Tomorrow I’m going to turn 0x28. Undoubtedly it sounds better in hexadecimal than it does in decimal. And much more better than the “left-banana” if you happen to count in ASCII. Well, Xtè, right yesterday, let me note that nothing has changed in the Italian videogames industry in the last 10 years. There are still the same bunch of players. After Ubisoft no foreign company dared to set up a development studio in any part of our land. There are still two major players in Milan, still of the same size, and some minor players around the whole territory struggling to stay alive under the load of work and the inability to find skilled professionals at a price they can afford (or they are willing to pay).
I’m not sure if Xtè is completely right, maybe today we have some studio less than 10 years ago.
Those are sad considerations when talking about an industry that requires low setup costs, that shows no sign of crisis and is a well established part of the economy in most of the industrialized world. Investments in videogames industry are just risky. How much risky? Although young, this industry (as such) is only ten years younger than me. It has much road to go, but over the years “Things to Do” and “Things not to Do” have started emerging. As of today, I think that we learned to distinguish what is risky from what is not so risky. Porting is likely the safest activity in this field, followed by time to market titles. While the riskiest activity is the development of innovative and original IP. Most of the startups fail because they aim for the stars, trying to replicate the success of great games, developing new technologies, leaving free hands to the creative part of the studio.
You may wonder why I have this fixation with videogames. First I think it is part of my nature, maybe due to the fact that I met computer when I was 0xE i.e. an age very game-oriented. Maybe because to me programming is a sort of Lego-playing and therefore writing programs to play with is a natural consequence of this.
On the other side, it seems that I reached my top, from a professional point of view, when I worked in the videogame industry. The largest programs I designed, the largest team I led, the most entertaining problems I had to solve, many of the most skilled people I worked with… all happened back at the Ubi days.
Thinking about it, seems natural to me that a technologically advanced field, where many different disciplines are involved tends to attract the brightest offering them the most interesting problems.
I hate myself when I start complaining, so it is time to come out with a strategy for the future…. if I’m going to work on it in my spare time it’ll be ready and sound for my retirement (that, as I live in Italy, will never happen).

Thank you for welcoming

It was quite a time I wished to add this old document to the my website. A new section (not yet visible from the blog, but visible from the rest of my site) is intended to host my memories of those bright days the Universe was young, full of High Ideals and Good Ideas and I worked in the Videogaming Industry. The story of “Grazie di Benvenirli”. I started that document somewhere in 2001-2002. From a chronological point of view I would say around the Silver Age. Soon after I started typing some HTML code I realized that the right choice was to use some software to manage dictionary entries. The then-new wiki seemed to be a good idea, but it lacked a dictionary-oriented style and the “printable” layout. So I wrote Webdict a rather rough web application, my first PHP program, and installed on a company internal web server. My coworkers accepted enthusiastically to add their contributions and the dictionary grew for a while. Unfortunately the server was put off-line and recycled and the webdict content went lost.
The surviving part you can read is mostly my contribution, what I wrote in HTML. I gladly welcome terms and definitions to add from all my friends and coworkers of those glorious days.

What they say about us

If you want to know that the international press says about Italy and Italian, but you don’t want to learn foreign language, you can point your browser to Italia dall’Estero a Swiss website featuring Italian translations of all major world newspapers. Featured articles are mainly about politics, but news are also reported.

20 dollars… Jamaican dollars

If you live in the eurozone beware of the coin changes. This morning I tried repeatedly to put a coin in the coffee machine without success, only to discover, to my surprise that the coin was not a 1€ coin, but a 20$ Jamaican.The coin has the very same size and thickness of a current 1€ coin, also the two parts (the external gold colored and the internal silver colored) have the same size and proportions. It is nearly impossible to distinguish the two coins without a close examination.
As of today exchange rate this funny thing is worth about 0.18€, so beware!

