Making Plans with Trello

We're in the middle of planning an ambitious holiday, along with a whole bunch of domestic renovations. The idea is to get all the heavy lifting done while we are away, so we can just stroll back into a shiny new bedroom and other bits and bobs.

At least, that's the plan.

I've been using Trello to help manage all the ins and outs. It's free and wonderful. You create a Board (which equates to a task - for example Holiday or Bedroom) and then add Cards to the board. Cards can have content (lists, notes, attachments and links) and you can move cards around the board into different categories, for example "To Do" or "Done". Boards can be shared amongst fellow Trello users (love that phrase - wish I could work mellow or yellow into it too) and the system keeps track of who said or did what. 

There are Trello applications for most devices, but I reckon the Web client is pretty much the best way to use it. Everything syncs up in real time - although this can be embarrassing when you are stood in the pet shop with zero signal trying to get the card that tells you what kind of guinea pig food to buy. 

I really think that Trello is now my go-to place for this kind of thing. Outlook tasks are OK, but not very granular and tricky to share. Trello just seems to work. 

Update: Having spent some time making plans at home before heading to work I find that I've forgotten to put my watch on......

Colt Express Board Game

Maybe I should just give up my day job and turn into a board game reviewer. Might be nice. 

Anyhoo, today I was given a copy of Colt Express as part of the Father's Day thing. I also got an amazing book. But that's for another day, and another blog post. 

The box says that each game takes around 40 minutes to play. Our first game took a bit longer than this because the first thing we had to do was assemble a little cardboard train that is the playfield. The pieces are beautifully drawn and fit together very well. And the box cleverly turns into a set of compartments so that you don't have to dismantle the pieces, you can just pop them straight in the box when you have finished playing.

The game has an interesting mechanic. Each round a player builds up a sequence of moves from a random selection of cards their character gets. Some moves are open, others are secret. The good news is that if your moves go well you get to pick up the valuables in the carriages or, better yet, punch someone and pick up the loot that they drop. The bad news is that if they do the same to you first, your move sequence gets thrown out of whack and you end up punching thin air and shooting at shadows. 

This is our little train. Players can gather inside the train and punch each other or go onto the roof and shoot at each other. And you get free bits of cactus to help build the atmosphere.

Each player has a special skill (although for the one I played it didn't seem that special to be honest) and the little train works marvellously as a fighting arena. I didn't win. But I really want to have another go to see if I can have more success next time. 

Elite Dangerous looks really rather good

It's nice to find a game that mentions your home town on its main screen.

It's nice to find a game that mentions your home town on its main screen.

I got an email in the week telling me that Elite Dangerous was now available and that I could install a trail version on my Xbox One just by clicking a link.

So I did.

Me and Elite go back quite a ways. To BBC machines with Cub monitors and Cumana disk drives. To hours spent learning how to dock with the space station so that you could sell your wares and earn enough money to buy a docking computer. To finding out that every now and then the docking computer crashes and you end up smashing your ship up anyway. 

There were games on the BBC machine before Elite that had 3D graphics. But Elite was the first one with "hidden line removal".  Hidden line remove stops an image looking like a wire frame model and starts to make it look "proper" 3D.

Elite was awesome. As a technical and artistic achievement that ran in a tiny amount of memory it was almost as far ahead of its time as the spaceships you could buy when you played it. The targeting view was superbly realised. And it just worked.

I lost quite a lot of my time to Elite. 

Elite Dangerous does a good job of building on its predecessor. The graphics are awesome looking and for the most part smooth (although we did have a few episodes of choppiness). 

We played for the free first hour that you get in demo mode, and then I actually ended up paying for the full game. 

An Unbelievable Gas Bill

I'm not sure what a naughty hacker could do with my gas meter number, but I'm taking no chances....

I'm not sure what a naughty hacker could do with my gas meter number, but I'm taking no chances....

I got this thing through from the Gas Company asking me to read my meter. They keep sending meter readers round during working hours and finding that I'm not at home.

Who'd have thought?  It's almost as if I had a job that kept me out of the house during the week.


Anyhoo, I went into the garage and took a snap of the device.  I then copied the numbers into the web page and was promptly told that my numbers were unbelievable. There are two possible ways to interpret this:

  • Our gas use has been so high that I've "wrapped round" the meter.
  • Our gas use has been lower than expected because last year I bought a Nest heating controller. 

I really hope it is the latter.

eBay refunds in actually works shock horror

Campus looking good today

Campus looking good today

Some time back I bought something on eBay. It never arrived. I heard nothing. Very sad. I wore black for a few days.  As you do.

