control over how problems are being solved. I guess we now have to look at our company size and say we now have the opportunity to grow very quickly, and a very important part of that growth is keeping control and not letting everything spiral.

We now have a very nice bank of repeat customers, and the word of mouth reputation is spreading exponentially. That is allowing us the freedom to pick and choose the type of extra work that we go for, and we are even getting to the stage now where we may be able to think about writing some of our own products to launch out to the mass market place and see how our ideas fair. That is where I think our BIG money lies.


As one fine philosopher once said:
This time next year Rodney, we'll be millionaires.


Aaah well, back to work. I have a doozy of a problem to solve and a smile on my face.



Business is booming

Fri, 15 Jun 2007 14:35:00 +0000

Well the IT industry seems to have taken off recently.

I was getting right into the Virtual Reality research and where it could go when all of a sudden tons of work came in.
I have been carrying on with search engine optimisation for a customer, which I may as well mention here:
Ahem! (advert coming up.)
For all your CIM, Marketing qualifications, and Chartered Institute of Marketing courses, we offer Distance learning to get your diploma. Check out our corporate deals.

Anyway now thats out of the way, yeah I have also been having to take on employees. That is a change. All of a sudden I am trying to be my usual recluse code monkey, and now I am having to be in contact to get some others up to speed with us.

It's going great and after a few late nights and strong coffees I think we have come through it fairly unscathed.
We are still writing software applications and most of our customers are still based in the Anglia region, but we seem to be moving a lot more onto flash work now and intricate systems that uses a pretty front end.

Anyway I will try and keep a post in here about how the business is changing now. I am having to handle people, but for now I had best get back to it.

H



Virtual Reality is coming to a PC near you.

Thu, 12 Apr 2007 12:14:00 +0000

Hi again. A quick update to my blog now to show some of what I have been playing with since I wrote my first game to use the Wiimote and nunchuk.It is obvious that the main intention of the Wiimote and Nunchuk is to provide the gamer with an input device that is a little more realistic than just a joypad with buttons. Part of the Wii's huge popularity at the moment is the fact that you can swing, punch and swoosh the control about and it reacts. People at the moment dont really care that the tennis game doesnt allow you to position your player on the court and tactically read what the other player is doing, as long as it hits the ball when you swing your Wiimote then that is enough for now.So I had a play around with Wiimote and Nunchuk, and it brought back all of the memories of going to the sea front with my dad when I was a nipper and putting £2.00 (which was a fortune in them days) into the VR machines on the sea front arcades and playing a Dogfighting game with the huge Virtual Reality headsets on. I find it a bit sad that Virtual Reality didnt take off as much in the end and fully blame the games console for this. Dont get me wrong I love the console, but it did mean that development was lost in the Arcade machine. On another side note, whatever happened to those Sony Hologram Cowboy machines? They dissapeared off the face of the earth heheh.Anyway I am detracting.So I am sitting at home with my new Wiimote Game and I am wondering what can be done to make this kind of thing more immersive and more like Virtual Reality seeing as this is what is being hinted on with the Wii in the first place. I then remember that I have a projector, and some edimensional 3D shutter glasses, so I get them out to play and dust them off and I had a blast.Now this is something I didnt expect, instead of just copying Wii games and motions, I am now probably the first person who has immersed themselves into a world stood in front of my wall (projector screen) which the shutter glasses makes look full 3D and I am boxing. I am actually seeing the boxing gloves in front of me swinging when I swing my arms. THIS IS GREAT. And this got me excited.Perhaps Virtual Reality could get a second wind and make a come back. So now I am thinking about all of the possibilities that a projector, 3D shutter glasses, a wiimote and a nunchuk could actually have, and how this could re crown the PC as the king of the games machines once again.Before I go on, a brief bit about my games writing history:I started off 20 years ago writing 2D games moving sprites around on the Commodore 64. I quickly progressed to using STOS on the Atari ST (for those of you not in the know it was a hacked about version of BASIC specifically meant for 2D games writing).This was all schoolboy hobby stuff and never really went anywhere.Since then I got my qualifications and got into the wide world of programming applications for business which consisted of loads of grey dialogue boxes with grey buttons that did the job but never looked very cool.More recently most of the work has gone back to Web applications which although they still need to do the teccy stuff, now demand that they look cool, so programmers had to become designers and vice versa. It was at this time that I realised I could get back into the world of games development and away from the grey boxes. It is also true to say that it is no longer kids spending their £1.99 for a Mastertronic cassette tape down at the local newsagents, but it is a business that is big enough for people who know what they are doing to make a fair bit of money.Well the good news is I havent forgotten my childhood dreams and I have got back[...]



