Saturday, March 10, 2018

Tales of an Amateur Dev

I've dabbled in coding before, but never done anything serious - the biggest project I've ever worked on was a version of Risk I coded in Turing for a highschool class back in 1999. But it's always been something that's interested me, and it's possible that my career might take me in that direction somewhere down the line, so it's a skill set I've wanted to build for a while.

A project just came across my horizon that I think I'm going to work on - basically, it's an application for a tabletop game, but one that can get very complex by the time it's done due to the number of different advanced rule sets/unit types/etc. that are available in this game. This project is really ambitious by the standards of my current skill level, and it may well be beyond what I can do well. However, even if I fall out halfway through I'll probably learn a ton, and if it succeeds there may even be a second income stream in it for me.

This blog post will be rather different than anything else I've posted here, but if you want to see my ramblings and false starts, come join me. This is intended to be something of a notebook of my experiences, as well as perhaps being a useful guide to anyone else who wants to follow in my footsteps.

Project Overview

The game I'm building for is BattleTech - it's a tabletop wargame, based around giant stompy death robots, but it's got add-ons for everything from infantrymen to two million ton space battleships. The goal for the intial version is to be able to make units of the most common types, with a convenient and modern UI. Once that's complete, more unit types will be added, as well as more utilities that players may value - the ability to turn individual units into larger forces, the ability to organize the logistics for those larger forces, the ability to build their own imaginary factions and select common designs and the like for them, and so on. Once that's done, I'd ideally like to integrate a rules database, fictional references lookup, and so on. All of this should be easy to use for an end user - just a simple download-and-install, no need to set up a Java environment or anything.

In a perfect world, this program ought to run on all major OSes(both desktop and mobile), be easy to integrate new expansions into, take input and provide output in all the most common formats used by players, and be superior in terms of both usability and breadth of options to all its competitors. Obviously, this is a hell of a request list, and I don't anticipate it'll happen right away. For one, having the same program work on desktop and mobile is a nightmare - that was what Windows 8 was built for, and Windows 8 was a failure. If Microsoft can't do it, neither can I.

So, the architecture seems like it ought to be divided into three parts.

  • The database, which contains all the various units, weapons, rule write-ups, and so on. 
  • The back end, which does the actual calculations, output to other programs, and the like. 
  • The front end, which gives the user an interface to make everything actually happen. 
As I understand it, the database and back end should be universal, as long as I pick the right tools. The front end will be extremely different on desktop and mobile, but as long as everything is properly modular, that's the only thing that should need to change. I'll be starting with desktop, as it's both more forgiving and easier to test. 


I've started this project with the intention of using C# as the primary coding language, building it within Visual Studio's free Community edition. There's a good selection of libraries and support tools, I have some experience with both language and environment, and it seems that the expansion to other OSes is fairly easy(from what I've read, Xamarin for Visual Studio will let you turn C# code into iOS/Android apps, which looks like an easier transition to mobile than any other I've come across). 

For the database, my intention is to use SQLite. I don't have much experiences with databases of any sort, but it seems to be the de facto standard for building a relational database into an application without need for any central database server. And again, it's very well supported, and free to use. This is a Visual Studio plugin that seems to implement it. (Edit: Nope, that's a bunch of tools, but not the actual implementation. I'll update this when I find what I want.)

Getting the same version to work on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems ought to be possible, and a helpful soul pointed me in the direction of wxWidgets, which seemingly has a C# version. I don't know exactly what I'll be doing here, but that seems like a promising lead. 

Any of these may turn out to be mistakes, but I'll start there and see what happens. 


Designing something that's intended to be this thoroughly expandable is a challenge I've never dealt with. Most of the time I've just done straight A to B programming, brute-forcing things freely and hard-coding all over the place. Doing long-term maintenance on a few workplace projects has started to move me away from those habits, but I'll need to jump far, far away from them for this to work right. 

