Sunday, March 10, 2013

Of the Essence

My last post talked about a new feature I've added to Solitaire Till Dawn, and so did another earlier post. Recently someone posted a comment to the effect that he, and many others, have been waiting a long time for me to get Solitaire Till Dawn finally ready for distribution, and that he doesn't want new features; he just wants a working version as quickly as possible.

I've been expecting some feedback like that, and I'm only surprised that it didn't come sooner, and in greater quantity, and louder. Because I totally understand: you all just want to play some solitaire. That's the only reason you're interested in Solitaire Till Dawn, the only reason you pay attention to my ramblings, the only reason you come to this blog. Come on, Holzgrafe, just finish it up already!

So now seems like a good time to explain a few things. You have all shown tremendous good will toward me and my project, and I want to stay on your collective good side while we're all still waiting and working toward a hopeful happy conclusion.

The first thing to say is that I'm still not free to spend much time on software development. I am still in the middle of moving house, and that process still has a ways to go. There have also been some medical issues in my family: nothing life-threatening, but they took a lot of time and attention, and to some degree are still on-going. The combination has been devastating to my ability to sit and concentrate on software.

And that's the next thing to say: time to sit and concentrate, for hours on end, is critical to software development. This is something that almost no one other than software engineers seems to understand. In fact, when I retired from my day job last November, it was largely because new management did not understand this, and could not be made to understand it. They were convinced that software development got done in meetings. (Here I originally wrote a long rant about all the things they changed that reduced the engineering department's ability to actually get anything done; but then I decided to take mercy on you all, and deleted it.)

I had hoped that, by retiring, I would finally be able to devote big chunks of my time to Solitaire Till Dawn development, but so far that has not happened. The move is one reason: I can't afford to be retired and still live in one of the most expensive places on earth, so I must move, and soon. The health issues are another reason. So for the past four months, not much has gotten done on solitaire, I'm afraid.

And yet I somehow found time to add a couple of new features. How did that happen, and why wasn't I just working on finishing the original feature set instead?

One reason is that bit about having long periods of uninterrupted time to work. The job of debugging an almost-finished product absolutely requires that kind of time. Every bug has to be discovered, then studied until I know how to reproduce it, then studied until I understand it. Then I have to devise a fix (that doesn't break something else), implement the fix, then spend more hours testing to be sure that the fix really works, really fixes all manifestations of the bug in all circumstances, and really doesn't break something else. This kind of sustained effort can't be done in 5-minute pieces, or even one-hour pieces.

Some new features are like this, too. It can take weeks to add some features. But in other cases, a new feature may be able to go in fairly easily and quickly, and without interfering with other things. That's been the case with the last couple of features I've added, so I didn't feel too bad about using small bits of time for them.

It's also true that I need to keep my own interest up. Not everything about software development is fun, even though I do enjoy most of the process. Tossing in a nifty new feature once in a while makes me feel good. This way, I have not just spent five years re-creating something old; I can honestly say that the new version will be better than ever before. That keeps me happy and motivated to do the boring, difficult stuff... when I can find the time.

23 comments:

  1. Thanks for the update. Your "Of the Essence" blog really defines the character of STD. Your efforts to complete this project are appreciated.

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  2. Thanks for your post. But probably even if i am not a software engineer i do understand what happens, it something that happens when the people that guide a business, a university or anything else just think in terms of money and nothing else. Take your time for your house moving, your medical problems that are more important that playing even the best solitaire in the world.

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  3. I'm a website developer so "kind of" understand how you feel. Ironing out all the niggly bugs can seem to take forever. Keep up the good work and I can't wait to see the new STDX.

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  4. I've hung on this long, I can hang on still longer....It will be worth it! Thanks.

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  5. Some of us waited 10 years for the completion of A Fool and His Money. I personally pre-ordered it and waited 6 years before Cliff Johnson was done. So, I am very ready to wait for you; I hope it isn't 6 years ... but I do understand that you have a life and it isn't always easy. Prayers for you and your family.

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  6. Thank you for giving us a peek behind the scenes of your world. As a recently retired software engineer, I completely understand the work involved in creating a new version of our beloved Solitaire Till Dawn (and the frustration of dealing with managers who cannot possibly comprehend software development.) By the time I had reached "Card Whale" status (long, long ago) I was totally hooked on your work. I have kept a mostly retired (and somewhat disabled) PowerBook alive just so I can play your game. I have tried almost every other solitaire card game available - none is as good as yours. I wish you luck with your move and great improvement with the health issues. Thanks!