My first PC Wiimote and Nunchuk Game

Wed, 11 Apr 2007 16:24:00 +0000

I have done it.I am so proud.To be honest anybody looking at it may think that it looks like a load of old pants, but I dont care. There was a fair bit of work involved, but I have completed my first game using a Wiimote and a Nunchuk to control it.At the moment I havent sorted out the 3D engine license to mass release it so it is playable for people who have a license for the TV3D engine only.I intend to let anybody have the source code who wants it and who wants to play around with it and make their own additions to it. If you do make any changes then could you please let me know either in this blog or on my website to let me know what other people want from wiimote games.Anyway the game:It is basically a punching game. I thought along the lines of the punching games at an arcade where you punch as hard as you can and see the results on the screen.When you start up the game you will see a smiley face and a couple of boxing gloves and you punch using the Wiimote and the Nunchuk to cause damange to the face. I want to take this oppurtunity to thank Terry Bailey for supplying the 3D boxing gloves as I am not very good at 3D modelling. I may colour them in at some point if this game starts to prove popular with anybody.After a determined amount of damage has been caused then you will get a final score on how long it took you to knock Mr Happy out.You can walk around using the Wiimote direction buttons and you can look around using the Nunchuk Joystick.Because the Wiimote and Nunchuk are secondary controls then you can also control the game using the PC (using the mouse and cursor keys to move and look around and using the I and P buttons to punch).It has taught me a lot, especially the intricacies that are involved with understanding the acceleration readings that comes from a controller and translating that information to an in game action.I may take this game further and add multiple faces that you can hit, and make the images editable so that you can use your own images to punch which might make a nice little stress reliever for some people. I may leave it here and move onto a different game and try out some other types of Wiimote and Nunchuk motions. I havent decided yet.But if you want to have a play, then please feel free to get the game from my Wiimote Games section of my fun website here:If you want to leave any comments or ideas then please feel free to leave them on the message section of my website here: Or email me through our Main Software Development Website contacts page here:Thanks,L.[...]



Wiimote PC 3d Games controller motion logger

Fri, 30 Mar 2007 23:36:00 +0000

This is an update for where I am with writing PC Games that utilise the Wiimote and Nunchuk.

I firstly got a blank 3D world going in TrueVision3D which I have mentioned on the previous post. Once I had this world with a wiimote and my banana I realised that it is actually a difficult task to study the acceleration outputs of the wiimote and nunchuk and to translate them into motions in a 3D world.
I decided to implement the C# WiimoteLib version 1.0.1.0 from Brian Peek (thanks Brian). There is a test program that comes with his driver that displays all of the outputs of the Wiimote and Nunchuk in a nice little windows application. I have taken that test program and edited it a bit to give me some reuslts that I want to find useful and use for motion translations with my 3D games. The outputs displayed that I am interested in are straight forward float numbers showing the X,Y, and Z axis accelerations of the Wiimote and Nunchuk (-0.5 to +0.5 in strength). I figured that there would be some kind of a pattern to these outputs that would be the same for certain motions. To demonstrate what I have changed in Brians test code consider the following: Lets say you want to play a game like fishing and essentially you want to cast out the rod. Firstly you will raise the wiimote so it will rotate slowly upwards while being raised about 1 foot. Then as it is stationary the only acceleration will be gravity (9.81 metres per second squared in the vertical direction). Then as you whip it acceleration will change to downwards in the vertical and the wiimote will rotate again back to its starting position. This whole motion will show 3 patterns of accelerations, so you can then say when the player is doing a cast because the wiimote outputs will be in a similar pattern to this varying in strength.