It wasn't a hugely expensive item, but it was irritating nonetheless. So I took up the matter using the eBay resolution centre. And the great news is that after pressing a bunch of buttons the eBay judgement computer (or whatever they use) has decided to give me my money back. Which is nice.

Skull, Mascarade, Coup and Snake Oil

Adam is leaving us. End of the month. Heading to Canada. We wish him luck and thank him for all his efforts making the systems work and helping to organise lots of lovely student events. We are really going to miss him around the place.

The only good thing about him leaving is that in celebration (?) we had a games evening tonight. I was quite keen to have a go at Snake Oil, as I'd not played it before, and other folks had brought along games that they thought would be fun too.

Snake Oil is an OK game. Pitch ideas for dodgy products, and take it in turns to be the discerning (or not) customer. Not bad as a party ice breaker but limited, as observed by David, in that there is restricted potential for deceiving the other players.


Mascarade is an awesome game, especially if you can get 13 players playing at the same time, which we did.

Lots of bluff, counter bluff, and bluffing when you don't even know who you actually are. Strongly recommended if you are expecting  a large number, but I'm not sure how it would go with four.

I'm going to have a go though. 

We've played Coup before. Always fun, always infuriating. Especially when you are playing it with this bunch of reprobates.

Bluffing is not encouraged, it is pretty much mandatory. 


The final game of the evening was Skull. Which pretty much did me in for the night.

Rather like poker, but distilled down into the bluffing and deception bit.

A really, really good game with the right people. And these were definitely the right people. I didn't win, but by golly I was very close. 

Game Mechanics and Raspberry Pi's running Windows 10

I had a go at writing a game for Three Thing Game last week. Just to be different I thought I'd do a hardware game using Windows 10 on the Raspberry Pi. We had some fun and games getting the Raspberry Pi to work in the labs, mainly because the lab network didn't give them a network address when the Pi asked. That and the fact that for some reason Logitech USB mice just don't work on a Raspberry Pi running Windows 10. No idea why. They just don't.

Anyhoo, we got everything working and I started building the game. I connected two leds and two switches to the Pi and got them working. Then I built the game mechanic. This is the way that the game is supposed to work. My first idea was that the player would have to press the button when the light came on, but I decided that this was a bad idea because after a while the switch will get destroyed by people bashing it in a hurry.

So I switched it around. When the light goes off you need to release the button as fast as you can. I called the game "Lift Off" because that's what you are supposed to do, and I made it competitive. The idea was that two players would compete in a number of rounds over a 30 second period. They'd press the button, the light would come on for a random time and then go off. The game would then time how long it took the player to release their button and then add that time to the player's score. At the end of the time period the player with the lowest score wins.

I got the code working and it was OK. But then I came across serious flaw in the gameplay.

You could win by not pressing the button at all.

If you never press the button, the light never comes on or goes off, and you end up with an unbeatable score of zero points. So I'd invented a game where doing nothing was the absolute best winning strategy. Oh well.

I've now added a timer so that if you don't press the button you get a big penalty, and I'm tuning the gameplay at the moment. I'll blog how the code works a bit later, once I've got the gameplay mechanic properly sorted - something I should have thought about earlier. Another lesson learned.

The experience of writing a C# XAML application for Raspberry Pi was a bit strange, but in a wonderful way. Everything was exactly where I expected it to be, but I was targeting a tiny device. I had access to all usual development tools. I could step through code and view variables in Visual Studio, use all the libraries that I know and love, but I was targeting a device that costs around 25 quid. If you're running Windows 10 and you've got the Visual Studio 2015 preview running you should have a go at this. It is going to make it much, much, easier to create rich applications for cheap embedded controllers. Very nice.

Fun with Lens Extension Tubes

For a while these stick on jewels and bits and bobs have been floating around the house (not literally, that would be scary - they've just been in a little jar on a shelf). Anyhoo, I thought I'd try to take some pictures of them. I bought some extension tubes off eBay some time back and I wanted to see if they work.

You can use extension tubes if you have a camera which uses interchangeable lenses. The tubes fit between the lens and the camera and have the effect of drastically decreasing the focus distance, making it much easier to take pictures of tiny things. The tubes usually come in sets of two or three, which you can combine to get different focus distances.

These are a rather racy red colour, which is nice I suppose, but the important thing is that they preserve all the electrical connections between the camera and the lens, so that focus and aperture control all still work. You can pick sets like this up on eBay for less than twenty pounds or so, and they are fun to play with. Make sure you get the set that matches your type of camera.