The plan right now is to use plain-text definition files of some sort, one for each different type of unit. Those files will create a list of things the unit type must have and a list of what they may have, with caps on each(e.g., you can only have one engine, but you can have dozens of weapons). These will be as soft-coded as I can manage, because the number of optional rules and add-ins means that anything I hard-code will need to be torn apart and replaced down the line. 

The structure of the database will also be a big concern. A lot of things can be used on many different types of units, so making sure that the database that stores them is properly set up for flexibility down the line will be quite important. I think each "class" of weapon(infantry, mech, artillery, naval, etc.) will have its own table, and each sub-class(e.g., all AC/2-class weapons, of which there are several types with overlapping ammunition options) will be given a label within that class. Special rules that apply to some weapons, or some ammo types, will have their own table, and a many-many relationship will be set up between them to keep it all straight and prevent inconsistencies from sneaking in. Ideally, each rule should be defined exactly once, and everything that uses it will just reference the master entry. 

Getting Started

To start, I downloaded Visual Studio, installing the ".NET Desktop Development" package. It was about a 3.5 GB install. The list I originally wanted (with Xamarin etc.) was close to 40 GB, so I figured I'd hold off on those to avoid blowing up my internet's download cap. 

Once I got it downloaded, I created a project as a "Windows Forms App (.NET Framework)", as that seems to be a decent UI option from a quick Google image search. I needed to create a new folder outside the Visual Studio folder to store the actual project in, as my original attempt to make a sub-folder was blocked. I made sure to tick off the option to add it to version control, as a VCS is a must for any kind of serious coding - it seems to use Git, which I've dabbled with before, and which is as good as any. Once that was done and I was properly into Visual Studio, I installed the SQLite plugin through the extensions manager and rebooted the program. 

The crazy part is that this has been a big focus of mine for the last day and a half, but after all this work and planning, I still haven't written a single line of code yet. But I know where I'm going, and I have some reasonable-sounding ideas for how to get there. Let's see how this goes. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Predictions for 2017 - Analysis

One of the first posts I made on this blog was a set of 50 predictions for 2017, each with probabilities attached. Now it's time to see how I did.

1) Maxime Bernier will win the CPC leadership - 50%
Result: WRONG. Close, but wrong.
2) Kellie Leitch will not win the CPC leadership - 80%
Result: RIGHT. Given how she actually did, I actually feel under-confident here.
3) There will be 5 or fewer candidates on the final CPC leadership ballot - 60%
Result: WRONG. I misunderstood the process, and didn't realize how little reason to drop out there was, or how early you had to drop out.
4) Jason Kenney will win the PCAA leadership - 90%
Result: RIGHT.
5) The PCAA and Wildrose parties will not have begun any official merger process - 70%
Result: WRONG.
6) There will be no Danielle Smith-style defection of multiple Wildrose MLAs to the PCAA(or vice-versa) - 90%
Result: RIGHT.
7) There will be less than 3 candidates who formally register for the federal NDP leadership - 80%
Result: WRONG. This one was somewhat snarky on my part, and I let it mess with my judgement.
8) The expected 2017-18 deficit announced in the 2017 federal budget will be higher than predicted in the 2016 budget($29.0 billion) - 70%
Result: WRONG. It was actually $28.5 billion, so close, but wrong.
9) The expected 2017-18 deficit announced in the 2017 Ontario budget will be higher than predicted in the 2016 budget(balanced) - 70%
Result: WRONG. It seems they might actually run a deficit, but they didn't predict one, so this fails.
10) Approval of the performance of Justin Trudeau will be below 50% in at least one major scientific poll - 80%
Result: RIGHT. It was a squeaker, though.