I have written a program to try and help me to log all of these motion patterns that I need, and full details of it can be seen here on the Wiimote PC Games section of my fun stuff website.

The next phase should be incorporating these movements to my character in my 3D world and then I can give this character some tasks. Most probably breaking things and smashing stuff up to start with as the punching motion is a fairly straight forward one to get right and measure player strength.


Cheers,

L.



Wiimote and Nunchuk applications on the PC

Fri, 16 Mar 2007 10:12:00 +0000

I have had a couple of days spare between jobs and I thought about some viral marketing for our sister website for fun and useful applications to experiment with. Partly because it is always good for a company, but also because it gives me a chance to write something funky and fun.Games are always a passion of mine, and I have gained some skills recently with the Truevision 3D games engine, specifically to do with First Person Shooter (FPS) style gameplay. While looking around I became amazed by the breakthrough that has been made with getting the nintendo wii controls to work on a PC. There seems to be a few drivers emerging now and I have had a look at them to see what would aid me the best in a C# set of PC 3D games.The best used wiimote driver has to be the GlovePIE set up.I have found problems with this, in that you have to run the GlovePIE program and run a script before you can run your own program. This is too fidly for me. I then saw that somebody had embedded a wiimote driver inside a Half Life 2 mod which looked much better. They havent released their source code yet, so I have had to look elsewhere.At the moment I am settling on one of two solutions:1- A C++ driver that I should be able to translate to C# and embed2- A C# driver.I think I will go for the C# one because I believe that includes nunchuk support.I think these drivers will be getting better and more robust. If they could attempt an auto pair setup with the wiimotes then that would be excellent but for now, you have to go through pairing the wiimote yourself before running any code. A quick hint on doing this is hold down the wiimote buttons 1+2, and add bluetooth device, then skip pairing and click finish, the wiimote should now be useable with your PC (I know some bluetooth stacks have had problems with this but I now think that these issues are fixed).Anyway onto the game. The control is excellent, I have played around with oscillators and seen exactly what the PC reads when the wii is held in all manor of positions and moved.I am not using the sensor bar for the main reason that I would like it if somebody could just go and buy a wiimote for around £30 and start using it on the PC. The sensor bar is only for steadying the pointer anyway so it isnt needed for the types of games I am thinking of doing.This does lead me to think that there could be a whole new market opening up here for the PC gaming market. Nintendo have recently announced that they are selling their games development kits for around $2000, which while it is a lot cheaper than development kits for other consoles, it still isn't as cheap as Visual C# Express for the PC (its free). This means there is guaranteed to be a lot more homebrewers ready to develop games on the PC platform but using the wiimote's original input style. It also means there is a much bigger audience for the games.While trying to find out the legalities with this and what Nintendo may try and do about it, I have come to the conlcusion that if I write a game for the PC, but it also caters for wiimote and nunchuk controlling then that should keep me legal as far as releasing any games to the masses.I didnt want to get bogged down with the 3D graphics, and game design yet until I was sure that all pieces of the puzzle would work together. So for my first test I have so far put together a little world that you can run around, and in front of you are two objects: A wiimote, and a banana. These items were grabbed from the Google sketchup warehouse, there is no nunchuk there so that is why I chose a banana as it is a similar shape. A[...]



altFusion is now running on other domain names.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 09:56:00 +0000

We have recently registered some other domain names.
I know that this doesn’t help out with Search Engine Optimisation for our main Cambridge and Peterborough Software IT website, but it does stop anybody else buying up the domains and hurting our web presence. Each domain also has their own page ranking for the pages inside them, and although I am not actively going to promote the other domains, they might bring more traffic in just by being there and allowing indexing over time.
Domains we have now registered and a brief description about that type of domain top level extension are:
1/
http://www.altfusion.biz/ - A general online business extension and altFusion is an IT online business.
2/
http://www.altfusion.net/ - A general extension to say we are on the Internet.
3/
http://www.altfusion.org/ - A worldwide organisation domain. As long as it isn’t postfixed with the uk subdomain then there aren’t restrictions on it like it having to be a charity organisation.
4/
http://www.altfusion.eu/ - A European Union domain extension, that suggests that altFusion is a European company that offers IT solutions and applications for the whole of Europe as well as the UK.
5/
http://www.altfusion.info/ - This is for an information website, and along with this blog I believe that altFusion can always be welcome to offer advice to somebody as well as to provide a full IT system or software application.