When you start to use them you'll discover that you can focus very close to things (beware of bashing the lens into the thing you are taking a picture of) and that the depth of field (the range of parts of the picture that are in focus), is very shallow. You can address this by adjusting the aperture, try using F8 or so, but then you'll need a lot more light.

I take lots and lots of pictures with the camera on continuous shooting, and rock slowly backwards and forwards during shooting so that the focus changes. Then I go back and pick the ones that I like the best .If you use a larger aperture (F4 or so) then you can get some interesting effects where not all the picture is sharp.

The tubes worked fine, and I got one or two shots that I'm happy with.

Windows 10 + Three Thing Game Ends

Hardy Survivors

Hardy Survivors

We reached the end stops today. By the finish we had 12 teams taking their games through to the finals. Two teams of judges went round and judged six entries each. Then we took each judges top three and brought them together to make the top six finalists. And then we settled down in Lecture Theatre D to look at the game videos the teams had prepared.

Team Spooky Elephant

Team Spooky Elephant

First up was team "Spooky Elephant" who's take on "Abel Pots Sink" had Cain pushing a water filled sink  to catch crockery hurled by a vengeful Abel. Motion captured graphics and sloshing water effects made for madcap gameplay accompanied by a Benny Hill soundtrack. 

Team 1

Team 1

Next up was "Team 1" who had a taken "Jury Hang Hung" and made a life management game for a hapless individual that needed to be kept out of trouble. This game ran on Windows desktop, Phone and Raspberry Pi, a splendid technical achievement.

Team Don't know

Team Don't know

This is team "Don't Know", who took "Coil Loop Wire" and made a platformer where the aim is to protect the coil at all costs. 

Team GDB

Team GDB

Here we have the entry from Team GDB who took "Food Much Many" and built a multiplayer fighting game where the aim is to destroy the edible scenery and drop your opponent into a vat of deadly custard. 

Betajester and Squid Physics

Betajester and Squid Physics

This is a joint effort from Betajester and Squid Phyics, who took "Envy Cars Toys" and built a sandboxed car fighting game in the micro-machines mould. Aiming envious blows at better vehicles than the one you start with allows to to change places with the good cars and progress to bigger and bigger battles. 

"Blue Team of Death"

"Blue Team of Death"

BlueTeam of Death took the words "Eyed Wide View" and made a maze based first person shooter with a great eight bit ambience. Destroy the eyes and progress through the rooms to win. Too much damage causes your view of the playfield to widen and distort, making it harder to aim. 

The judges went away for deliberation and we passed the time exchanging Pirate jokes and discussing whether we should have a Three Thing Game trophy (general consensus - great idea). Then the judges came back and announced the winners. 

Third Place - Spooky Elephant

Third Place - Spooky Elephant

Team Spooky Elephant were commended for making a highly playable and amusing game, and got third place. 

Second Pace - GDB

Second Pace - GDB

Second place went to team GDB who's multiplayer action and adherence to the theme made for some great gameplay. 

First Place - Blue Team of Death

First Place - Blue Team of Death

You know the judges have done a great job when the announce the winner and the room cheers and applauds. "Blue Team of Death" really wowed the audience with a fantastic game which was built from scratch, assets and all and then coded up using Unity, a platform that neither of them had used much. Two strong messages from the judges: great game, and you should get this in the marketplace as soon as possible. 

Judge's special mention - Johnson sings the blues

Judge's special mention - Johnson sings the blues

Before the judges wrapped up, they wanted to mention the team "Johnson sings the blues" who made it into the top six, but were prevented from appearing in the final because they had not got around to making a video. Their game, based on "Rave Cant Rave" was a chunk of multi-player mayhem with a screen that seemed to use up all the colours there are. At once. The team got a special award and was sent away with the strong message "Next time, make a video". 

You can see the winning game video here. I'll put up links to the other entries as I get them. 

Thanks to Warren, Lee, Simon, Nick and Josh for judging. Thanks to Lee, Simon, Dean and Nick for coming along and helping make the event the massive success it was. 

Three Thing Game will be back in November. With a revised Thingomatic and a trophy. Oh yes. 

Windows 10 + Three Thing Game GameJam Starts

The GameJam started promptly today at 10:00 am. By 10:30 most of the teams had turned up and signed in. All things considered, what with it being the last two days of the semester, we had a pretty good turnout. Plenty of teams and plenty of things, courtesy of the Thingomatic. Which worked fine, although it was a bit hungry on the battery side.