Good Intentions

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, or something like that. Well I have the best intentions to keep my blog active and I have plenty of stuff to write, I am just lacking time. Anyway I have completed my reading of Death March, great book, I’d like to write my summary/review, but I noticed that I failed to write about nearly all books I liked most – Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering, Joel Spolsky on …, Design and Evolution of C++ and likely others that don’t come to mind right now. While I write more or less regularly (regularly irregular, yeah!) about all the rest. The reason is quite simple, since I like these books so much I’d like to write thorough reviews, with deep insight of why I liked or why these readings have been so much mind changing. Unfortunately I have simply not such amount of uninterrupted free time to do so.
Another theme I would have liked to write something about is racism. I am going to have two non-EC children. Well they’ll be Italians, but they look wonderfully South American. My wife and I like them a lot as they are, but we’re getting (more and more) sensitive about the racism issue. For example I was struck by the comparison among the Italian and US law about police to pull car drivers up. In Italy police forces (and we have plenty of them – police, carabinieri, local police) may halt anyone for inspection without any required justification, while US highway patrols can halt people only when they detect an infringement.
To an Italian this may look ineffective, but that makes a lot of sense when you connect it with the fundamental right to be all equal in front of the law. What prevents an Italian policeman to routinely halt cars driven by non-EC people just “because, you know how they are…”? Wouldn’t be this racism? And the same goes for ticket inspectors on buses and trains.
The other point about racism is that if the word “race” makes sense for human kind. After all words are not just handles to concepts, they bring a flavor with them, they trigger connections… well, with good approximation, we can say that according to modern science there are no such a things as different human races. Every difference we can spot beyond the skin color between, say, a black and a white are only social and cultural. Glad to see that science supports what is just good sense – “something in the blood” or “that thing in the DNA” is just bullshit when talking about behaviors.
On a lighter topic, I completed Mass Effect on X360. That’s definitively a good game. I liked it much. The story is pretty solid, the talks and pick-your-answer choices are the friendliest in the RPG panorama. I am a bit puzzled about the rating – 18 years, in the same class Bioshock is. While I fully agree about Bioshock being rather disturbing and surely non apt for underage boys, I didn’t find anything like that for Mass Effect. The violence level is quite soft, we’re about at the same level of the A-Team series. The story either is not so shocking to justify the age restriction. I would be much concerned for my children to watch the last episode of the Pirates of the Caribbean than to let them playing Mass Effect. Maybe the reason is the would-be-sex scene of the romantic subplot. I know that videogames are under a magnifying glasses so the rating agency prefers to err on the conservative side, but come on, we are in the 2008, there’s nothing in this game that, even far, approaches what every children can watch in TV prime time.
Another topic I’d like to deal on these pages is the UbiSoft Milan studio history. I have been so lucky to be there nearly from the very beginning of the long and, under many aspects, successful adventure, that I like to tell the whole tale from inside. I have an “history” document that I wrote a long ago, that needs a good rewrite.
Eventually I’d like to mention the last initiative by Beppe Grillo, the V2-day for a better news-industry in Italy.
Well this is, more or less, everything I have on my (virtual) desk, as you can see I have no blank-page-syndrome, I have just no time and this magnificently paved road ahead.

Home Sw-eth Home

When I was a child Lego Technics was about to come and the term “Steampunk” wasn’t even in Gibson and Sterling minds. And that’s a pity because there would have been a lot of fascinating stuff to do like this Dardenbahst. On a complete different steam, I relocated my PC in the living room on a small desk. Unfortunately the phone plug is far away from it so I decided to solve the problem with the homeplug powerline.
Homeplug is a standard that solves easily and promptly the cabling problem in private house, where you are unlikely allowed (by wife or parents) to dig through walls to lie CAT5 cables or, even worse, to leave such cabling on the floor for longer than a couple of breaths.
The homeplug solution creates a network over the power line that are already cabled. The standard is one, but the devices you can shop for have different speeds ranging from 14 to 200Mbits/s (with prices varying accordingly). I opted for a couple of Atlantis adapters at 85Mbits/s and shelled out 85€ for both.
Unlike several advanced technology device, they worked quite “plug’n’playable”. Just plug into the power outlet and connect the patch ethernet cable. Then you have to run the Atlantis utility (Windows only) to set the encryption password.
The only glitch I found is that the utility is supposed to remotely configure any device provided you have its password (printed on the case). I had found no way to do that, so I just temporarily attached the other device to the PC, configured it too and then put it back to it final location. Done.
While talking about cables I had to notice that the small PC desk is not large enough to hide the forest of cabling behind the PC. Power supply, USB connections, ethernet cables, monitor and so on, each device accounts for at least 2 cables. Wouldn’t it be nice if all this stuff could communicate through the homeplug standard? In this way every box would have just the power line.

Oil price vs. $/€ exchange rate

Oil price is monotonically rising, right now is approaching 110$/barrel while just a bunch of years ago it was around 70$. At the same time the $/€ exchange rate is increasing, that is a single euro can buy more and more dollars. Oil market is based on dollars, so comparing the rate exchange and the oil price we can determine whether in Europe the oil price in € should raise or fall. According to this article (in Italian) written by Massimiliano Marzo (who covers an undefined role at Bologna University) oil price and $/€ exchange rate are rather correlated, apparently to keep a steady level so that the oil producers maintain the same value per barrel regardless of the dollar depreciation.