Ambient Orb Controller .NET Library

Updated on Friday, December 27, 2019

The Ambient Orb is (was) an LED illuminated globe designed to display subtle information - stock market prices, weather, etc. Normally the Orb is controlled via the pager network but you can buy (or build) a developer module and connect the Orb via your serial port.

Ambient Orb

I've used my Orb via both pager and serial port for a number of applications. I've just released a library - Ambient Orb Controller - on GitHub that supports both methods of control. I wrote the library to make it easier for me to gin up new Orb applications. If you use an Orb let me know what you come up with. Two of my favorites are using the Orb for continuous integration and as a music visualizer.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Ambient Orb Controller .NET Library #code #random .NET library to control the Ambient Orb (available on GitHub). )

Finding NPR on Windows Mobile

Updated on Sunday, October 23, 2022

Now here's a niche:

Windows Mobile Owners and NPR Fans Venn Diagram

I'm occasionally jealous of an iPhone app, in this case a station finder for NPR. I hate hunting on a long drive or in a strange city. Luckily, NPR has an API, so I've whipped up an NPR Station Finder for Windows Mobile.

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Licensing Fail: WinZip vs. ScanToPDF

Updated on Sunday, May 3, 2020
Software licensing is a tricky art - too little security and you leak revenue, too much and you leak customers. I worked on several license management systems at Ç-Dilla and Macrovision so I've spent far more time than is healthy thinking about this problem.

In general I think the best system is one that helps keep honest users honest. A speed bump that itches the conscience but doesn't get in the way of legitimate customers getting their job done.

I just migrated to a new computer and have finished several days of installing software and drivers. This is never a fun task, but I've been through it a few times and keep all my license information on a NAS drive to reduce the pain.

WinZip has a great trial model. The product is fully functional and nags you just enough that you'll eventually pay. I've been a customer for years, and as I moved to Windows 7 I emailed to ask about upgrade pricing. I got a prompt response and was up and running in no time.

I didn't need to upgrade. The old version of WinZip installed just fine using an existing license key.

ScanToPDF from O Imaging was a different story. The license is locked to a PC, and there's no way to move it automatically. You have to email them. It then gets worse - there's an "administration charge" to move a license. So as a paying customer I have to wait for the UK office to respond to email and even then I can't continue to use the product I've paid for.

I'm sure it's in the small print somewhere.

But the impact is that ScanToPDF has lost a customer, an advocate (I've suggested the product to others in the past, never again) and infuriated me enough to throw up a negative blog post. Is the administration charge really worth it?

At Catfood I use very simple license keys locked just to an email address. I'll refund any purchase with no questions asked. I'll issue new licenses as needed to keep customers happy. I have an online service to retrieve lost keys.

The products get pirated immediately, and finding a key generator doesn't take a lot of sleuthing. I don't care about this at all, because happy customers recommend products to their friends. Pain-free licensing is absolutely key to happy customers. Don't fall into the trap of putting your energy into complicated licensing and enforcing procedures. Add a new feature instead.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Licensing Fail: WinZip vs. ScanToPDF #etc #licensing #drm ScanToPDF's painful licensing process makes me mad enough that I ultimately open sourced a free alternative. )

State of the Micro-ISV-osphere

Updated on Saturday, May 1, 2021

I was a micro-ISV (µISV) for years before I heard of the term. It was coined by Eric Sink to describe a one man software shop, and is now generally used for any small software company.

There isn't much market data available this far down the long tail so I've spent some time analyzing PAD files to see if I could answer a few questions.

PAD is the Portable Application Description specification from the Association of Shareware Professionals. It's used to describe software for submission to download sites. How useful these sites are is another question — read Scott Kane on this if you haven't already.

I spidered all the PAD files listed in the ASP directory, downloading data on 76,066 products from 39,861 µISVs (companies / people / publishers). It's not a perfect data set as there are PADs that aren't software and µISVs that don't use PAD. I've also heard that some people are developing web apps these days. But here goes…

Where are the µISVs?

Countries with the most micro-ISVs

Overwhelmingly in the US. Other countries with more than a thousand listed are the UK, Russia, China, India, Canada, Germany and Australia (in descending order). Most countries have at least one µISV but the numbers fall off pretty quickly.

How much do µISVs charge for their products?

Micro-ISV product cost distribution

$29.95.