We dont see any need to register any other domain names at the moment.
Just as a side note, I have already mentioned that we have got a fun website filled with Games and Gadgets and Widgets and things to experiment with here.



Google Apps.

Mon, 05 Mar 2007 15:25:00 +0000

It was brought to my attention recently that Google Apps had re-branded and are now trying out different tools to help people with their web presence.We wanted to register a new domain to have a play around with this, so I joined up and registered a test domain here: Cambridge and Peterborough software developers test partner website.So I signed up at the Google Apps pages, and registered the domain.From the front menu there is a bit of confusion with 2 categories of pages to sort out. There is a link to sort out the start pages, and there is a link to sort out the web pages.I didn’t know the difference, so I thought I would sort out the start pages seeing as it makes sense to start at the start.What happened then was I sorted out the content, and put on a couple of blogs, a weather report, and a calendar. I then waited to see this start page turn up at the http://www.altfuzion.com and after about a week, it still never turned up. It always stayed at start.altfuzion.comSo I went back and re visited the account and saw that the webpages were still blank even though the start page was set up. I then set up the webpages which at the moment is a title and a piece of text just introducing what I am trying to do with the Google Apps account.That now does come up at the intended application URL. Because I now have an ASP.NET (dot net) website that I don’t want to break so I will leave that alone, and I can now use www.altfuzion.com as a blank canvas to try out any number of tools and technologies. I have found so far that Google states they do not give any preferential treatment to pages or websites that are held and created on Google Page Creator.It just has the same precedence as any other website on the internet.It should be worth mentioning: We have registered our test domain http://www.altfuzion.com to run through googlepages, although with my googlepages account I can actually register 4 domains in total to have other domains to experiment with. These domains are all within the http://########.googlepages.com area however so I don’t really see a need to explore this further, I will be sticking with http://www.altfuzion.com which points to http://www.altfuzion.com-a.googlepages.com/ only for my experiments.I am now looking into Google Gadgets and Widgets to see what it is about, and there seems to be a wealth of Widgets that have been written for google pages.Some of these are free and some are costly, but all are supposedly easy to install through my main Google Page Creator.I am going to have a test page to hold gadgets and widgets that I will make public.You can view my google widgets test page here.Questions I have to be answered are:Can I make a robots.txt and sitemap.XML ?It does state there is 100MB of storage space. Can I upload pages directly to my space, or do I have to go through their interface.If I can upload pages, can I upload aspx (ASP.NET) pages, or is there any kind of server side technology that I can utilize?Is there any database technology that I can utilize on their storage space?[...]



Problems with small software house businesses trying to get those larger contracts.