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  7. Thank you for insight about the development. Having worked with and supported software engineers for years before my own retirement, my concern was that you had lost the "spark", that revamping the original had become numbing and therefore we would never see the end of the effort. Knowing you already are aware and on guard gives me bright hope that this will get done, and sooner than even you suspect. May I suggest...you have been super generous with us loyal users, have reinstated my program several times without charge in the past..but I am willing to pay for the upgrades in this program and hope you have a plan to make these upgrades work for your financial interest. Have you considered that getting this to market, charging appropriately, you may be able to live quite nicely, quite comfortably, anywhere you want. If this program is as popular with the new world of iTunes that is was with us..who found you before Apple ruled...then you may be able to hire the next round of debuggers for you!! Whatever, I am willing to continue the watch. I wish you good health and the success you have earned!

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  8. Hi, Rick. Thanks with the others for your update. As one who lives in the Bay Area (Marin), I know how tough it can be to afford life here. I've also had my share of medical problems and know they are draining. Not to worry. As Elton, my previous MacBook Pro sits to my left available when I need it for my 40 Thieves addiction. [Tho I must say, it came to wreak havoc with my upper right arm, which appreciates the long break.]

    It has occurred to me since I lost STD, that given how vicious Apple has become about changing things profoundly and often to gobble up their profits, it may become impossible for software develeopers like you to even keep up at all with system changes. By the time you're able to upgrade STD, they may have changed the system yet again, rendering your work moot. How disheartening is that?

    Hang in there. We'll survive.

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  9. Well then, the sooner you complete the new STD the sooner you'll earn from it - always provided your faithful customers haven't died of old age. :-)

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  10. I, too, appreciate knowing a little of the work that goes on behind the scenes. I also am more than willing to pay for the privilege of having my beloved STD back on my computer. However, your life and health come first. Meanwhile, we'll continue to "hold on"!

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  11. "Curse you, Lion! But rest assured, the valiant Holzgrafe will ultimately neutralize your dark powers, and Solitaire 'Til Dawn will flicker once again on screens across the planet!"

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  12. Rick, I'm not a software developer or an engineer, but a physician. I have retired mostly due to the fact that I was working for a US Government agency run by executives who thought of patients as widgets and physicians as employees on a production line who didn't have to think in order to move the "product" along. I did, a long time ago and in a dark place occupied by DOS, have to develop programs that allowed word processing, database and spreadsheet programs to talk to each other (when I was an Apple IIe user who loved Appleworks). The frustration I had doing that and fixing bugs...I know some of your pain.

    Of course your life comes first. Moving is such a pain and dealing with illness in the family is even more upsetting. I'm wishing you better times ahead. I have my old iMac still and it still provides me with STD when I need something to get me through.

    Looking forward to the new version but understanding that all good things come to those who wait.

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  13. Unfortunately, I may just be gone by the time this new version gets to market. Don't feel its reasonable to have to run on old software just to keep a game that has been in the making for many years. Just not realistic. If it took me this long to write a program for my boss......I'd be fired Have you ever thought of just concentrating on the top 10 games people want?

    MMB

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  14. Well, the wait has had one good side effect, at least. In order to feed my STD addiction, I hunted down OS9 emulation software (Sheepshaver), and installed it under Lion. Now I a back to the old, pre-OSX version of STD, but I can play it like I used to. AND, when, on short notice, I found I wanted to run an old program I had written for Classic Macs, I found I could also run it under SheepShaver, with little time getting it going.
    I do look forward to the new STD, though. We all do.

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  15. I just got a new Mac with Mountain Lion, and sob, STD doesn't work and apparently no version will. I am a total addict to STD since forever and can hardly (although I will be obliged to) wait for the Lion version to come out. Here's me encouraging you to do so!!! Pretty please?

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  16. Well, the wait for your new program has done two things. It has forced me to try other Solitaire games and just proven the fact that STD is still the best game out there. May you find the time! Thanks for meeting a real need in the apple gaming area.

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    1. I agree 100%. None can compare to STD. Solitaire Forever is keeping me going while I (we all!) wait for STD to come out!

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  18. Hey, all--could we find a different abbreviation for Solitaire Till Dawn? Because STD means something else, too.... :D

    I hope you've been able to get through your move and settle in, and that all health issues are resolved!

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  19. When will the game be ready for the most recent Mac OS? It's probably the best Solitaire set out there...I really enjoy it when I'm listening to an audio book or find myself without a project in my hands, which is rare, but TRYING. (-;

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  20. Rick, it's been 3 months since we've even heard from you! Are you okay? Are the health issues still haunting you? I'm now more worried about you than STD!

    I hope you and yours are okay and it's just other "Life happenings" that are keeping you busy.

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  21. Afraid I finally gave up. I put off upgrading from Snow Leopard for a long time for many reasons, STD being one of them. But I finally felt I needed to upgrade. I sympathize very much with Rick's comments and I certainly understand his priorities. But in the end I had to look elsewhere. Bought a different Solitaire program which I don't think is as good, but seems at least adequate for me.

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  22. My old MacBook died and I had to buy a new one. I was crushed when I found out I could not download Solitaire Till Dawn for OS 10.8.4! I hope your moving pains are over and family health issues are on their way to being resolved. Can't wait to have STD back again!

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