Before we started coding we had talks from Lee Stott (Windows 10), Nick Smith (Marmalade) and Dean Ellis (MonoGame). And then, after lunch Simon Jackson gave a talk about Unity. Great stuff, turning the event into a mini-conference as well as a hackathon.

The serious development started in the afternoon. We had the run of our large computer lab, which had been specially re-imaged with Windows 10 just for the event.

This is the team from Hull College who were using the cross platform abilities of Windows 10 to deploy a game across desktop, phone and Raspberry Pi. And it worked too. I took lots more pictures of the event. You can find them here.


Of course we had pizza. And of course there was plenty.

One of the prizes is an "Xbox Onsie". David and Simon couldn't resist putting them on and modelling them...

When I left everyone was settling down for the night. My plan was to come back early and get cracking on my game....

Three Thing Game Thingomatic Lives

We are holding a Windows 10 gaming event at the end of this week. It's going to be a Three Thing Game, which is great, but we aren't going to have an auction for the things this time. 

For this competition we will be using the newly created Thingomatic (patent pending). You can see it above. It is an Arduino linked to a tiny associative word database that I got from those awfully nice people at Akafugu. You just press a button and you get three four letter things that are related in some way. I'm going to let each team press the button three times and pick the best three things from what comes up. Should be fun.

And by Thursday I might even have printed a box for it. 

If you are coming to the event, it all starts at 10:00 am on Thursday 11th in Lecture Theatre D in the Robert Blackburn Building on the Hull University campus. We will be having introduction sessions there, prior to moving to the Fenner computer suite for the actual development. 

It's going to be great fun. 

Splatoon Rocks

I'm not worried about the future of Nintendo. Not when they keep putting out video games of this quality. Splatoon is kind of hard to explain. You wonder if they started with the name and built it from there, or if a programmer came along and said "I've just written this great bit of code that lets you lay paint down on scenery....". Either way the game rocks.

Each player is part kid, part squid. You can play on your own, or as part of a team aiming to paint the town red (or whatever colour you've been assigned). When you change into squid mode you can move quickly through paint of your own colour. So you can spray the floors and walls in front of you and then zoom through it. You can use your "squiddiness" to go under barriers too. And of course your paint gun is pretty fatal to players shooting a different colour.

The rounds are timed and the player who has covered the most territory wins. There are some splendid weapons, including a paint roller that is horribly effective at close range. There's a story mode and lots of challenges too.

I must come clean at this point, I've not actually played it. But I watched the rest of the family having a go and much fun was had. You can do a two player mode, but you'll need some joypad like controllers, it won't work with just a second Wii controller. We used a classic controller and that worked fine.

Apparently the game works really well in network multiplayer too.

C# Yellow Book in Korean

The C# Yellow Book is going worldwide, which is wonderful. I've just agreed to the publication of a Korean version. I got an email a while back from an agent and we a presently drawing up the contracts to get it translated and into the shops.

I've only been to Korea once, I spent a week or so in Seoul as part of the 2007 Imagine Cup World Finals. It is a wonderful place. I'd go back there in a heartbeat.

I really hope I can get hold of a printed copy when it is ready. I'd love to be able to point at it on the bookshelf and say "I wrote that....".

If you are happy with an English version you can get a copy, along with a complete undergraduate course, from here:

I am not always me

You know those scary moments that you have every now and then, when the world seems to wobble slightly on its axis and you fret that horrible things are happening that you are only just becoming aware of? 

Well, just had one of those. On Tuesday, just as I was limbering up to do my talk at the Institute of Physics, I got an email from congratulating me for making a booking I hadn't made. Oh dear.

I'm not that happy with to be honest. Last year I used them to book a few days in a Swansea guest house. It was very nice and all, but the company is now convinced that Swansea is the only place I want to go in the world, and keep sending me what they think are enticing offers to stay in the area again. And they keep telling me that "I've unlocked another discount". I haven't. I've just not used the company for a while. And it is likely to stay that way.

Unlike someone with a similar name to mine, who has just made a booking using my email address. I got the "click here to confirm it is you" message (which conspicuously lacks anywhere you can click to confirm it isn't you). I sent an email off to customer support and got nothing back. Except more emails about few places that my namesake might like to visit. Near Swansea as it turns out.

I've just got an email from addressed to my namesake, asking me to rate my recent interaction with a customer support person. Oh well. That has to count as progress I suppose.