11) The UK will invoke Article 50 and begin the formal Brexit process - 95%
Result: RIGHT.
12) Theresa May will remain PM of the UK - 99%
Result: RIGHT. That said, this one is case in point for why 99% is the highest certainty allowed in this scheme. This came shockingly close to failing.
13) There will be no second referendum on Brexit, actual or planned - 99%
Result: RIGHT.
14) The UK will initiate public talks with at least five non-EU nations for free trade deals - 80%
Result: I can't find any convenient list of deals underway. There's definitely talks with the US, and seemingly at least some PM-level discussions with Japan, but I can't find an easy way to judge this as either true or false. Which means it's probably false, to be fair.
15) No public process for a CANZUK free trade/free movement agreement will have begun - 80%
Result: RIGHT. A bit fuzzy on my phrasing, but governments haven't made any serious steps that I can see.
16) No deal will be reached between the UK and the EU on the terms of Brexit - 95%
Result: WRONG. They reached a deal in December.
17) No other nation will decide to leave the EU or Eurozone - 80%
Result: RIGHT.
18) Marine Le Pen will make it to the French Presidential runoff election - 60%
Result: RIGHT.
19) Marine Le Pen will not win the Presidency of France - 95%
Result: RIGHT. No surprises here - 30% of the population likes the alt-right and 70% hates them in most countries, and they were always going to unify behind whoever the sane one was.
20) Angela Merkel will be re-elected Chancellor of Germany - 70%
Result: RIGHT. Pretty close, which was expected(hence my comparatively low confidence here), but she made it.
21) There will be at least one explicitly Islamic terrorist attack killing 50+ people in the OECD - 70%
Result: WRONG. There were several nasty attacks, but the highest number killed by any was 39. This is one where I'm glad to be wrong, of course, but wrong I am.
22) There will be no terrorist attack killing 500+ people in the OECD - 90%
Result: RIGHT.
23) ISIS will remain a de facto nation with control of at least some territory - 80%
Result: RIGHT. Not a lot, but there's a few areas in Syria that they still hold(the grey parts on this map).
24) The US will continue to attack ISIS(at least until all their territory is lost) - 90%
Result: RIGHT.
25) The US will not begin any substantial new conflicts(Libya 2011 or larger) - 80%
Result: RIGHT.
26) Approval of the performance of Donald Trump will be above 50% in at least one major scientific poll in the last three months of the year - 80%
Result: WRONG. Again, I let my cynicism get the better of me. The highest I can find is 46%.
27) The US Senate will eliminate the filibuster for at least some votes - 70%
Result: RIGHT. The Gorsuch vote went nuclear.
28) The US will withdraw some form of support from the anti-Russian nations of Eastern Europe - 80%
Result: WRONG. Trump has been better than I thought he would be here.
29) No nuclear weapons will be used against civilian targets - 95%
Result: RIGHT. Thankfully so.
30) At least one world leader will be elected on a populist campaign routinely mentioned alongside Trump and Brexit - 80%
Result: WRONG. I can't think of any examples, at least.

31) Using the same methodology as my discussion of 2015-16 celebrity deaths, at least 10 celebrities will die - 90%
Result: RIGHT. 15 people, average age 62, which actually makes it slightly worse than 2016. (The list is David Cassidy(67), Tom Petty,(66), Malcolm Young(64), Roy Halladay(40), John Heard(71), Chester Bennington(41), Chris Cornell(52), Stephen Furst(53), John Hurt(77), George Romero(77), Gregg Allman(69), Bill Paxton(61), Richard Hatch(71), Jimmy Snuka(73), and Gord Downie(53)).
32) Canada will not have a natural disaster as devastating as the 2016 Aberta wildfires - 80%
Result: RIGHT.
33) No major green energy breakthrough(>50% improvement in output per dollar) - 90%
Result: RIGHT.
34) Global average temperature is higher than 2016 - 80%
Result: WRONG. 0.1 degrees cooler. That said, looking at recent history, I'd say this was pretty well-calibrated.
35) No natural disaster will kill 10,000 or more people - 80%
Result: RIGHT. The deadliest was the South Asian flooding, that killed about 1,200.
36) No natural disaster will kill 100 or more people in the OECD - 90%
Result: WRONG. There was an earthquake in Mexico City that killed 225.
37) There will be at least one computer security breach affecting 50 million or more accounts - 80%
Result: RIGHT. The Equifax breach was 143 million accounts.
38) No film released in 2017 will have a global box-office gross over $1.5B - 50%
Result: RIGHT. The highest was Star Wars: The Last Jedi, at $1.32 billion. (It's still in theatres, but it made $3M last week, so I don't think I need to worry).
39) The MSCI All-Cap World Index index will increase faster than inflation in USD - 60%
Result: RIGHT. Substantially faster, actually - it grew 23.16%.
40) 2017 will be the most prosperous year in human history - 95%
Result: RIGHT. Global real GDP per capita grew 2.5% last year, as it has grown every year since 2009.