About a third of products are free and a third fall into 9 price points (all ending in 5). I found over a thousand different US Dollar price points overall.

The most expensive product was a $150,000 Green Living site license from South Beach Software (an order of magnitude more expensive than the runner up).

How large are µISVs products?

Micro-ISV product sizes

There's not much action past 20 MB. Most downloads are between 1-2 MB. There's an interesting little spike around 14 MB. I guess this is a popular framework, possibly Java? The largest download was almost 1.5 GB.

Are µISVs still releasing downloadable software?

Most recent micro-ISV product release by month

This is a tough one to get at because PAD files just tell you about the most recent version, not the release history. The chart really shows a last update distribution for the products in the PAD catalog.

There's a large number of products last updated in mid-2008 with nothing comparable in 2009. Could this be a drop-off in PAD usage? A shift to web apps? Maybe final releases before the recession hit leading to less spare cycles for side projects (my µISV certainly pays for beers rather than mortgages).

How many products do µISVs publish?

Micro-ISV products per company

This final chart shows that most µISVs have just one product. Of course in some cases there might be a brand per product and still a single entity — it's impossible to separate this out from the PAD data. The largest number of products from a single µISV is 616.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: State of the Micro-ISV-osphere #etc #asp Data on micro-ISVs - small software publishers - generated from association of software professionals PAD files. )

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Catfood: Earth and Follower

Updated on Sunday, November 6, 2022

I've been busy updating a couple of Catfood products.

Catfood Earth updates your desktop wallpaper to show day, night and cloud cover. It can also display earthquakes, time zones, places and US weather radar:

Catfood Earth

Catfood Follower is a Twitter tool that automatically follows people who follow you and/or removes friends who stop following you. I think it's most useful for business accounts:

Catfood Follower

With these two out the door my next project is overhauling the Catfood website. I'm kind of dreading it, but the current architecture is over six years old and it's definitely showing its age.

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ESRI Shapefile Reader in .NET

Updated on Sunday, March 12, 2023

ESRI Shapefile Reader in C#/.NET

Catfood.Shapefile is a .NET read-only, forward-only parser for Esri shapefiles. With Catfood.Shapefile it’s easy to enumerate all the shapes in a shapefile together with their metadata.

From version 2.00 Catfood.Shapefile is available via NuGet. It has also been migrated to .NET Standard 2.0. This means it is compatible with .NET Framework 4.61 or better and .NET Core 2.0 or better. If you use an older version of .NET then you should continue using Catfood.Shapefile 1.60. The source code is on GitHub.

Esri (originally Environmental Systems Research Institute) shapefiles are a GIS (geographic information systems) file format that can store a wide variety of geographic information. I originally started working with these files to add country borders to Catfood Earth.

Shapefiles actually consist of a number of different files with different extensions. There are three mandatory extensions: .shp, .shx and .dbf and so a shapefile containing borders might be distributed as borders.shp, borders.shx and borders.dbf. The .shp file contains the actual shape data in vector format, often lines or polygons. The .shx file is an index to the shapes. Finally the .dbf file is a database of metadata associated with the shapes. Catfood.Shapefile requires these three files.

There are several optional extensions that might be included with a shapefile. .prj contains the geographical projection, .xml is an alternate metadata format, .sbn and .sbx index for spatial queries, and .cpg defines the code page used by the shapefile.

Here is some sample code for a .NET 6 console application to print basic information about a shapefile and the first point in the first polygon:

To use this, create a new console application, paste the code into Program.cs and add Catfood.Shapefile via NuGet.

The default constructor uses a database connection string that uses the Jet driver. This is only available for 32-bit applications and you will need to target Windows x86 to use it. An overload is available that allows you to specify a custom connection string to access metadata.

Catfood.Shapefile supports Null, Point, MultiPoint, PolyLine, PolyLineM and Polygon shapes. Three dimensional shapes (PointZ, PolyLineZ and PolygonZ) are not currently supported. There is also currently no support for writing shapefiles. If you add any of this please send a pull request on GitHub!

I am grateful to the developers who have contributed to Catfood.Shapefile over the years. Most are credited in the release notes below. If you need help or have feedback please leave a comment on this post.

Updates

Catfood.Shapefile 2.00

I just released Catfood.Shapefile 2.00, my .NET parser for ESRI Shapefiles.