Fri, 02 Mar 2007 15:29:00 +0000

I don’t want this post to be a rant, because it is a serious question that I want to explore and invite comments on, to really try and find an answer to this problem.The main underlying question is:Why should we have to charge £1000+ a day to get the big contracts?It's not a bad thing I guess if you can keep getting those contracts, but consider the following scenario:Buying a car.When buying a car you don’t go for the cheapest because you perhaps want a little bit of luxury (say an air bag and an alarm).You wouldn’t buy the most expensive car because you know that in this industry you can sometimes pay a lot for essentially the badge on the bonnet.So you would read reviews, and take test drives and weigh it up and try and find something in the middle that offers good value for money.So there is a massive difference between the car (and other) industry and the software industry that I would like to try and highlight.After spending my time in the saddle getting experience working on some very large projects I can confidently say that I know what I am doing.Some of my systems are now being used in the front line of today's technology, and I am proud to be able to point out different solutions and say "I did that". What’s more, I did it correctly, and it is still useful many years later.As well as the bespoke software solutions that I have provided with my company, I had written many huge systems while working for other companies.I wrote the system that automates Sunblest bakeries, so all bread including Kingsmill is made on my SCADA system. Its the same for Quavers crisps, and a lot of Britain’s pasta.I wrote simulators and emulator device drivers for Hitachi smart cards and micro controllers, so I can say that today's state of technology with the microchip and smart card systems is partly (maybe even largely) thanks to tools that I generated.I have also had input to the Ministry of Defence and know that systems I wrote for them are still being used today to help defend our country (Details are bound by the official secrets act).And I wrote some of the tools for the initial Tandem systems that were the building blocks for online banking.So now that I own my own business, why do I face problems when trying to sell my skills to a large company for a cheaper price than other software houses that have half of our experience?This is an interesting question at the moment, and I think it can have a lot to do with the first impression given merely by the quote.When a small business like mine tries to approach a customer to let them know that we are the best people to provide their software system, then we can always hit a problem because we are competing with professional sales staff from other companies. I know that when trying to sell something then, a sales professional is going to be better than a software engineer, but is that really what the customer wants? Problems that can arise from this is that the software engineers cannot actually provide half of the ‘blag’ that a sales person has said to get the job, and this is where projects fall down (NHS and Passport office are prime examples).So on top of a sales professional knowing to say exactly what the customer wants to hear, what else could be tipping the scales away from small businesses on getting these contracts?I know that larger software provider companies have many expenses including the following: employing a sales team, an accountant, a secretary, the director probably doesn’t know[...]



Successful search engine optimisation

Thu, 22 Feb 2007 09:54:00 +0000

While trying to learn something about Search Engine Optimisation, I had a customer that wanted their website promoting.This was great as it gave me the opportunity to hone my skills while earning a little bit of money from it. This opportunity would hopefully allow me to get some experience and reputation to say that our company can now offer successful search engine optimisation and a solid online marketing plan for other small businesses that want to raise their web presence.My task:The main search engines to optimise for were the main 3 for the UK and .COM so that was:www.google.comwww.google.co.ukwww.yahoo.comwww.yaho.co.ukwww.msn.comwww.msn.co.ukand I was optimising mainly for the following 3 search terms:CIM, CMI, ISMMWith a view to secondary optimisation for the following search terms:marketing course, Marketing qualification, Marketing course London, CIM Course, CIM London, and CIM qualificationI think I have come into this at the right time because things are changing, especially with Google. They have released a lot more tools recently to help people like me to monitor, test and plan my Search Engine Optimisation strategy. These tools are Webmasters tools including sitemaps, and Google Analytics.Last year they changed the way that they were going to index the internet. It was becoming more apparent that they weren’t going to be able to hold everything public that is on the net, so they had to think about dropping old content, and keeping the useful stuff. This was the ‘BIG DADDY’ update and it showed a way forward that they are aiming to stop tricksters from pushing their search results to the top using lazy methods.More recently (well currently) from January to March 2007 they are making more updates to their search spiders and they are totally changing the way in which it works. There is a lot of speculation now about the way in which this will work, and people are keeping an eye on what Matt Cutts has got to say on the issue, but it looks like it will be another step to stop quick fix methods and to reward people who have put in the legwork. Anyway, Since the start of the year and trying this out, I have been keeping records of search positions for certain words for my customer’s company, and I am proud to say that I have jumped him in the search results from around 150th in the list now up to 7th so they are now on the first page.I am proud of my efforts because it means that I was working on the right tracks, and I believe that I know what to do as well as what to steer clear of in future.I will now be advertising that we can help with Search Engine Optimisation as one of our skills on our company website.Regards,Lindsay.[...]



Anglia software developers - how far afield do we go.