41) I will be married - 95%
Result: RIGHT. :D
42) Our wedding will be under budget - 70%
Result: RIGHT. Substantially so, which was really nice.
43) I will have a full-time job - 95%
Result: RIGHT. This was a riskier one at the time than I wanted to really admit to myself, because when I wrote the original list, I didn't. But I was confident of my ability to find one.
44) I will have a permanent full-time job - 80%
Result: RIGHT. And rightly so!
45) I will no longer be doing financial plans as a side job - 70%
Result: RIGHT. Not something you can do when you're employed by a bank.
46) I will still be posting Friday Night Videos - 95%
Result: WRONG. Sorry, folks.
47) I will be making regular blog posts - 70%
Result: WRONG. Clearly, I fell off that wagon.
48) I will have a new desktop computer - 80%
Result: RIGHT. Got it back in August, and it's wonderful.
49) I will have my CFP and CFA - 80%
Result: WRONG. I have the necessary experience, but I've been procrastinating on my paperwork for it.
50) I will complete the design of at least one game - 60%
Result: WRONG. Too distracted by other stuff. But I still have a bunch in the works.

So, to summarize:
50% Confidence: 
1 right (#38), 1 wrong(#1) = 1/2 = 50%. Perfectly calibrated.
60% Confidence: 
2 right(#18 and 39), 2 wrong(#3 and 50) = 2/4 = 50%. Perfect calibration is 2.4 correct, so this is the best result that can be managed with this few guesses.
70% Confidence: 
4 right(#20, 27, 42, and 45), 5 wrong (#5, 8, 9, 21, and 47) = 4/9 = 44%. Overconfident, best result would be 6/9 correct.
80% Confidence: 
12 right(#2, 10, 15, 17, 23, 25, 28, 32, 35, 37, 44, and 48), and 5 wrong (#7, 26, 30, 34, and 49) = 12/17 = 71%. Best result would be 14 correct. (If we treat #14 as wrong instead of null, this is 12/18 = 67%, best result still 14 correct).
90% Confidence: 
#4 right, #6 right, #22 right, #24 right, #31 right, #33 right, #36 wrong,
6 right (#4, 6, 22, 24, 31, and 33), and 1 wrong(#36) = 6/7 = 86%. Still best possible result.
95% Confidence: 
#11 right, #16 wrong, #19 right, #29 right, #40 right, #41 right, #43 right, #46 wrong,
6 right(#11, 19, 29, 40, 41, and 43), 2 wrong (#16 and 46) = 6/8 = 75%. Overconfident, best result would be 8/8.
99% Confidence: 
2 right(#12 and 13), no wrong = 100%. Best result.

Overall, I'm somewhat overconfident, and predicted an average of 39 correct answers, when I only got 33 right. The 70% and 95% brackets in particular were bad for me. I suspect this is still better than most people would manage, but I think I can do better - a few of my mistakes seem obvious in retrospect. Also, I may want to change up what I guess on in order to spread things out a bit - there weren't many data points at either end, and that makes it tougher to know if I did well by luck or skill.