The big change is that I have migrated to .NET Standard 2.0. This makes it possible to use from .NET Core as well as classic .NET Framework from 4.6.1 up. If you need to use an older version of .NET Framework then you'll want to stick with Catfood.Shapefile 1.60.

Catfood.Shapefile is now also available via NuGet. This is the recommended way to install. The source code is still available on GitHub.

Catfood.Shapefile 1.60

I just released Catfood.Shapefile 1.60. This contains a fix from Libor Weigl that factors out the enumerator so that you can still access the shapefile after enumeration.

Catfood.Shapefile is a .NET library for parsing ESRI Shapefiles.

(previously)

Shapefile Update

A few people have asked for 3D shape support in my ESRI Shapefile library. I've never got around to it, but CodePlex user ekleiman has forked a version in his ESRI Shapefile to Image Convertor that supports PointZ, PolygonZ and PolyLineZ shapes. If that's what you need please check it out.

Catfood.Shapefile 1.50

I've just released a small update to my C# Shapefile library on Codeplex. Catfood.Shapefile 1.50 fixes a couple of bugs related to metadata and adds the ability to access metadata records directly via IDataRecord. 

Catfood.Shapefile 1.40

I’ve just released a small update to Catfood.Shapefile. Stephan Stapel, who implemented PolyLineM support, has contributed a patch that improves the class hierarchy. CodePlex user originSH suggested supporting the ACE driver for 64-bit systems. I’ve added a constructor overload that allows you to use predefined Jet and ACE connection strings or provide your own templates if necessary. Thanks to Stephan and originSH.

Catfood.Shapefile is a .NET library for enumerating ESRI shapefiles. I originally wrote the library to help me build some complex layers in Catfood Earth. Since then it’s picked up thousands of users and some really valuable suggestions and patches from the CodePlex community. I’m very glad a took a couple of hours to open source the library back in 2009.

PolyLineM support in Catfood.Shapefile

I’ve just updated Catfood.Shapefile, my ESRI Shapefile parser for .NET, with PolyLineM support thanks to a contribution from Stephan Stapel. The solution for the new version has also been updated to Visual Studio 2010.

Download Catfood.Shapefile.dll 1.30 from CodePlex.

ESRI Shapefile Library Update

I've just released a small update for my ESRI Shapefile Reader project on GitHub. The only change is a patch from SolutionMania that fixes a problem when the shapefile name is also a reserved name in the metadata database. The patch escapes the name preventing an exception from being thrown.

Catfood.Shapefile.dll is a .NET 2.0 forward only parser for reading an ESRI Shapefile. Download 1.20 from GitHub.

Catfood.Shapefile.dll 1.10

I've just released v1.10 of my ESRI Shapefile Reader (Catfood.Shapefile.dll). This is a .NET 2.0 forward only parser for reading shapefile content.

Sharon Tickell was kind enough to report two bugs with suggested updates. These have both been fixed in 1.10.

While working on these fixes I also discovered that there are no 64-bit Jet drivers (since releasing the first version I've upgraded to a 64-bit box for development). This is an easy fix, just target any application using Catfood.Shapefile.dll at x86. I've updated the demo application accordingly.

Download Catfood.Shapefile.dll from GitHub.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: ESRI Shapefile Reader in .NET #code #shapefile #esri #github #codeplex #polylinem #c# #.net #nuget Catfood.Shapefile is a .NET library that provides easy access to Esri shapefiles (.shp, .shx, .dbf), available on NuGet and GitHub. )

How many people don't read this blog?

Updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2022

This is a joke metric that I first proudly displayed on Catfood Magazine back in 1997 (it's broken on the archive of the site). Everyone had a hit counter back then, but as far as I know we were the first site with a non-hit counter.

The dirty secret was that the counter just showed the world population. The readership was a rounding error.

My new count of non-visitors uses the US Census Bureau's world population estimate and subtracts unique visitors from the Google Analytics API. The count is cached for an hour so it doesn't slow the page down too much.

Updated 2022-11-15 14:50:

The United Nations says:

"The world’s population is projected to reach 8 billion on 15 November 2022..."

And the 8 billion number is being widely reported today, however my current unread count is a paltry 7,932,915,881. That's because the US Census world population estimate is a lot lower, by over 66.8M people. That's approximately France!