Sun, 18 Feb 2007 14:24:00 +0000

I thought I would write a little something about my marketing findings and the way that standard search engine optimisation (SEO) seems to be pulling solutions away from geographic locations. This is also generating new problems for customers who are looking for a bespoke I.T. solutions provider and would prefer to find one near to them.altFusion is based in Anglia (offices in Cambridge and Peterborough). I would say that only about twenty five percent of our customers are actually based in the Anglia region however. Currently there's the Cambridge Professional Academy based in Cambridge, The Edge Agency based in Elseworth, BEA building and clay products based in Huntingdon, and St Edmundsbury and Uttlesford Councils.This doesn’t usually produce a problem in that we can work remotely, and would only need to meet the customer once to gain their trust and then we can be left to work and communicate through the internet to build their bespoke applications.Some solutions do require more travelling. We have had to travel to places like Westminster and to the Welsh National Assembly a lot more for researching and systems implementation.As I have said earlier, some customers might want to find a solutions provider that lives close to them as it gives them a piece of mind that they can visit any time and keep more of an eye on their solution/application to aid them with their project control. But with the communications revolution at the stage where it is now, it allows the same trust and control to be built up no matter how far apart the solutions providers and customers may be.One main example of the way this may be hurting customers finding providers is; recently I received a request from a company in Leeds who used an American website to find a UK software application programmer. The website was taking bids in dollars only - so was meant for USA contracts to be advertised and found.The truth is that their solution was a simple back office product using Coldfusion and MySQL, and chances are there would probably be a solutions provider that could of done it for them that are based within 2 or 3 miles of their offices.It seems a shame that they now have to pay this USA company royalties and go through their Escrow payments system, and lose more money to try and find their solutions provider, when they are probably working to a set budget for the whole software application anyway.One very good way that I like of getting around this problem is the Google Maps directory, and the Microsoft Local directories of companies. I believe that this will revolutionise the way that customers can find people to provide applications, programs or anything really. I would like to see more of gmaps and MS Local being used in other areas of the web say in things like ebay bids, so that you can know how far away something is from you visually and instantly, to see if you would rather collect it yourself, than pay the delivery charge.I think that wanted ads and requests would also benefit from these mapping services greatly so that you can request something and specify a radius from a central point of where you would like that request answered. This would make the sourcing of solutions providers vastly more efficient for the company with the problem, and then the money spent on a solution could be spent more on its development rather on the advertising and procurement process.I do have a lot of experience with writing Google gmaps[...]



Sitemaps - What is ROR and should we use it

Wed, 14 Feb 2007 09:52:00 +0000

I have been hearing a lot of buzzwords lately about ROR sitemaps.
I want to write a little something here about my findings with it.

I thought I was well up with promoting websites by having a normal XML sitemap, and submitting it to Google webmaster tools, and Yahoo sitemaps, and then the search engines would know all about it and that would be it.

I tend to keep sitemaps simple with a list of pages in the site, and usually I keep all priorities at 0.5.
an example of one of these sitemaps is here:
altFusion software website sitemap
Although I have also spent a little more time over sitemaps and given each page a different priority and painstakingly gone through it by hand to try and optimise it.
An example of one of these sitemaps is here:
marketing course sitemap

Recently however I have been hearing that the sitemaps I have got are now old hat, and I want to be looking at ROR (Resources of a Resource) Format.
In short - ROR should be a form of sitemap that can tell search engines a lot more than just what pages are in a site. It should also now be able to tell search engines about the following as well:
sitemaps, products, services, menus, images, reviews, contact info, business and info.

This is a first blog to list that I know about this, I will add to this as I actually have a play around with ROR, but for now a good generator of ROR is here:
http://www.rorweb.com/rormap.htm

and the root: http://www.rorweb.com/ seems to have a lot of explanations about ROR.
I think the first experiment for me is to generate ROR of the two sitemaps I have mentioned above and then call them ror.xml so that I can also keep the normal sitemap.xml that I already have. I will then start to submit these ROR pages to google webmaster tools and yahoo sitemaps instead of the normal sitemaps.xml page, and see if that helps or harms my website SEO.

I will use this post to log all information about this that I see fit.

Cheers,

Lindsay.

Director and Systems Architect - altFusion Ltd.