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(Published to the Fediverse as: How many people don't read this blog? #etc #ithcwy As of the last update to this post, 7,927,037,899 people have not read I Thought He Came With You in the past month. )

How to get technical support without spending hours on the phone

Updated on Sunday, May 3, 2020
Them: Hello, my name is Phil, how can I help you today?

You: My DSL connection is slow.

Them: Okay, I can help you with that, have you...

You: My first thought was that the Linksys router that's been working perfectly for five years has gone wrong. So I connected my computer directly to your off-brand modem with the same result. I then thought that the problem must be with the computer, so I reinstalled it from the manufacturer discs and rebooted about seven times.

Them: Let me connect you to my supervisor...

Them: Tap, tap, tap, oh, we seem to have switched your service back to the basic package. Tap, tap, tap, fixed.
Sometimes it's fun to argue with support. Sometimes you just need to short-circuit the idiot script to get through to the person who can fix the problem.

I think it's time for CAPTGUAs or Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Geeks and Users Apart. A quick puzzle or two that bypasses the first couple of levels of support.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: How to get technical support without spending hours on the phone #etc #support How to bypass the first few levels of tech support and talk to someone who can actually help you. )

Business of Software 2009

Updated on Sunday, May 3, 2020
I'm a Joel Spolsky stalker at the moment - after Stack Overflow DevDays last month I spent three days this week at the Business of Software conference in San Francisco.

It was an incredibly high value conference, in terms of both speakers and attendees. Next year it will be back in Boston, which sucks for me, but I'll make every effort to attend.

I was really excited to see Geoffrey Moore speak. An old boss once bought a crate of Crossing the Chasm for everyone in the division to read. It's still the best business book I've ever read. At the conference Moore spoke about innovation - specifically differentiation (get out of the competitive set), neutralization (get back in to the competitive set) and optimization (productivity gains). All three are essential, but you're shooting yourself in the foot if you spend too much time on neutralization - "Best of breed is a suckers game". His thesis was to do the bare minimum needed to stay competitive and then pour resources back into differentiation.

A theme of the conference was on motivating yourself and others - how to build a great company/culture. Several speakers talked about carving out time for creativity and fun. Carsonified evidently operates on a four day week. I've spent the last couple of years on a six day week... lots of food for thought here.

I convinced myself to attend this year after watching some of the videos from the 2008 conference. These are available on the Business of Software Ning - I'd recommend joining and checking them out. Hopefully videos from this year's conference will be posted soon.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Business of Software 2009 #etc #bos A review of the Business of Software 2009 conference. )

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Golden Gate Park - Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill and Museum Concourse

Updated on Saturday, July 18, 2020

Golden Gate Park - Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill and Museum Concourse

An alternative to our normal loop is another three mile walk starting from JFK and Transverse. Instead of heading towards the beach walk up under the bridge and take the first right to Stow Lake.

Stow Lake

Stow Lake surrounds Strawberry Hill. There's a path around the lake with two bridges leading to the hill. I normally walk to one bridge, cross and then up to the top of the hill. It's generally pretty quiet with great city and ocean views in between the trees.

Top of Strawberry Hill in the middle of Stow Lake

View from the top of Strawberry Hill. Rudy is in there somewhere, click for a larger version.

de Young Museum

After the hill I walk over to the Museum Concourse. The de Young rises through the trees like an implausibly stranded copper aircraft carrier. It hosts a range of paintings, decorative art, sculpture and modern art. You're bound to find something you like here.

de Young Museum (Side)

The copper cladding will turn green eventually, probably before the new Bay Bridge span is finished.

California Academy of Sciences

Opposite the de Young is the California Academy of Sciences. The Academy features an outstanding digital planetarium, a three story rainforest and an aquarium. It reopened last year after a major rebuild and it's insanely popular - get there first thing to snag the first come first served planetarium tickets.

Prayerbook Cross

On the way back I detoured up to Prayerbook Cross, donated in 1894 to commemorate the first English sermon on the pacific coast after Sir Francis Drake discovered Drake's Bay (a name which didn't stick).

(2.97 miles, total elevation gain 103 feet, 1 hours, 17 minutes, average 2.29 mph, view in Google Earth, view in Google Maps.)

Hike starts at: 37.770433, -122.479941.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Golden Gate Park - Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill and Museum Concourse #hike #sfdogwalk Three mile hike in Golden Gate Park taking in Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill and the Museum Concourse (San Francisco, California). )